Author's note: Wrote this over the course of ten hours, about; I've been wanting to write something of the sort for a long time, but didn't get around to it until now. IMPT: Although the days begin at 9, Eragon has been imprisoned longer than this. Also, italicized portions between days are flashbacks, but in no particular order, and so are not ordered chronologically. I've read Brisingr many times, but did not feel the need to make Eragon and Murtagh half brothers, as this drabble takes place sometime after the end of Eldest, as though Brisingr has not been written.
This is slightly edited from what I originally published it as.
Disclaimer: I do not own any part of Eragon or the Inheritance series; all of that creativity can be attributed to Christopher Paolini. I'm really just blood-suckin' his work. The long, italicized segment of text during day 7 was largely taken (and slightly edited) from pages 652-653 of Christopher Paolini's Eldest. Again, I own nothing of his writing.
Waves of blood – so they seemed in their enormity – continued to crash against his face and body, forcing him down, down, suffocating him as he tried to breathe in and the hot red sickening liquid choked him, blinded him, but he could still feel the bodies around him of those lost in battles at his own hand; he knew they saw him, knew they reached in through the depths to take him with them and when he opened his eyes, his stared back at him—
"Eragon." The soft murmur succeeded to wake him.
A sheen of cold sweat was visible as he gasped a few staggered breaths, feeling his throat seize around the choked sob that escaped as Arya's arms encircled him, providing the false sense of calm after the storm that never lasted.
The words left his chapped lips in the barest whisper. He didn't have to explain anymore, anyway. She knew. Most of them did, did they not? The soldiers he fought with. Soldiers he outlived. Soldiers that woke up screaming because they could not handle the building pressure of the bodies, especially the one that still breathed (traitor), terrified to have to end that life and yet hating his every breath—
Arya's slim, still-soft-even-through-the-scars-of-battle fingers gripped his shoulder tightly (made his skin crawl, could he not have privacy, GET OUT he wanted to scream) as his turbulent emotions threatened to spill over once more, ending the calm before the rest of the storm, and brought him back to reality.
Reality that had him placed in a role he no longer wanted to fulfill. Not with…him…gone.
(All the king's horses and all the king's men…)
But no. Eragon repeated the perfectly ceaseless mantra in his head like clockwork, hoping to drown in the meaningless words instead of the blood, gods, the blood…. it was just a dream. A nightmare. If only the sun would rise, if only it would rise so he could be blinded once more by the light that had never once failed him, never betrayed him in its rising each morn.
The prisoner struggled to lift his head; the lethargy, oh, sweet unconsciousness…let it return, he prayed. He ached. His head was too, too heavy, and shit, more pain as he let it drop to his chest again. Dimly, he noted that his hands were bound and he hung by them, his raw and bloodied knees just barely resting against the rough, stone floor.
A one man cell.
Pleasant. Private, Eragon thought wryly, twisting the left side of his mouth in an attempt at a bitter smile, though no one was there to see it. None to see the despair that had not yet left his for-the-most-part-lifeless eyes. He was completely, utterly alone, and so there was none to share emotions with other than himself. What he wouldn't trade for a little bit of contact now—nonono don't think, don't think about the others, noNO—
Trapped inside my own mind, kind of, isn't that what this is like? The prisoner mused. Strange form of torture, really. Considering what he'd endured for his permanently shut mouth (but it had been open, hadn't it, as screams were torn from the now hoarse throat) this should have been benign. Like alcohol without the kick. But then it wouldn't be alcohol, would it…
…and maybe this was equally tormenting. Driven to insanity through pain and pain and all of the physical but then also through this, this agony, this nothingness that seemed to hang over him, pushing him down like all that blood once had, those bodies…
…squeezed his eyes shut tight, choking on the damp, stale air as silent sobs racked his battered body, and the vastness of this, these gaping emotions, swallowed him whole and then all he could feel was thankful as he slipped out of consciousness once more.
Like toys. Toy soldiers. Broken plastic, nothing more. Shattered glass eyes, dark and unseeing, but they never saw, always blind, never real. Shiny black boot. Dust. So much dust. It was the wind. The flapping of gigantic wings. Power. Licked his lips, tasted it on his tongue, felt it tingle his fingers as he swung his blade—nononomorebodies—and he was death himself. They fell before him so easily, readily; they had all been waiting for his sharp gliding caress. Toy soldiers. Nothing more.
Murtagh's blunt nails dug into his palm as he clenched his fists, his lean muscles clenched in stress, worry, fear—not for himself anymore, no, that had passed long ago, when he'd stopped caring what happened to him. (All the king's horses and all the king's men…)
They had Eragon.
Murtagh had heard about his capture several days ago (or was it a whole week, now?) and the shock hit him hard. Maybe it wasn't shock. He didn't know what it was. Couldn't describe it, couldn't (wouldn't) think about it. Ignorance was bliss, most of the time. It was a good motto to live by and Murtagh followed it with perfect precision. But now…now it was difficult. Murtagh knew he'd be lying to himself if he thought ignoring this would give him any bliss. Confronting it would, without a doubt, be painful—no, more than that; agonizing—but Murtagh knew pain. He knew it well, it knew him, and hell if he couldn't embrace it at times. He was built to endure, always.
But sometimes, sometimes endurance was irrelevant. Murtagh was trapped, suspended as he was pulled in opposite directions, one side stronger but one side more prevalent.
"FUCK," Murtagh yelled, his body tense as he swung around and punched the hard stone wall with his fist, feeling several knuckles break and knowing that he wouldn't heal them. He deserved this. He deserved every nightmare, every bit of fear that came with each of his meetings with Galbatorix, every ounce of pain, both physical and mental, that ate at him day and night, never stopping.
