Eragon watched as the celebrations started for the Varden, the battle of Feinster was no easy task and the soldiers knew their success was something to be celebrated. However, he could not help the sinking feeling as he watched the rest of the men. They had their celebrations, better yet, they had their reasons to celebrate.
But him, the only thing he could celebrate was not dying. He felt the pangs of jealousy as he watched Roran and Katrina twirl around the dance floor. She was barely showing signs of pregnancy, but they would come quickly if Elaine was example enough. They had each other, Roran had someone to go home to, someone waiting for him, someone to love him. Saphira was there for the young Rider, but not like the way Katrina was for Roran. The best he and Saphira could do was mourn together, they were so interlocked within each other's mind that their sorrow was inseparable. They were the same personality in two vastly different bodies.
The elves were nowhere to be seen, they did not care for this type of celebration. Only a few committed to their watch stood in the corner. Out of sheer necessity of having an Elvin representative, on the leader of the Varden's part, Arya sat at a table with King Orrin and Nasuada, but she was highly secluded from their conversation. Her entire demeanor suggested she wanted nothing to do with the celebrations…and that meant she wanted nothing to do with the celebrations. Instead she sat, straight faced, in front of an untouched glass of wine staring into the oblivion of dancers as if in concentration. But Eragon knew her better than that, she paid little attention to those dancers, it was a façade so others would not disturb her seemingly occupied mind. As if she felt his gaze on her, she turned to look at him…her face horribly impassive.
The Rider gave a slight nod before departing from the shadows he was lurking in. He had left the table in order to discuss some absurdities with Angela, but his thoughts rendered him stationary there after. Instead he chose to leave the scene of such misery.
There was work to be done, if anything, he could practice sparring, something to take his mind off of whatever dismay he lingered on. Drawing Brisingr, he let the magic flow through his body until the sword was alit with bright blue flames. He moved fluidly through a series of moves and defenses his father taught him and Vanir perfected in him. He was so absorbed in the movement of his blade he did not notice the shadow of a lone figure edge closer and closer to the flames.
"Are you interested in a better sparring partner than the air?"
He stopped his movements and faced the speaker. The alarm was little in him, he no longer questioned why Arya did anything anymore, it was safer for his heart.
"I am not sure there is a better sparring partner than the air Arya svit-kona. I cannot see it, I cannot block it, yet it continues to strike me without inhibition. I cannot say the same for other sparring partners."
She chuckled softly and he smirked slightly. Holding out a hand for her to join him in the flat expanse of ground, he motioned for her. Silently drawing her sword, she made her way over to him.
Under normal circumstances, the Rider would have insisted on some source of light, but his sword was providing ample lighting for their movements. They circled around each other, baiting for the first move.
She struck at once, allowing her body to almost soar towards him in speed unmatchable only to his eyes. Successfully blocking her first attack, Eragon quickly moved his formation into defense as he parried her other blows. If he was not a Rider, he would have been sent reeling back at the least, but his abilities and strength allowed him to stay relatively in the same place as they danced around each other.
He marveled at how easily he was able to keep pace with her, his breathing was not labored, his muscles no longer burned as they used to when sparring with an elf, and she was known as the swiftest elf no less. His moment of observation rendered him unaware of the upcoming blade against his throat. But not to worry, he dodged the blade narrowly and kicked his legs out underneath him, instantly making contact with his opponent's legs. She scrambled on the ground, rolling away from him to get back into position. He stumbled after her, holding her captive with his vice like grip.
Pinning her arm down with one hand, he forced her down and his blade to her throat like a knife. And suddenly she was not his opponent, suddenly she was not the swiftest Elvin warrior, suddenly she was not a sparring partner. She was Arya, she was the oh so beautiful Elvin princess pinned underneath him, panting for a lack of breath because of his weight on her, she was the woman he lost his heart to, but was willing to lose so much more. His mouth dried, and hers was so close, inches away, centimeters, a distance that might as well not have been there.
Her eyes were locking on to his, her hand went limp in his grasp, as if giving up the fight for dominance in their forgotten sparring match. Her emerald orbs gleamed against the blue simmer of his blade, they looked ethereal, out worldly. She was not normal, not even for an elf, she was something far more, an angel, someone hand crafted to perfection, the epitome of perfection, of all things good and perfect. A reason to keep fighting.
He was so close, so…so close. All he could think about was her body pressed tight against his, how he loved the feeling, how he wanted forever, how much he loved her. He leaned in.
