CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX: What Never Would Have Been
A/N: It's sad to say that this is the final chapter of Until It Sleeps. Over 300 reviews…wow. You guys have been amazing! Hope you all enjoy this last chapter.
So, a huge thanks to: TheLastRider, Darth Rapture, CuttlefishShiz, Pookadook, Lottie, talk-ape, ShatterTheHeavens, Luli Cullen, ReillyScarecrowRocks, Mighty Lion, EvilBunny101, FredandGeorgeWeasley'sLil'Sis, evie898, , Team Weasley Forever, Lobo de Fuego, Restrained Freedom, Sarana Ishtar and Moonstar2015.
"I want to reconcile the violence in your heart
I want to recognise your beauty's not just a mask
I want to exorcise the demons from your past
I want to satisfy the undisclosed desires in your heart."
- Undisclosed Desires, Muse
Roran had completely and utterly refused to take up residence in Uru'baen, which had been restored to its proper name of Illyria. No one could blame him – who wanted to live in a dead place where a mad tyrant had ruled for over a century? Instead, Roran insisted that Carvahall should be restored. He didn't need a palace to be a king, despite the protests of the people.
The coronation took place in Surda, despite the many arguments that had taken place on the location. However, Nasuada and Orrin had put in the final word and they had felt that considering most of the Varden still remained in Surda, it would be the best place. Everyone in Alagaesia would want to see the coronation of their new king.
The coronation itself was a very regal occasion. Everyone came dressed in their finest clothes and filed into the cathedral, quietly taking their places amongst the pews. The many, many people who did not fit inside the building waited outside and the doors were left open so that all could witness this momentous occasion.
Roran looked resplendent in his fineries, a velvet cloak draped around his shoulders and pooling past his booted foot. Katrina stood beside him, clutching baby Marian. Both wore solemn expressions as they approached the front of the assembly, where Nasuada stood waiting with a heavy-looking crown in her hands. It had been found amongst Galbatorix's treasures and was recognized as the crown of the last true king.
"Kneel, Roran Stronghammer of Palancar Valley."
Katrina stood to the side, jiggling Marian nervously as Roran knelt in one fluid movement, bowing his head in a display of modesty. He had to admit that he was not very enthusiastic about becoming king. A lot of responsibility rested upon his shoulders and the people would look to him for leadership…yet he also knew there were few others who could bear this burden better than he could.
"Do you swear to protect Alagaesia and its people until your dying breath? To hold fast the oaths of the kings who came before you? To pay homage to the Riders and allow them free reign over the land?"
Roran looked up and his eyes blazed. "I do."
The crowd seemed to collectively gasp as Nasuada placed the crown upon Roran's head. There was the hint of a smile lingering about her lips as she stepped back. Everyone inside the cathedral knelt in the presence of the new king.
"Rise, King Roran of Alagaesia."
Roran stood with a sombre expression on his face. He turned to face the crowd and then the serious expression morphed into pure joy as he raised his arms enthusiastically. As one, the crowd roared its approval, standing to their feet to congratulate their new king. Katrina's face was glowing with pride as she watched her husband. All of Alagaesia would celebrate this event.
The celebrations lasted long into the night. Murtagh weaved his way through the crowd, laughing as many called to him, offering him a drink. He shook his head and politely declined the offer, for he had a task of his own to accomplish. He passed by Lucian and Brynja, surrounded by an enthusiastic group of youths, who were participating in an arm wrestle. Everyone cheered and laughed as Brynja managed to slam Lucian's arm down.
"Best of three," Lucian insisted, and Brynja grinned and grabbed his hand in hers once more.
Murtagh chuckled to himself. Next he passed a group of dwarves who had pushed together several tables as a makeshift stage, and were performing a variety of strange dances. Most of them were likely under the influence of ale. Murtagh watched with amusement as a red-bearded dwarf plummeted from the table onto the ground, to hoots of laughter from his companions.
Finally, Murtagh found who he was looking for. He stood by himself and watched the proceedings with his back pressed against a table and a mug of mead in his hand. Murtagh approached Tristan and wondered how this was going to turn out. He did not want the atmosphere to suddenly turn sour.
"It is a fine night for a celebration," Murtagh smiled as he approached Tristan, "Alagaesia is free once more."
Tristan inclined his head. "Indeed. Yet something tells me, Murtagh, that you have not come to speak with me about the celebrations."
Murtagh cleared his throat. There was no deceiving Tristan.
"Aye. It's about your sister, actually."
Tristan's eyes narrowed and he placed his mug down on the table behind him.
"Ashen? Is she pregnant?" His tone was warning and Murtagh shook his head vigorously. He didn't want Tristan to get the wrong idea.
"No! At least, not to my knowledge. However, I do not think it's proper to engage in…such behaviour. I would ask your father were he alive, or even Colton…but you are the oldest now and so I must ask you. Would you allow me to ask Ashen to marry me?"
Tristan observed Murtagh, surprised. Of course, he had known that such a question was coming eventually – there was no denying the love between Murtagh and Ashen. Tristan admitted now that Murtagh was not a bad man. Ashen was nearly seventeen and certainly old enough to make her own mind up on such matters. He did not want there to be bad blood between he and his sister, or he and Murtagh. There was no reason why Ashen and Murtagh shouldn't be wed.
"Of course," Tristan placed his hand on Murtagh's shoulder in a brotherly fashion, "Are we not brothers as Riders? Why not brothers-in-law as well? Ask her. I'm sure that she won't say no."