And now…now that man he was forced to call master would destroy Eragon, too, destroy beauty and perfection at its finest, destroy Murtagh's only hope—(But I'm already destroyed, big brother, can't you see? Can't you hear me scream, can't you feel my silence, can't you…)
Murtagh wasn't sure if he could handle seeing Eragon. It had been a long time…the last he'd spoken to his younger brother had been that cursed battle, the one where he'd left Eragon broken and lost on the battlefield. His own despair had threatened to engulf him, swallow him whole and leave him soaking in its bloody mess. Why must you be my brother?
The hate (oh how he hated himself) rose in his throat as bile and Murtagh doubled over, vomiting violently over his floor and he ignored Thorn's concern as he sat heavily on the edge of his bed, shuddering and clutching his sides as if he were to fall apart. He thought he just might. And would that really be so bad? What he felt for Eragon was wrong, so wrong, but no matter how often he reminded himself of his sins, he could not escape them. Little brother, run, run, run from me like a sheep from a wolf, I won't stop (can never stop) till I have my teeth against your throat…
Eragon collapsed into Arya's arms, heavy sobs shaking his body as he gasped, trying desperately to breathe but feeling its impossibility, now.
Arya bit her lip, at a loss; she knew she could neither say nor do anything that could ease Eragon's pain. She knew better than Eragon what this meant to him, what pain it caused him, for although he could not place its origin, she knew that whatever brotherly love was present had long been outweighed by a connection deeper than anything she'd imagined possible. Arya was almost jealous that Eragon had found something like that so early, but then she remembered the boy who was breaking apart in her arms and knew she was not jealous at all. No one would want this.
So she held him tighter and let him break, for it was inevitable and at least she could hold onto the pieces for him.
Murtagh bit his lip till it bled; the memories choked him, seared him, wounded him as if with knives but he could never escape them, for his past was part of him, and he'd be a terrible liar if he said they had not made him who he was.
Sometimes the memories were good ones, ones of him and Eragon sparring, sharing stories, in an atmosphere that, when he was with the latter, felt like home, no matter where they were. These memories seemed to hurt the worst, for it was these that Murtagh knew could never be recreated.
And then there was that memory. The Burning Plains. Murtagh winced and doubled over, gasping for breath. That was the day he knew he'd fucked up too badly in Eragon's eyes, knew he'd never get back what the two had once had, knew he was doomed to hell and worse, knew the hate for himself would never, ever leave him.
"You're doing the right thing," Eragon said, and Murtagh fought back a sad smile as his younger brother tried to move away but was held in place by his spell. He didn't know yet. On the surface, Murtagh knew how he appeared, but internally he was a mess. Galbatorix had torn from him, during his torture, his sweetest memories, his deepest cares, and now would use them against him. It was on the king's orders that Murtagh was to tell Eragon of their relation, and it made Murtagh sick, for both he and the king (of course) were aware of how this would harm Eragon.
"Perhaps," Murtagh shrugged, tensing invisibly for what he was about to do. "But before I let you go…" Murtagh reached out and wrenched Zar'roc from Eragon's tight hold and unbuckled the sheath from Eragon's belt, watching his brother's face the whole time; for now, there was only confusion, and he took a deep, shaky breath before continuing, though he knew Eragon saw nothing of his inner turmoil. He braced himself, and a cruel smirk spread across his lips.
(I don't mean it, I don't mean any of this Eragon, I don't want—) "If I have become my father, then I will have my father's blade. Thorn is my dragon, and a thorn he shall be to all our enemies. It is only right, then, that I should also wield the sword Misery. Misery and Thorn, a fit match. Besides, Zar'roc should have gone to Morzan's eldest son, not his youngest. It is mine by right of birth."
Murtagh saw the cold dread form on Eragon's face and continued before he knew he would back out. His cruel smile widened, but all he wanted was to comfort his brother. That's what brothers are for, right? He thought wryly. He knew what they had went deeper than anything the word brother could encompass. "I never told you my mother's name, did I? And you never told me yours. I'll say it now: Selena. Selena was my mother and your mother. Morzan was our father. The Twins figured out the connection while they were digging around in your head. Galbatorix was quite interested to learn that particular piece of information." And everything else about us, Murtagh thought bitterly.
"You're lying!" cried Eragon, and Murtagh could now clearly see the hurt, the denial, the betrayal, the hate in his eyes and face. He realized that what he had just done to Eragon was worse than anything Galbatorix could have imagined, and all he wanted was to flee. But if there was one thing Murtagh was not, it was a coward, and he would face this the way he faced everything else.
Murtagh shook his head slowly and repeated what he had said in the ancient language, then leaned close to Eragon, closing his eyes for just a moment as he breathed in the scent of his younger brother; sweat, blood, smoke, and something unique to Eragon that was achingly familiar, something he had missed in their time apart. He noticed Eragon's breath catch, noticed how his younger brother seemed to—against his will—enjoy the close contact as much as he did, despite Eragon's inability to move, and he knew that even if Eragon had been mobile, he would have leaned closer, not shied away. At least not immediately.
Swallowing inaudibly, Murtagh put his lips to Eragon's ear and whispered, "You and I, we are the same, Eragon. Mirror images of one another. You can't deny it." In another situation, Murtagh would have relished this, but now, now that he had spoken, could feel the rejection coming, could feel himself breaking even as he felt the heat from his brother's body against his own.
