A Dream and a Joke

It was these dreams that hurt the most. Nay, it was these nightmares that hurt the most. All the Varden's Rider could see were Glaedr-elda's memories replayed over and over. The emotions, the pure anguish at losing his Rider of centuries.

Alone.

Alone.

Alone.

One word repeated over in his mind. Alone. Alone. Alone.

Eragon would rather be dead than alone, that was the simple truth.

Little one…you should not stay in the tent. Go for a walk, clear your mind.

What will you do Saphira?

If you did not know, I have more friends than you.

He chuckled despite himself. Saphira had the uncanny ability to make him laugh in the darkest of times. His other love, the Elvin princess, had the ability to make him cry in the happiest of times. Oh the irony of it all.

Little one, these thoughts do not become you. Go for a walk, I shall join you if I deem it necessary.

Thank you Saphira.

Go. Be off.

I am going…

He muttered in his mind, a bit miffed he was actually being forced out of his tent. Walking over to Saphira, he rubbed her snout and gently kissed her nose.

Little one…be careful.

I will Saphira. I promise.

Even under her comical exterior, Saphira worried more than most. The center of her worries were always him, and not that Eragon could blame her. He tended to have a rather bleak track record when she was not there. The Empire soldiers on the way back from his journey across Alagaesia, the assassination attempts, and among other events he would rather forget.

Aimlessly he made his way to the forest. The best thing about it was the men and women dared not venture around the area, some idiotic superstition ingrained in humans. Perhaps if it had been ingrained in him, all this trouble would not have occurred. Then again, Saphira would never be by his side, and that…that he could not regret even if it meant his uncle's death.

Brom would have been alive…and Oromis-elda.

Eragon shut his eyes, cringing them together. His mind was extraordinary, no matter the topic he chose to think on, it always made a connection back to this recent loss. Sometimes the jump was so ridiculous the Rider could not remember the connection – another sign of the irrationality of his mind.

Alone.

He laid his head on his arms, burying his face into his chest. The Rider no longer cried, instead tears silently streamed down his face. He was out of shudders, out of the wails, only the water remained.

"Saphira was occupied with the werecat's conversation. She sent me instead to see how you were doing."

The object of his second most painful experience. Arya…

"I assure you Shadeslayer, I am quite fine. Saphira worries unnecessarily."

The ground did not even hint at sinking when she took her place next to him. Elvin grace the cause for such lithe movements.

"I believe Shadeslayer, that we should refrain from calling each other that name. It can be confusing at times."

Her voice was firm, but hours of paying attention to the little nuances in it made Eragon easily able to determine her mood when her face showed little emotion. She was being playful with him, but he was in no mood to oblige her.

"In that case Arya svit-kona, you can be assured that I am fine."

"Saphira does not think so. And frankly I believe her."

Could she not understand he wanted to be left alone? Not Saphira, not Roran, not his late father, and especially not her could comfort him now.

"Does my word mean so little to you that without a second thought you would take someone else's view of myself to be correct versus my own view of myself?"

A gentle hand laid on his shoulder, "I apologize for my words, but I meant no harm in them. I was merely jesting…apparently that had not worked."

He laughed, that had done it. Arya's attempt at a failed jest was rather discerning.

"Usually a jest means some laughter in the voice." He sobered up, "In any case, it should be my apology. You are right, I am not fine. Saphira does have a clearer view of me than I do myself. It seems everyone, including Solembum, does."

The princess removed her hand and sat in silence. Elves did have the patience of a tree, no matter how many cursed or blessed it, the tree would grow at its own pace, which to the naked eye, meant not at all.

"How do you do it Arya svit-kona? Deal with all the loss."

Her response was quick as it was unexpected. "I was about to ask you the same thing. The truth is, I simply do not. I push the feelings so far back that I cannot reach them when I need to. Whether it be sadness or happiness. It is ironic, I actually look to you for guidance in this matter and you are asking me."

The Rider turned away, half in shock of what the princess admitted, the other half analyzing himself in her words. When he made no response, she continued.

"It is rather comical, I am so far lost in my emotions that my attempt at humor turns humorous, and I look rather silly."

He let a hint of smile creep into his voice, comforting, that was all his words were, "I doubt you could look silly Arya svit-kona. I am confident in your ability to make everyone else look like a fool."

"Was that a jest?"

"Nay, the truth."