A wolf howled in the distance bringing him back. Arya had turned her gaze from him, finding her lost blade in the grass and clenching it with an unbreakable grip. Coming to his senses, he quickly got off her lithe body, apologizing for the incident and held out a hand to lift her from the ground. She took it, only lightly, as if taking his hand for the sake of taking it and not lifting herself up with it was her way of a silent forgiveness.
He took it as such, after all, she said nothing else.
Eragon watched as she dusted herself off and sheathed her thin, curved blade in her scabbard. He moved to go back to the tents, but she stayed put, instead following his previous path to the edge of the river.
"You left relatively early."
He joined her by the bank, taking a seat next to her. Close enough to be considered companions, yet far enough to respect her space. The Rider leaned back, letting his body rest against the tilted bank and his gaze travel to the cloudless night sky dotted with bright stars and planets far out in the distance.
"Well, my friend the air was missing its sparring partner, so I had to spend some time with it."
As if on cue a gale of wind howled in the forests in an answer to his comment.
She shook her head, a small smile playing on her lips, "Will you never stop joking?"
"Stop joking? I think not. At a time when I did not know anything, I could not even make jokes because of my lack on understanding. And now, when everything seems relatively simple, I am finally making up for the lost times as an utter idiot."
The princess gave him a hard look, "An idiot? I hardly think so."
"Let me prove my observation. I was an idiot to hunt in the Spine, no one has survived in there, I was an idiot to hide Saphira away from my uncle, an idiot to not listen to Brom, and an even greater idiot to have trusted Murtagh when I knew his identity, and finally the most idiotic of them all because I continue to fight even knowing I stand no chance against the king."
Arya furrowed her eyebrows, "I have never seen you so…sarcastic before."
"Sarcasm is an underrated emotion I am afraid." He looked away, knowing he was being purposely difficult, "Forgive me, Arya svit-kona. I am in no mood to be of a good conversation today. The events of tonight have made me slightly more reflective than I should have been."
"Stay here for a while. I did notice you be rather dejected at the party. You did not even come back to tell that you were leaving for the night."
He did not answer, but rather continued to stare at the dark skies. Surprisingly, Arya copied his movement, letting her body relax against the soft grass.
"If it is any consolation, you did win the sparring match."
"It was hardly a sparring match, I nearly tackled you instead of fighting you."
She seemed to almost smile at the memory, but Eragon swore it was the distant lights flickering on her face.
"In my experience, sparring matches rarely have parameters. You bested me."
He shrugged his shoulders. It honestly did not matter who could best who as long as they could hold their ground in a battle.
"Your cousin seems quite happy." She paused for a moment, collecting her thoughts before beginning again. "I often thought leaving the Varden during such a precarious time in order to search for Katrina was a mistake. However, I am hard pressed not to reconsider my decision upon witnessing them together."
The Rider chuckled at her observation. "It was always Katrina for Roran. They were dancing around each other for years before they were actually considered a couple."
Her eyebrows furrowed, "But that would make Roran nearly only seventeen or so when they decided to become a couple. That is quite young."
"For an elf, yes. But not for a human. Humans live perhaps sixty to sixty five years on average. Elves are immortal, with no notion of death. However, in order to complete a life in sixty five years, growth must happen quite fast. If humans are to fit what all the elves have in their immortal life in our sixty years, speed is of essence. Which is why humans are far more rash and instinctual than elves. Humans learn the fastest by making mistakes and learning from them, while elves have the advantage of learning about mistakes before making them. In your world, a third of an eternal lifetime is quite long, and by that time it is not uncommon to have mated at least once for elves. Seventeen years of age is just shy of a third of a human lifetime, it is not uncommon to seek a wife at that age either."
She cocked her head to the side, as if trying to grasp his words, or more likely think of something else about his observation.
"Shadeslayer, when you speak of elves, you refer to them as elves, and yet when you speak of humans, you refer to them as humans. Of which race do you consider yourself?"
"To the elves, I will always be human. And to the humans, I will always be too elflike to be them. I do not fit anywhere Arya svit-kona. I call no place home."
Frowning at his statement, Arya turned back to look at the stars.
"Perhaps I could consider myself a dwarf."
She made a sound of disgust, "Do not even joke about something so obscene."
"Your hatred with dwarves runs that deep?"
"Nay, simply my disposition at having a close friend consider himself one even in a jest."
It did not matter he was only joking, her hatred toward anything he did was enough to ensure he did not do it again. Such was the need of the one in love. "Then I shall not consider myself a dwarf."