"You're wrong," growled Eragon, who continued to struggle against the spell. "We're nothing alike. I don't have a scar on my back anymore," he spat, and Murtagh knew he aimed to hurt him as badly as he'd hurt Eragon.
It worked. Involuntarily, Murtagh recoiled and the smirk fell from his face, replaced quickly by cold blankness before he allowed any true emotion to place its stake there. He lifted Zar'roc, then placed it in the sheath, refusing to look at Eragon's face until the last moment. When he did, he saw the horrible, agonizing pain he felt inside mirrored in Eragon's eyes, and he once more resisted the urge to, somehow, fix what he had done before saying, in a hard voice, "So be it. I take my inheritance from you, brother. Farewell."
As he turned around, grabbing his helm and climbing atop Thorn, he allowed himself to break; he couldn't control it anymore.
Don't think. Just fly and forget. Thorn's deep voice entered his mind and he nodded, grasping one of Thorn's blood red horns as his dragon lifted into the air, his tears gradually ceasing as he lost himself in the cool, rushing air and the comfort of Thorn's mind, where he resided, though he dreaded returning to his own. He glanced back once, before they were too far, at Eragon, and saw his brother kneeling, his hands bracing himself from the ground, shoulders heaving, and knew the pain they shared would never go away, for either of them.
What have I done, Thorn…
When he and Thorn had returned, he'd locked himself in his room and allowed the pain to take him over. At times he couldn't breathe. Thorn had given him space and suffered with him, and Murtagh was thankful, as always, for his dragon, the only being (other than Eragon, never forget Eragon) who knew what he was going through. And Thorn knew better than Eragon, because they were the ones enslaved against their will till their death.
But he reminded himself that Galbatorix had Eragon, too, and in the darkest part of his mind, he hoped Eragon would learn what he'd gone through, and would suffer like he had under Galbatorix's control.
Murtagh's so-called "kindness" toward Eragon on the Burning Plains had, of course, been moot. After suffering Galbatorix's rage—Murtagh realized he'd made a mistake in that he'd allowed Galbatorix to see his weakness in action, and that it would not happen again—Galbatorix himself went to take Eragon, and of course succeeded where Murtagh had failed. It had all been for nothing.
Murtagh shook his head, threading his fingers through his hair and yanking hard as he tasted the blood from his lip and thought of Eragon, alone in the cell he was sure had been his own at one time, and knew he didn't mean those thoughts. All he wanted was for Eragon to be happy in a way he never would.
Fucked that one up, didn't you, Thorn offered unhelpfully, and Murtagh glared at the wall opposite him.
Shut up. You know as well as I do that I had no choice, Murtagh retorted, and he felt Thorn's sad acquiescence.
I know. I know…
Murtagh sighed and leaned back against the cold stone, rubbing his broken knuckles gingerly.
I need to see him, Thorn. Do you think—do you think that will make it worse? You…you know how I feel. I'm going insane, just waiting like this…I can't do it. He's all I have left, other than you.
But what good will it do? Thorn cautioned. He hates you as much as he loves you. What do you think will happen? That he'll be so glad to see you, he'll want to kiss and make up? Murtagh couldn't help but let a small, harsh snicker escape at Thorn's choice of words. No, Murtagh, it'll make things worse. You can't exactly get him out of here.
Maybe not… Murtagh closed his eyes, thinking hard. I could tell him what to expect, though, couldn't I? Once he's called out of the cell again. That it's better to give in…Even as he said it, Murtagh knew Eragon would never give in, that he'd rather die. Murtagh went cold at the thought.
In some ways, that boy is stronger than you, Thorn mused. That was one thing about his dragon, Murtagh thought. He never knew when to shut up. But of course, Thorn was usually right.
Yeah, well…I don't really care, Murtagh answered, and was surprised that he meant it. I'd rather him live, though. He might be 'strong', and have more willpower than I did, but he's a fucking idiot for it.
The frustration was maddening, and Murtagh groaned, feeling helpless, always the helpless one even when he was in control. Thorn was his other half, but what Thorn was saying went against what he wanted.
Do what you want, Murtagh, but I warned you.
Murtagh gave a tired shrug as an answer, and fought back the onslaught of emotion as he was left to his thoughts once more. Eragon was all he could see, sometimes. He felt blind and enlightened, both at once. He knew he'd end up down in that cell, trying where he'd never tried before to make his brother see the truth about them. Because in the end, really, they were both doomed, and Murtagh would endure whatever came with contacting his brother just to make him understand that he wasn't alone. Murtagh knew well that to be alone, to feel as if the world would go on and leave him behind (the Twins, hellonearth don't make me go back) was one of the worst feelings he'd ever experienced, and he wouldn't let Eragon suffer that.
Saphira. Lost. (Where are you?)
He felt emptier than he'd felt in a long while. Wandered aimlessly, so he thought, as he led himself closer to his doom. The king would be so happy to see him. He barely noticed the chains around his wrists as he was led. (Alone, alone, all I can feel is alone.)
The scouting mission—something went wrong. He couldn't remember what, but now Saphira was gone and the feeling of despair that had settled in the pit of his stomach told him that he wouldn't see her again. Never.
Unless he followed her to where she'd gone, because really, what hope did he have without her?
Killing machine, all on his own, but she gave him life where he felt he had none anymore, not even a soul, and without that, his will was gone.
(So take me, take me, I have nothing left to give.)
Eragon cried out, his rough voice echoing through the stone walls and rebounding against them. The sound was terrible, piercing, angry. He meant for it to be heard.
Because he was going insane alone.