"Barzul."

He looked at her quizzically. Only in the most extreme of circumstances did profanity ever cross the diplomatic ambassador's mouth.

"What is it Arya svit-kona?"

"I felt like laughing at your statement." Her emerald eyes locked on his and with all seriousness she continued, "And it was not even a jest."

Arya turned her head back to the bleak forest, "As I said, my sense of humor is greatly skewed."

Eragon cocked his head in contemplation, "I suppose we cannot be that bad. We do find humor in each other's words. An outsider may not understand our humor, but as long as we do, I say it is normal. After all, a jest is different to those involved than those around it."

"Philosophy in a rather idiotic topic. I say that Oromis has rubbed off a little to much on you." And then quickly as her smile died, her eyes turned teary. Eragon could tell she had not wanted to mention his name, yet it had slipped. Even Eragon became teary eyed at the mention of their names, but his distress could be looked at later. As of right now, he wanted to pacify his love, his friend who had succeeded in jesting with him when he needed a laugh the most.

"I dealt with the deaths of my father, Uncle Garrow, and even the betrayal of my brother by giving them purpose. For Uncle Garrow, I killed those who killed him, the Razac, and here I am Bane of the Razac. My father…he would not be happier unless I killed the king, so I will. He was never a revengeful man, but his hatred for Galbatorix was a feeling to be reckoned with. So I promised that even if it is the last act I have in this life, I shall succeed in my goal of avenging my father's death. And as far as Oromis-ebirthil and Glaedr-ebirthil go, my purpose to kill the king is redoubled."

"I am sorry for mentioning them Shur'tugal. I often forget how much you have lost, it seems unlikely for one of your age."

Eragon nodded, she still thought him a child. And who was to blame, he had but eighteen years of experience versus her century of training and fighting.

"I agree, most children my age do not."

The princess gave him a hard look, "You may be young Shadeslayer, but you are no child. I have seen elves with decades of experience with less maturity than you, elves with centuries of experience with less skill or strength as you do. Even elves with as old as my mother with less intelligence."

"Thank you for your words." It was a relief he was not a child in her eyes, but still young. When would he be old enough to be a man in her eyes?

"Help me find my purpose then Shadeslayer. I am falling blank. The Forsworn Rider who killed my father is dead, by your father's hand. I never knew his name, and I do not wish to. The Shade who killed my companions and tortured me for endless days is also dead, by your hand. The murderer of Oromis and Glaedr sits high on his throne and I can find no purpose in continuing this war. No purpose in moving on."

Eragon knew the answer, he knew what Arya should do, knew what he wanted her to do. He was hesitant, not sure if this was the answer she wanted to hear.

"Do not hide your meaning like Islanzadi. A snake in the disguise of sheep will not fulfill its purpose. Your fragmented sentences will serve to distress me further if you do not speak your mind."

The Rider sighed, it was ironic that Arya knew him just as well as Saphira. How? He did not ask, for a moment, all he cared is that she knew just as well as Saphira. The technicalities had not reached him yet.

"Let your purpose be to find happiness in this world. You have given years of your life to see the outcome of a pure world, let your purpose be to see purity in the everyday things. The movement of water, the rainbow, children playing, families reunited. You have fought for so long not to see the progress you have made. Look at that progress and let your purpose be to further it. Find happiness in life and you will have found your reason to continue fighting."

The princess hung her head, "How do you do it?

A confused look came over him, "Do what Arya svit-kona?"

"How do you make yourself seem better than him?"

Her voice was barely a whisper, tears leaked into it, causing a few cracks here and there.

"I am sorry, I do not understand."

"What you say, it reminds of him. Yet it does not, it reminds of how much better you are than him, reminds me of everything you are and he is not."

"Arya svi-" Eragon started to speak, yet he was quickly cut off. There was no stopping her words now. He knew exactly who she was speaking of, yet he was afraid to admit to himself, afraid he would fall down the same ditch he did all that time ago. Afraid his carefully placated and locked love would unleash its wrath on his heart once again. Eragon knew he was not strong enough to go through rejection again.