She turned to him again, "Then what will you consider yourself?"
He sighed hanging his head down, "Does it really matter what I consider myself?
"It matters to me."
Her tone of voice was impossible to decipher. Dammit, how did she wreck havoc on his like this? One statement of hers led him to a million and one questions.
"Then I suppose it matters to me as well."
She narrowed her eyes but did not comment.
"A Rider Arya svit-kona. I consider myself a Rider, a race that belongs neither to the elves nor the humans, nor any other race but to themselves in this land. I am a Rider."
Her gaze at him was indescribable, it seemed almost longing, yet there was a hint of fire in her eyes, as if some inspiration or some desire was ignited by his words. It was something he was seeing more and more from her. Something he was getting addicted to seeing more and more from her.
As if catching her blazed look before it continued, she looked back up to the stars, her eyes gently falling back into their usual emotional outlook. But they looked pained, she looked pained from falling back into her nonchalance. It was as if she hated it, she hated the mask she formed and she wanted so desperately to shred it to bits.
Or maybe that was Eragon's heart talking, his hope getting the better of him.
"Where is Saphira?"
The corner of his lip lifted in a smile as he thought of his eternal companion. "She went out hunting earlier today, but I suppose she is back and drinking heartily with the rest of the celebrations."
"I never knew her one to drink."
He laughed a little, "She makes up for what I lack, which is often the case."
"You do not drink? Even at celebrations?"
The Rider became serious, "When I drink, I tend to lose all rational thought. And then when you say all I need to do is become more tolerant of the substance, I have. Lately, I have realized that alcohol helps me forget the destruction and deaths of my family, and I fear becoming addicted to that temporary ignorance. It is a mode of prevention more than anything else."
She had furrowed her eyebrows, "Did Brom drink a lot? I do not remember him ever exceeding his limits."
He nodded slightly, "You would not. The last nineteen or so years he has gotten worse, much worse. Staying in small town reminded him too much of Selena, I reminded him too much of my mother, you see, I do not look like my father much. Uncle Garrow told me was I 'dead ringer' for his sister. Especially with my eyes, the same shade of brown, the same shape, the same 'innocence.' Although Uncle Garrow said she lost that innocence about her when she came back pregnant with me. 'Haunted' were the words he used."
Eragon chuckled darkly, "I bet Uncle Garrow would think both our eyes looked the same once again."
Arya shifted uncomfortably next to him, unused to being confronted with bare emotions he assumed.
"Do not worry Arya svit-kona, I do not need comfort or words of encouragement. I have come to peace with those facts. They haunt me no longer."
"My discomfort has nothing to do with your words as much as they do with mine. You may not like what I have to say."
He nodded encouragingly, "Even if they are not good, I trust you enough to know they are necessary. Please tell me."
"You started out like Selena. I met her a few times. Wise, strong, stronger than Brom ever truly was. She had the intention of saving the world when she joined the Varden while Brom had the intention of vengeance. She was stunningly beautiful, captivating men, elves, dwarves, everyone when she walked in the room. But her beauty never went to her head, she was modest, humble, the perfect woman. Even with her history and abuse, she was able to smile and laugh freely. When I first met you, it was the similarities between your mind and hers that prevented me from continuing my attack rather than your words in the Ancient Language. You smiled and laughed freely in Ellesmera, and even until recently you have done so. However these past few days, I have seen subtle changes in you. Much more like Brom. Rarely smiling, your eyes have lost their liveliness, their intensity for the majority of activities except flying or sparring. It has been days since you have last laughed, the last time you looked fondly in the direction of children playing, since the last time you smiled at me, and I-"
She caught herself, stopping before she revealed anymore.
Thoughts were running through the Rider's head. How had she known all this? How long had she been watching him and how intensely to know when his eyes blazed?
"And you what?"
Gathering her thoughts, she voiced her concern, "And I do not wish you to lose that carefree aspect of you…I…I, well frankly speaking, I miss that of you."
His eyes remained carefully blank, there was no use in reading into her words more than what she said. He had fallen into that trap before, thinking her words meant anything else than what she said. Wanting him to stay did not mean she loved him.
Eragon answered truthfully, "It is painful Arya svit-kona. I cannot bring myself to feel only happiness and lock the sadness away. I feel guilty when I do. And the sadness is painful, extraordinarily painful, I feel like breaking. I am not strong enough to feel that magnitude of sadness, so I lock all my emotions away. It is the perfect solution, I no longer feel guilt at being happy or sadness."