No one had been down to his cell for a long time; he could not calculate days or weeks, but he was sure that it had been a lengthy amount of time (or maybe not, maybe he was too desperate for human contact to correctly judge such a complex concept as time anymore) and his thoughts were eating him alive.
(Are you going to leave me here forever? Horrible way to die, really. This torture is the worst. How did you know that the greatest pain comes from inside your own mind? You, you could never know pain.)
He tried to focus on the iron bars in front of him, the blood soaked stone beneath him, his own ragged breathing, but nothing could block out the memories, and their sharp teeth tore at his insides; he was sure his heart was nothing but a stringy, scarred mess.
After waiting in silence for several long moments, the prisoner let his eyes droop shut, and he wished his hands were free if only so he could hold himself together, clutch his chest where his heart ached so badly that sometimes he couldn't breathe at all…
(I like to drown, I don't know where I am when I'm lost in blood and bodies and you.)
Eragon's eyes snapped open and his mouth opened in a silent scream as a strong, calloused hand clamped over his mouth, the other holding his struggling body still.
"Shhh, stop, stop, I won't hurt you, could never—"
That voice. Eragon knew it even through a whisper, and no, gods, nonono, more pain, worse than the rest, because he'd longed for this voice but now that he had it he wanted it gone. He heard the lie die on Murtagh's tongue (but you did hurt me, you sick bastard, so bad, too badly) but stopped resisting; he didn't have the energy to continue, not with his lack of nourishment and general fatigue.
The hand fell from his mouth and he took a shuddering breath as Murtagh stepped in front of him.
"Get out of here," Eragon whispered, the plea evident in his desperate eyes.
"I wish I could." Murtagh's voice was bitter, Eragon could hear it well.
Eragon licked his chapped lips, his voice hoarse when he spoke again. "What—why are you here? Is Galbatorix's torture not enough? I can handle it, I will endure," Eragon mocked, and almost frowned when he saw Murtagh wince. "Why are you here?" Eragon shouted, struggling against his chains. He wanted nothing more than to physically harm the man standing in front of him, his brother, wanted him to feel something even a fraction of the pain he'd felt for the past year and a half.
I don't know why I'm here, Murtagh thought, closing his eyes tightly to stop the tears, to regain some command over himself.
"Answer me…" Eragon's voice was desperate, weak, pleading. He knew he wouldn't get an answer. The loneliness hovered above him, waiting patiently to enclose him in its strong hold once more. Eragon dreaded it. "Get out, get out." A whisper, again. Murtagh looked into Eragon's eyes, and Eragon was shocked at what he saw, shocked to even see anything there. "Wha—"
"Don't," Murtagh said roughly, and Eragon could only stare as Murtagh turned and left the cell. Too late he called after his brother, desperate for the contact where he'd despised it moments earlier. Always too late.
"You have to kill him," Nasuada said, almost too callously.
Eragon's face was set, but inside…he didn't know if he could go through with it. Of course, that didn't matter. He'd have to. He'd sworn fealty to Nasuada and the Varden, as well as promised Orik to avenge Hrothgar's death, and all of those things entailed Murtagh's death. And he was the only one capable of killing the other rider, his fucking brother.
Besides, what was he if not a killer? (The bodies, pleasenomore, can't take it…)
"I'm aware, Lady Nasuada," Eragon said, a little more rudely than he'd planned, but all the same, Nasuada knew, if only in pieces, how he felt about this, so his tone of voice would be the least of her worries.
"I'm sure you are, Eragon, but when? You must do it soon. Galbatorix has something planned, I can feel it, and his armies are growing. There's been word that they've been immunized to pain—I don't know if I believe it, but it's very possible, and that makes his soldiers all the more deadly. The Varden needs Murtagh dead and gone if we have a prayer of getting to Galbatorix. Do you understand me?"
Eragon could hear the threat in her voice, although they both knew she could not touch him. "Yes, Lady Nasuada," he said through clenched teeth. This time, he meant for his rudeness to be heard and acknowledged, and before Nasuada could respond, he turned and left the tent, anger and something less easily definable clear on his face.
(Only a week later, Eragon, on a small scouting mission, had been taken captive by Galbatorix.)
Lucidity. Eragon's was questionable of late. As he drifted in and out of consciousness—his torture sessions never ceased—he dreamed in brilliant colors that were so out of reach from his cell. There, it was all muted and dark; grays and blacks and the occasional red from his ever-flowing blood. His dreams—or were they waking thoughts?—had taken a turn from the norm after Murtagh's visit. Instead of bodies, now all he could see was the Burning Plains, which sometimes blurred into scenes from his past that he hated to dwell upon because of their impossibility.
Blue… Eragon thought of radiant scales glistening in the sun, but that made him hurt, so he tried to leave out blue. The other colors didn't bother him so much; he couldn't associate them with anything of importance anymore, since he'd tried so hard to forget. Red was ever present; blood, blood…the battlefields, his friends, Murtagh. A journey lined with red, that was his life. Forget silver lining when you can have red, Eragon snickered in his dazed state.
"I'm going crazy," he said out loud, his voice rough and quiet.
Eragon hadn't expected an answer; he figured it was his conscience, some internal being that his solitude had awoken.
"I am, I am, I—I'm not sane, I can't be, not anymore. I don't really want to be, you know? Of course you know, you're in my head."
Something moved in the shadows, but the hall outside the cell was too dark for Eragon to see clearly. "I'm not in your head," the voice said, suddenly sounding more familiar. "You're more sane than I am, surely." The dark tones, the bitterness underlying every syllable. He was back.
"Thought you'd forgotten about me." Eragon wasn't sure if he was angry at his visitor's audacity to return.