"If I asked him the same question, he would have laughed at my weakness. Calling it immaturity. If I jested with him, he would say now was not the time for games. I smile or laugh, and he would say I am distracted. And yet I loved him, I loved him for trying to make me better, for dealing with me, for loving me with all my imperfections. I believed him to be my savior of a sorts, and now I see my naivety, my stupidity…"

The words hung in the air, ominous to those who listened. Suddenly Eragon was livid. Faolin…that bastard of an elf. He tricked her for his own sick purposes, for his own sense of superiority, for his own sadistic tendencies. He trapped the princess into believing the only way to perfection was through him. The last months of torture by Durza's hands were just as comparable to the years of emotional torture she suffered at his hands.

But now was not the time for his rage. Her sadness, her confession would always come first. No longer would she be neglected. Arya deserved to be treated like the princess she was, deserved to be worshipped like the goddess the Rider saw her as.

Eragon moved closer, placing a tentative arm around her shoulder. He pulled her body raked from the tears closer to his. Her head was nearly buried in the crook of his neck, her tears were far more prominent, yet muffled by his skin. His hand moved up and down her back, soothing any pain, any tension from it. The other sought hers in the entanglement and held it close.

"Arya svit-kona, I would say that greater people have fallen prey to lesser men, but it would be false, for you are the greatest that I know. He was blinded by his own selfish nature, in his inferiority complex. You were trapped. But you escaped, and that is better than all the others in the same position. You are not by any means weak, or imperfect. We all have our faults, but it is our faults that lead us to perfection. I am hasty, I find trouble wherever I go. That is a fact. But my hastiness made sure you survived that terrible ordeal with the damned Shade, and that the traitor in Orik's clan to be discovered. You, on the other hand, keep your emotions and feelings to yourself. Although it isolates you, you happen to be the most respected ambassador and the most trusted diplomat. That being said, those rare circumstances you do smile and laugh or let your barriers down become true moments to be treasured. I see no fault with you, only another barrier I have no doubt you will overcome."

Her tears would not subside, "I am withering away. Wilting."

The Rider gently placed his lips over her head, kissing the top of her head, kissing the raven black strands he was convinced was silk.

"Then I shall sing you back."

And so he did, he sang her the lily he had given her so long ago. And just like the last time, spirits flew by and again 'gilded' the lily. A ghost of a smile appeared at her mouth, one so fleeting his eyes' did not believe it was real. But his heart knew it had been. Pressing the golden lily into her palm, he closed her hand around it.

"I am sorry Shadeslayer. For being so cold to you. The ice in my heart has melted and I am finally able to feel my body beating with life. And that is when this loss had toppled me. Instead of the happiness I wished for, I could only see sorrow. I burdened you greatly. But I must thank you, all that sorrow for all those years seemed to have been worth it, worth waiting to feel the happiness erupting in me as it is now. All because of you."

He shook his head, removing his hold on her, "I hardly did any-"

But he was silenced by her lips. A long languid kiss, one that moved as if to savor each and every sensation coursing through his body. Her hands clutched at his tunic, pulling him closer, before snaking around and gripping his neck with a silent ferocity. Her kiss was not demanding, it was not even rough. It was beautiful, it was a moment he could not have asked for more. And then she pulled away.

"You loved me at a time when I did not believe in love. You loved me at a time when I did not even feel an ounce of kindness for myself. And for that alone, for showing me how to feel once again, I will love you for the end of eternity."

He turned his eyes away, becoming cold and blank. This was unbelievable…literally unbelievable.

"Is this a dream?"

The princess's eyebrow furrowed, anger baiting its prey underneath her usually calm eyes. Before she could speak, he explained his question.

"I have had these dreams thousands of times, nightmares actually. I am reliving every loss in my life over and over again. But the worst is you, here, like this, admitting that you love me as much as I do you, and then I wake up. I wake up to this bleak world knowing that the one person whom I love as much as Saphira does not love me back. I went through that pain once, I cannot do again and again. If this is a dream, I beg you leave me be."

Her eyes softened at his words, touched by his confession.

"Nay, my Rider, this is no dream. This is a dream come true." And she kissed him again, "I will never let you wake alone."

And so it was, between the jests and the mourning, came the first signs of true happiness in both their eyes. The Rider made sure no other doubts of imperfection arose in the princess's mind, and the princess ensured that no other night would he arise with word alone echoing through his ears. A perfect relationship existed between two imperfectly perfect people. Two ragged edges of a puzzle that found their match. Two parts of a broken mirror that finally when put together displayed the world as it should have been. They were imperfect alone, yet together, they were the epitome of a perfection – and that was no dream.