"That is no way to live Shadeslayer, you know that."
He looked in her eyes, "I have stopped living many months ago, I have simply begun to exist. It is surprisingly peaceful."
"Please do not."
Who was she to question his emotions? He loved her, but expecting him to change every last bit, wanting him to go through even more pain for her sake made him absolutely livid.
"I have suffered enough Arya svit-kona. I am not so keen on doing that again. I would appreciate it if you did not give me your thoughts on this matter any longer."
Her eyes blazed with a new fire and he immediately regretted his words.
"I fell in love with one who was just like you. Carefree, easy going, easy to smile with and even easier to laugh with. The war took a toll on him, he became quiet, emotionless. Even before he was killed, I had lost him. I will not let that happen again!"
She moved from her position with the clear intention of going away before he stopped her. The last thing he wanted was her anger directed at him. If he could not be with her, at least he had their friendship to ease his ache.
"I am sorry. I truly am, I just have not felt happiness in a while. Everything I have worked for is slowing stripping me of everything and everyone I have loved. When there is so little to be happy about, it is easier to feel nothing. But I will try, wiol ono, I will try Arya svit-kona."
Laying a gentle hand on her shoulder, he sealed his promise with a nod before getting up and leaving.
He stopped, slowly coming to a halt before turning around. Raising his eyebrows, he silently asked the Elvin princess what it was she wanted.
"Will you leave so soon?"
Shrugging, he replied it was getting late before continuing his walk back. If he was not mistaken, the Rider saw a hint of disappointment in her eyes, but that was not right. There was nothing for her to be disappointed about, at least, not when it pertained to him.
His restless mind would not keep replaying the events as he walked back. All he saw were her words and her expressions.
Those same words…
"I fell in love with someone like you…I will not let that happen again."
"I had already lost him."
"I miss you…"
These thoughts served no purpose.
Why would she even bring up such a topic? Perhaps for his welfare but her mention of her former lover was not at all necessary in the context. What did she want to accomplish by referring to him? His sympathy?
Nay, even that was not the right answer.
He groaned, stopping walking to press his hands against his forehead in frustration. His mind could not be silenced unless Saphira or the Elvin princess was with him.
This was no use, he had to know why. Perhaps that would make his mind finally feel peace. He reluctantly changed directions and walked back in the direction he came from.
She was no longer staring at the sky, rather sitting with her knees to her chest and her head resting on her elbows over them. Her gaze was tilted to the side, placing the place where he once lay under scrutiny and leaving the beautiful of the stars and moon ignored.
"Why did you say it?"
Arya stood up quickly, her mask back in its place.
She cocked her head, "Say what? My feelings on your change in demeanor?"
"No." He sighed and looked away, "Why did you tell me that the one you once loved was like me and then changed?"
She furrowed her eyebrows, "To prevent your change in demeanor. Why else?"
"No, Arya svit-kona. If it was simply because of my change in demeanor, you would have never brought him into conversation and compared us. It would have been simple observations of how people have changed. So why did you compare us and tell me that you will not let that happen to me when you loved him?"
Her gaze traveled over his body and settled on his eyes, "It scares me how well you know me."
Her admittance was unexpected, but not as much as her saddened gaze. Eragon wisely chose to say nothing, simply looking at her.
"I loved him…loved. I do not love him any longer. I do not feel guilt any longer."
"How could you possibly think you were responsible for his death?"
Exasperated she turned away from him, muttering something indiscernible.
"What did you say Arya svit-kona?"
Turning around, she unleashed her Elvin fury, "I was saying how you may well be the idiot you pronounced yourself not so long ago."
"How am I supposed to know what you are thinking? Your words have double meanings and I cannot even make one clear."
"I am blinded.. surely you know that by now."
"By what are you blinded by?" Her voice shook with a silent fury, and he wished so desperately she simply tell him. He was blinded by his love for her, one that blocked out all her faults, one that rendered him utterly mute in her presence, one that proved her an enigma to him. Because of his impairment, Eragon could not longer distinguish the true meaning behind her words because his heart put a different spin on each sentence of hers.
"You know what I am blinded by, and yet you act blind."
"Blind? I am blind? You stand there, pretending not to have heard me correctly and you call me blind. How dare you! How dare you even think I have a wool over my eyes when I have finally rid myself of it!"
He forced his hands through his hair, the first sign of frustration physically taking a toll on his body. Facing her with renewed strength, the Rider forced her emerald jewels to look at his own dull brown ones.