"Impossible." A scoff, then a quiet sigh. "You're not doing well…"
It was Eragon's turn to be bitter. "What makes you think that? Could it be that I'm chained by my wrists to the ceiling of a dungeon? That I've been tortured more times than I can count? That I don't even mind that you're here? Yeah. Yeah, I'm fantastic." He coughed; it was a loose, painful cough, one that made his throat burn the way it had on the plains… "You shouldn't keep coming here. Won't you get in trouble? Besides, wouldn't wanna catch the insanity, would you, brother."
"Sanity is always relative, little brother."
Footsteps, getting fainter in sound until they disappeared completely. Eragon couldn't help but think of Angela, and his own disbelief when he'd learned a family member would betray him. It seemed as though he could not escape the feeling of betrayal, and each time Murtagh walked away he felt it a little worse.
Last one dead, last one, feel better now that the line's been drawn and everyone's crossed? (Except for you, except for you…)
Eragon stared blankly at Arya's dead body, face down on the dry, cracked ground. Just another casualty, he tried to tell himself, but then the tears started coming and for some reason he couldn't stop them. He may as well have been the last person on earth (oh, but no, he's been waiting) and the wave of loneliness finally crashed over him, suffocating him in a way that it had not when Arya was alive. Those long, brutal nights where he wasn't sure if he wanted her there or gone came back to him and made his legs weak. She was the only one who knew…
"Alone," he said, with only the wind as a witness, as if a testimony to the truth in his words.
(But you know you've always been alone. This journey was yours, only yours, alone alonealonealone and only he knows the isolation as well as you.)
"You were right, Thorn. Bad idea. I don't—I can't go back. Don't want to."
The desire to see his brother almost crippled the desire to protect them both, almost, but these days he was so fragile (can't you tell I'm broken too, it's not just physical, the longer you keep me here the more I deteriorate) and he was careful not to shatter everything he'd built up for himself.
Murtagh ignored his dragon, clenching his teeth as he tried to control his breathing, although his efforts weren't going so well.
His exhaustion was staggering lately. Nights were spent awake, slumped in a corner or pacing, dreading the moment he'd fall asleep and return to his nightmares, then wake again later in a cold sweat, shaking and miserable. The pattern was inescapable, and his bed felt empty when he was in it.
"Can you blame me.." He ran a tired hand over his face, worry and anxiety apparent on his features and he knew something would have to break, eventually. Time was even more delicate and he treaded carefully around it, sidestepping and overstepping, but he knew the moment would come when he ran into it headfirst and fast, and the collision would be devastating.
"That boy's an idiot," Murtagh whispered to no one in particular, though he knew Thorn was listening. "Galbatorix is taking him today. Out of his cell. Up. I can't imagine what he's going to do (liar, you know all too well, let him suffer and you'll be safe for now). Eragon's been harder to break than he envisioned, I think, and it's making him angry. I wish I could be there and—"
And do what? Watch?
Murtagh flinched at the images flitting across his mind at Thorns words, and he buried his face against his dragon's warm body, his fists tightening until his nails broke the skin of his palms. Murtagh barely noticed.
"What if, when Galbatorix realizes he's not going to break—what if he kills him?" Murtagh whispered, distrusting of his own voice.
Then he dies free.
Murtagh grimaced and shook his head. "He's not supposed to die. This is all my fault. I should have warned him that Galbatorix would come, should have protected him…"
There was no way, you know that. The king's wards would have prevented any sort of aid towards him.
It had been long since Murtagh had resigned himself to the fact that there was no escaping the king's control, but he found himself wishing fervently that there was some way.
"We can always die," he spat, thinking back to Eragon's words on the Burning Plain. Death didn't seem so bad, now, really. At the time, he'd still had hope that he could get away from this slavery. He no longer had that privilege.
And what of Eragon then, and Saphira?
Saphira. Murtagh's insides turned cold at the thought of Eragon's dragon's current state. "I don't know…I don't know, Thorn. They'd die too."
But they wouldn't, and both Murtagh and Thorn knew it. Saphira was the last female dragon, and Galbatorix would keep her alive at all costs, which meant keeping Eragon alive as well. Murtagh's earlier fear of Eragon's death was irrelevant. He'd be beaten and tortured until he couldn't remain conscious, but Galbatorix would not kill him.
(All the king's horses and all the king's men…)
Murtagh heard Thorn's hesitation and looked up at his dragon, although he had a feeling of what Thorn would say.
Go back. You want to. He wants you to.
"I don't think so, Thorn," Murtagh said coldly.
And he didn't. Maybe at one point, Eragon had cared for him, but it was not the same, especially not now. That knowledge killed him. It was what kept him awake for hours, trying to breathe through the pain, and when he slept, it filled his nightmares until he woke, screaming.
"Fine." Murtagh turned away from Thorn and walked back to the castle that was his prison, his entire body tense and emotionless as he steeled himself for what he would return to.
Eragon screamed, something he'd never done before, and the sound shocked him, almost as much as the pain had.
"Do you like that, Shadeslayer? How long till you break, I wonder…" Galbatorix's smooth voice echoed against the wall, though not half as loud as Eragon's cries.
"It's…never…going…to…happen…" Eragon panted, wincing at each small movement he made; he was beaten and bruised, some ribs were broken, and his back was a bloody mess. He'd been stripped of his magic, so he could not hope to heal himself later.
"That's what Murtagh said, too." Galbatorix watched, amused, as Eragon visibly flinched at the mention of his brother. So it's mutual? The king mused, his curiosity growing. Later, whether or not Eragon broke, he'd investigate this, tear apart Eragon's mind. That was his last resort.