Murtagh inclined his head, grinning. "Thank you, Tristan. I'm happy for your blessing."
Now Murtagh sought out someone else entirely. He weaved his way back through the crowd. Things were beginning to settle down a little now. There were fewer dwarves dancing on the tables, and Brynja and Lucian had forsaken their arm wrestling and instead were kissing quietly in the corner.
Ashen was talking with Delia at one of the tables and when Murtagh approached, Delia offered him a knowing look and immediately slipped out of her chair.
"I shall speak with you later, Ashen," she said, smiling at Murtagh as he sat down in her place.
"There is something I need to ask you," Murtagh stated bluntly. He was in no mood to beat around the bush and he leaned across the table, taking Ashen's hands in his own and staring into her astonished blue eyes. "Ashen, will you marry me?"
Tears of joy welled in Ashen's eyes and her lips parted in shock. Then she clutched Murtagh's hands tightly in her own and nodded fervently.
"I will! I feel like I have been waiting forever for you to ask me."
Murtagh unclasped his hands from hers and leaned across to her, taking her face in his hands and kissing her lips almost urgently. His lips trailed down her neck and then he drew back and smiled at her.
"I feel that it's taken me forever to ask."
"I can't believe you're leaving!" Ashen choked, wrapping her arms around Eragon's neck so tight that he laughed and was forced to steady himself. "This is goodbye…forever."
Eragon, Saphira, Arya and many of the other elves had gathered at the ruined port city of Teirm to begin their journey across the vast ocean to their homeland. Ashen had known that the elves were going, but it had been a nasty shock when Eragon had revealed he and Saphira intended to accompany them.
"Don't pretend you'll miss me, not when Murtagh's around," Eragon chided, feeling the need to crack a joke because otherwise he would fall into a melancholy mood. He looked towards Saphira for support.
It will be alright, little one. We've always known that this day was coming. It will be hard to forget your old friends, but you will make new ones.
"You have been an inspiration," Tristan stated as he clasped hands with Eragon, "Honestly. You should be proud to be a Rider. I know that Brom would be proud of you. You and Saphira both…I wish you well."
Roran had farewelled Eragon back at Surda. It had been very emotional and Ashen hadn't been sure how the two cousins were going to cope with Eragon's departure. Yet Roran was strong and he was king of Alagaesia now. He had a wife and child. They could both learn to move on.
Delia embraced Arya and muttered something to her in the ancient language. The elf Rider was fully aware that with Saphira's departure, Aziza was to be the sole mother of the dragon race.
"Goodbye, brother," Murtagh muttered, grabbing Eragon and pulling him into a fierce embrace, ruffling his hair almost affectionately. When he drew back, both young men were smiling, yet there eyes were full of the pain that came with goodbyes.
Arya turned and held out her hand and Eragon took it without the slightest hesitation. The others watched in a forlorn silence as they walked down the dock towards the ship that was waiting for them, and Saphira circled in the sky overhead.
Eragon didn't want to turn back, but he was forced to look back one last time. This was Alagaesia, the country he had grown up in and fought for. It was hard to acknowledge that he was leaving it behind. He swallowed the lump in his throat as Murtagh raised his hand in one last farewell. Ashen buried her face in her hands and Eragon couldn't tell whether she was crying or not.
Come, little one, Saphira's tone was gentle, Do not dwell on the past. It won't do any good. Right now you need to focus on the future.
Murtagh put his arm around Ashen's shoulders and drew her close as she sobbed. They would all miss Eragon, Saphira and Arya. Alagaesia would not be the same without them…yet Alagaesia was already not the same. Things were changing for the better and if Eragon wished to depart, then they could only wish him a long and happy life.
Murtagh and Ashen were married two weeks later, on Ashen's seventeenth birthday. The event was cause for much celebration, and after it was over Angela came to stand by Ashen's side as she looked over the plains between Surda and Alagaesia.
"I'll go home someday," she told the herbalist, "Murtagh and I were talking about going to Palancar Valley, starting anew there."
Angela inclined her head. Ashen was a strange girl, not in her personality, but because her destiny had been and would be entwined with those of so many others. Murtagh, Tristan…this was the only the beginning of Ashen's story.
"Do you think Delia and Tristan will marry eventually?" Ashen asked, turning to face Angela, "It's not custom for the elves…"
Angela shrugged. "Who can tell? Their story is not yours. The feelings they share are not the same as the feelings you and Murtagh share. No two loves are the same. I do know that you and Murtagh are to consummate your marriage tonight." Ashen flushed and Angela could not help but smirk. "It's nothing to be embarrassed about, child. It happens with every married couple. You will be with child soon enough. The child of a Rider and his beloved."
Ashen placed a hand instinctively over her stomach. There was no baby there now…but soon there would be. Her and Murtagh's child, a child conceived of a love so strong it had broken kingdoms and changed Alagaesia forever.
Ashen glanced over her shoulder. Murtagh was heading down the slopes of the hill towards her. He would take her hand and lead her away. While everyone was dancing up there, she and Murtagh would join hands and hearts and dance in the moonlight as Angela looked back over her shoulder with a knowing smile.
"What would you call the child?" Angela asked.
A secretive smile crossed Ashen's lips as she heard Murtagh call her name. She and Angela both knew the answer to that question. Ashen's mind drifted back to two years ago, to her brave brother Colton who had died so that one day, Alagaesia could be free.