"I do not know what you are talking about!"
His voice held exasperation, his eyes desperation. And she seemed to realize his straining, his dilemma of being so far lost and to not be able to find his way back. Arya looked away, breaking his gaze of utter hopelessness. Sighing, she walked slowly to him, her movements purposely slow and relaxing and laid a gentle hand across his warm cheek.
"Then think Shadeslayer, think of what I said."
The Elvin princess picked herself up in all her regality and headed back to her tent clear across the Varden encampment. She left him pondering her actions as she often did.
The Rider took a seat where she had previously occupied and laid down looking at the stars. He would think of what she said, think over and over until he found the right answer.
Arya had followed him, and based on the time between his and her arrival, nearly two minutes after he left. Nearly immediately after he left. And she offered to spend time with him, spar with him, and even after his absolute overstepping of boundaries of tackling her, she did not reprimand him. And there had been that brief moment of weakness for them both, that one chance that both of them lost themselves in the other. If he remembered correctly, there had been the faint inklings of desire in her eyes, and her hand lay limp at her side, letting go of dominance, letting go of something. And that magic had been broken when the wolf let out its call.
She did not leave him even then, but rather chose to talk with him, express her concerns, and even advise him wisely.
And then there were those words…
"I fell in love with one who was just like you…I miss you…I lost him…I will not let that happen again…Even before he died, I lost him."
Guilt, she said she no longer felt guilt, but she was not the kind to feel guilt unless she had a role in it. She could not feel guilty for his death.
She felt guilty for moving on from him, from the one she loved.
Racing to her tent, the Rider came upon the somehow regal looking apparatus she resided in. A lone candle illuminated a beautiful figure laying across the bed, reading a long scroll top to bottom, repeatedly, it seemed from the ease at which the scroll stayed open without both her hands' support.
He gingerly knocked and entered when the faint sound of "Come in." resounded.
"Have you understood my words?"
"I am sorry."
Her eyebrows knitted, "You have yet to grasp the meaning of my words."
He shook his head, "Listen to me." And she fell silent, the scowl retreating into the depths from which it came from.
"I am sorry for confronting you as I had. It was unnecessary. Your meanings were clear, clear enough that I should have understood. The truth is I am afraid to think beyond of what you say, to think of the meanings behind your words. I misinterpreted them once and told you I loved you. Truth as that was, I would never had done had not I believed some words of yours to mean you wanted a relationship beyond the bounds of friendship. I was afraid of misinterpreting them again, blatant as they were."
He strode over to her side, kneeling carefully in front of her, tall enough so they were eye to eye, short enough so they were equal. Gently taking her cool hands in his own, he wrapped them so all they could feel was the warmth he provided her with.
"I am sorry for you loss…his death and his distancing. I will not make the same mistake Arya svit-kona, I will not let the man you love be distanced from emotions, especially love."
She pursed her lips, holding back a few drops of moisture threatening to fall.
"And what of the man I love? What does he feel?"
He sighed, bringing her hands to his warm breath before placing a tentative kiss on her knuckles.
"You know he is blinded by his love for you, blinded so much he could not even see the truth in front of him."
A hint of a smile splayed on her lips, the first true one that graced her lips in weeks.
"Does he love me?"
The Rider returned her smile with one of his own.
"You know I do Arya. You know I love you."
She brought her hands out of his, and held his lower jaw and neck firmly as she let her lips explore his. If he were anyone else, Eragon would have felt a tad overwhelmed with her forwardness, but it was him and she was her, and he would expect no less. He smiled against her lips…only briefly before she claimed them again with a renewed fervor.
Arya was nearly pulling him closer so he knelt between her legs on the edge of the bed. His hands had snaked around her back, holding her closer, running themselves through the strands of dark raven hair. And then she stopped, only to regain her breath, but stopped nonetheless. Her face was pleasantly flushed, her hair in disarray, but nothing compared to wildness his hair must have looked like.
He had a grin plastered on his face, one that remained when he leaned his forehead against hers. He let his lips slowly wander down her cheek and neck, discovering the most sensitive parts as he lingered in a few places here and there. A sharp intake of breath clued him in on an especially sensitive patch on the underside of her flawless jaw. He smiled against her skin before placing a kiss on her forehead.
"I love you Arya."
Her smile returned even wider, "I will not ever tire of hearing that."
"I will never tire of saying it."
She shook her head, "You are truly blinded by love Eragon."
"As long as you are covering my eyes, I can see everything clearly."