Eragon remained silent, and bit his tongue (a little too hard) as Galbatorix turned back to magic, the pain hitting him like nothing he'd ever felt and it wasn't long before he was screaming again, twisting and thrashing on the floor.
Eragon spat blood onto the hard ground. When would Galbatorix tire of his torture? Eragon didn't know. The king must have realized that Eragon was never going to break, especially after that awful mind torture. The things he'd done…
Eragon cringed at the memory, then winced again as pain racked his body. He knew he wouldn't die; he'd figured out long ago that Saphira would be kept alive, and in turn, he'd be kept alive, accompanied by pain, pain, and more pain, to the point where he thought he'd die from the pain alone but never did. Galbatorix was smart. And each time he was brought out of the cell he lost a little more sanity. Each injury was like a blow to his mind and he relished it. Soon enough, soon enough…
(Think you're so smart, little boy, but you're naïve like the rest, can't wait to see you stumble just like all those before you and all those behind, watch the line watch the line, keep it moving time is precious.)
He spat a larger amount of blood, though the effort made his jaw ache in awful ways; he was sure it was broken, along with his arm, wrist, some fingers, and more ribs. The only way to dull any of the pain was to turn inside his mind, but in many ways that pain was worse, so he lost himself in the stabbing pain that was his body, relishing the way the blood continued to pool in his mouth.
His head snapped up and he groaned. "Fuck." That had hurt, badly. No sudden movements, he reminded himself.
Murtagh just stared for a moment. Eragon looked worse than he'd imagined. His straight, slightly sweaty light brown hair had blood caked in it, the skin around his eyes bruised—from punches or fatigue, he couldn't tell. Murtagh avoided looking into his eyes, for the moment. His nose looked broken, his jaw badly bruised and slightly swollen, his arm bent unnaturally as it was stretched by the chains holding him up, his white short-sleeved shirt bloodied and torn so much that Murtagh could see through and knew that some ribs were broken. He watched as more blood flew from Eragon's mouth and landed on his boot; he knew it was intentional, and didn't attempt to wipe it off.
"Eragon…" he said again, and this time, all his emotion was apparent in his voice, so much so that Eragon looked momentarily shocked.
"I don't want you here." Eragon spoke slowly; each word hurt his jaw miserably, and his words were slightly diluted by the blood in his mouth.
Murtagh was silent, but stepped closer, placing a hand against Eragon's arm and healing it before Eragon could react.
The relief was instant, and Eragon sighed as the pain in his arm disappeared completely. Then his eyes narrowed.
"What are you doing." It wasn't phrased as a question.
Murtagh, yet again, remained silent and moved his hand to Eragon's ribs. Eragon felt the pain there fade as well, and noticed how Murtagh's warm, battle-rough hand lingered on his skin through his tattered shirt for a moment before it started toward another of his injuries.
Eragon didn't wait. "Why won't you fucking answer me? Hm? You come down here like it's your fucking right to see me…it's not. It never was, certainly not now. You're here because you feel guilty…Healing me each time Galbatorix feels like making me scream won't erase anything you've done. It won't alleviate the guilt, brother. Believe me, I know. You're a traitor. And I am not talking about the Varden. Nothing you do will make me forgive y—Aaah, god," Eragon's breath caught as the pain in his jaw increased to a point he couldn't take. His mouth fell shut, but he'd made his point, and he watched with satisfaction as Murtagh's hand fell to his side and he stumbled back, falling against the metal bars of the cell.
Murtagh's face hardened for a moment at Eragon's bloody smirk, the one that mirrored his own on the Burning Plains. "Let me show you, then, what I live with. I'll let you into my mind. Then you'll see, then you'll understand. We've always been one and the same, always and forever." He seemed to be speaking to himself at this point. "Come on, Eragon. My mind is open…"
Eragon's curiosity got the better of him, though his mind was screaming at him that it was a bad idea, that he did not want to know what was in the depths of Murtagh's mind.
Murtagh's mind was strange. Eragon was in a circular room, it seemed, with doors surrounding him, and he briefly wondered what his own mind looked like. Would it be this complex, or would everything he was be laid out in the open at once? He could hear Murtagh, and knew his anxiety; he knew how it felt for a stranger to dig through one's mind, Galbatorix had seen to that. But Eragon was no stranger to Murtagh…could Murtagh hear his thoughts?
"Yes. Right now..we are as connected as we ever will be. Or almost. If your mind was open to me…"
Eragon would not let Murtagh in his mind if his life depended on it. Galbatorix had pulled things from his subconscious that he refused to dwell upon awake or asleep, and he'd be damned if he'd let Murtagh know his darkest secrets. For now, Murtagh would hear his internally voiced questions, and comments—things he wanted Murtagh to hear—but that was all.
As Eragon surveyed the room, he realized he'd have to choose a door. He walked toward one opposite to him, his hand poised on the handle.
"Not…not that one. Not yet," Murtagh said in his mind, and Eragon shrugged, moving to a different door, and opened it.
"I don't want to see this," he whispered, but it was too late, and the scene played out before him.
Eragon and Murtagh—before they'd arrived at the Varden—were sparring by the fire, shirtless and covered in sweat. There was an easy camaraderie between them as they dropped their swords and resorted to wrestling, tumbling to the pine-covered forest floor. One laughed, current-Eragon couldn't tell which, but that didn't really matter. After several long minutes, the two broke apart, grinning and tossing insults at each other. Life had been so easy… Current-Eragon felt a contentment that was not his own, a happiness, a joy, which were his shared emotions but did not stem from him.
Eragon was back in the room. So many doors…
He moved through the memories, and realized that with them came Murtagh's sentiments about them, so that they were not merely memories but true emotions that Murtagh still felt when he recalled them.
Eragon learned of Murtagh's own guilt, his pool of blood that grew till it overflowed, his sorrow and despair at such losses of life, some close to him and some not. (One and the same, don't deny it, can't deny the truth when it's there.) The eternal emptiness, and the inability to fill it.
Finally, he reached the first door he'd tried, after working his way around the circle—some memories had not been of him, but of Murtagh's childhood, of his time with the Twins. Some, he'd even refused to let Eragon see. He supposed those were of Galbatorix, and his torture. Eragon didn't want to see that anyway; he felt Murtagh's desperate need for Eragon to see his side of things.
With a feeling of unease that was his own, Eragon opened the door.
The Burning Plains. Current-Eragon swallowed as he watched Murtagh freeze past-Eragon. He knew all-too-well what was to come, and started to turn back towards the door.
"No. You need to see…need to feel what I felt." That was current-Murtagh.
So Eragon stayed and walked a little closer. Even from his distance, he could see what he had missed in his own anger and hurt at the time; Murtagh's face was not all blank, was not free of emotion, was not cruel, though that was what he'd perceived at the time. No…instead, Eragon saw what was underneath, and he turned away, running a hand through his own hair, tugging on it. And the emotion…his own pain, coupled with what he felt from Murtagh, was staggering, and he heard Murtagh gasp quietly as he felt Eragon's pain. It was too much, in a minute he would black out…
Murtagh closed his mind before the two of them were no longer conscious.
Eragon was on his knees, and did not look at Murtagh as he stood. Instead, he stared at the wall to his left, his still-bloody lips in an unhappy line. "I didn't know…" he murmured.
"Well. Now you do." Murtagh's words were terse, and Eragon turned to look at his brother, finally. His eyes roamed over his brother's face, searching. Murtagh didn't know if Eragon found what he was looking for or not.
"I think…I…you should go. Come back though." Eragon winced. Speaking still hurt.
Murtagh noticed and closed the distance between them, placing a hand on Eragon's jaw and healing it. Eragon fought the urge to turn into Murtagh's touch, instead backing away once the pain receded.
"Yeah. I'll come back," Murtagh said, his hand still hanging where Eragon's jaw had been for a moment before he dropped it to his side and left without another word.
Galbatorix paced before him slowly. Eragon could practically feel the king's fury emanating from him, and he felt fear for the first time since he'd been captured. He knew this was it, this was when the king would finally use the punishment the Twins liked to employ, and he dreaded it. What would the king find?
"I did not think," the king started, his voice hard and smooth even in his anger, "that you would be more difficult to break than Murtagh was. I was wrong. But this has gone on too long, and you will break. Everyone does." A sick smile graced the king's face, and Eragon shuddered.
He didn't have time to brace himself.
He could barely hear his hoarse cries in the background but knew they were louder than ever.
When the king discovered Murtagh inside his mind, it hurt the worst. Galbatorix was cruel and ruthless as he delved into the subject, tearing into the darkest corners of his subconscious until there was nothing left to find.
Eragon lay panting on the floor, his body covered in a cold sweat as his body ached. Galbatorix had found all he needed.
"You sick little fuck," Galbatorix spat. Eragon could have said it back, but he didn't dare. "He's your brother. But you consider him something else, don't you, Shadeslayer. That's wrong, don't you know? Wrong. What do you think Murtagh will say when I tell him? He'll hate you more than he already does. He'll hate you more than you hate him. So interesting, how that much hate can coexist with these other…feelings."
"Don't—don't tell him," Eragon said, fear rising in his dry throat, and he coughed.
"Swear fealty to me, Eragon. Do it, and your secret is safe."
This was it. Galbatorix looked almost gleeful. And Eragon knew what his choice would have to be.
"Never. Tell Murtagh, I don't care. Nothing can be worse than it already is. I won't swear fealty to you."
A painful smack across the face, so forceful that Eragon fell back.
"So be it." Galbatorix had composed himself, and the fear settled in the pit of Eragon's stomach again. "You'll spend the rest of your sorry life in that cell. I'll tell Saphira you say goodbye."
Saphira…Saphira. It had been so long, too long since he'd seen her, his other half. So long that he barely noticed anymore, but the realization that he'd never see her again, never say another word to her…
The guards swam in and out of Eragon's vision as they dragged him back to his prison; he was losing lucidity as he allowed himself to drown in his unconsciousness. There was no hope anymore, and all he wanted was to exist without feeling.
Galbatorix sat on his throne in silence as he watched Eragon leave the room. This had been his last hope… but no matter. He'd keep Eragon alive—barely—in order to keep Saphira alive, but his threat to Eragon had been empty; he'd never tell Murtagh. For so long ago, when he'd torn apart his rider's mind, he'd discovered symmetrical thoughts and sentiments, and he would not allow Murtagh the satisfaction of knowing this, not after Murtagh's disobedience.
The boys would die, many years later, after the riders were replenished, without knowing love, and the king was glad he'd not felt that weakness in ages.
Eragon waited. It seemed as though forever passed before Murtagh returned, and left to his own thoughts, he realized that if this much between them was the same, maybe those similarities extended further…but that was impossible. They were brothers, and that was all. That's what he'd been telling himself since the Burning Plains, and it was like a bad taste in his mouth, but he swallowed it all the same.
Finally, Murtagh came.
He looked tired; that was the first thing Eragon noticed, the dark circles under his brother's eyes apparent. His eyes themselves carried the pain he'd attempted to shield; he'd given up, and Eragon found it hard to look into them.
Murtagh spoke first. "I need you to know," he said, looking away from Eragon, "that you have me. You've had me since we met. You're my brother—"
He broke off; his voice sounded unused, and Eragon wondered if Murtagh was as lonely as he. Underneath Murtagh's words, Eragon heard something. It mirrored the tone of his own subconscious, and finally, Eragon understood, all at once, in that single moment. Anti-climatic, it seemed. Eragon allowed himself a grim smile; he wasn't sure if he could take anything climatic anymore, these days.
"When you…when you were in my mind, you…my memories…like you'd forgotten?" Murtagh couldn't organize his thoughts as he spoke. "How could you forget?" He looked directly into his brothers eyes and wanted to shake him but he knew it would hurt him physically, and resisted. "Everything I did after the Twins took me was forced, Eragon. What I said on the Burning Plains…it was true, but…but I didn't want to, I hated it, I hated—still hate myself…"
"Didn't forget," Eragon choked out, and he couldn't deny it anymore. "One and the same, right?"
The simplicity of the statement was all that was needed.
Murtagh's face went blank for a moment, a look of relief passing over before he composed himself.
"Murtagh…" Eragon glanced up at the chains holding him. "Break these."
His older brother complied, catching his brother before he collapsed onto the floor, and holding him tight, almost too tightly, but Eragon didn't care, not now, not when he felt like he could breathe again. It was an embrace like any they'd shared in the past, but different now, different in every way.
Slowly, unsurely, Murtagh turned his head and pressed his lips to Eragon's bruised temple. Eragon didn't move away.
When he thought of the bodies—too many, piling up over his head nonononotyou—it didn't hurt as badly. The loss of the others…
"This is enough," Eragon whispered, for it was all he had, and Murtagh knew exactly what he meant.
As Eragon saw Galbatorix on his dragon, flying toward them with all speed (it was just a scouting mission, didn't think it could go so wrong) he knew it was over. Looked to his left, saw Nasuada crumple as a sword pierced her. To the right, where Orik fought on his own, and his mouth opened in a silent scream as four soldiers overtook him, slicing off his strong head. All around, where his friends fought and then fell like swatted flies. He couldn't breathe.
Directly in front of him, his cousin, Roran. He knew what would happen before it did, but he couldn't stop it. As Galbatorix flew over, the giant, terrible black dragon's talon sliced through his body like butter, his cousins blood staining the ground…
"NO!" Eragon's fury eclipsed his pain, right then, and leaping off Saphira's back, he charged towards Galbatorix's landed dragon.
The swords met and Eragon's mind was blank as he fought as hard as he'd ever fought, and as his energy waned and the king's didn't, a despair settled over him that he knew he'd never escape (I should have saved you) no matter how long he lived.
One glance at Roran's mutated body and Galbatorix had him. It was finished. And Eragon, as Galbatorix bound him, felt only emptiness.
"So. You've heard."
Eragon nodded. There were eggs, five, two of them female. Saphira was no longer needed.
(Just a toy soldier, strategically placed until taken over, useless and beaten down. No longer needed. Melted plastic, soon enough, don't worry it will be quick but maybe not painless, never painless. Even the toy soldiers can feel when they fall. Found where the guilt comes from…)
"I'm to be executed tomorrow. In front of a crowd. You know. To—to show that the old era is diminished, that's what the messenger said." Eragon knew he sounded scared, but the relief…the relief was enticing and part of him was impatient. (Just want it all to end, don't want to leave you but need to leave this..)
"What will become of me, I wonder…" Murtagh's voice was quiet, close as he sat next to Eragon against the far wall of the cell, their legs lightly touching; any contact was comfort, like coming home. "He'll kill me too. Hates me enough already, too much of a threat, he says. Never was a real threat, not like you were."
Eragon was silent but shook his head, still slowly, for the movement made it ache and spin. He licked his chapped lips like he always had to before he spoke, brushed his dirty hair from his eyes, turned toward his brother before grasping his cool hand in his own. "At least, at least you know I'll be waiting after. Whatever there is, after death, I mean," he said quietly, his warm breath hitting Murtagh's cheek.
"Do you think—you think you'll see them?" Murtagh looked away.
"Always do. Can't see why it would be any different in death, that's their territory…but maybe, maybe the guilt will go away, once we join them."
"You miss them."
"What of Arya? I know..I know you two were close."
"She…I loved her. So much." Eragon looked down, biting his bruised lip. "I miss her. But she's gone, and that's how it is." And I have you. "Murtagh." His brother looked up, tired, so tired. "You fix me. It was different with Arya than it is with you. You know how it is with you, us. And you're here, now. You fill the holes better than Arya ever could."
(I'm so tired, tired of this life. Won't you please take me away.)
Murtagh's fingers closed more tightly around Eragon's and he knew he didn't have to say anything more. Turning his head just a fraction more, Murtagh's lips brushed lightly against Eragon's, his free hand moving to Eragon's head, fingers entangling themselves in his brother's hair, just to hold him there (wasn't going anywhere, anyway, big brother). For the first time in months, Eragon felt his lips turn up into a true, albeit small, smile.
(All I have, but this is enough.)
Death is just a deep sleep, a final calm after the storm, let it carry you, don't have to carry yourself anymore.
See you soon.
As the ax swung, sleek and shiny and metal and quick, Eragon looked to his left and smiled.