NOTES: Alright peeps, we're just about done here! I'm so glad to have been able to write something that kept a few readers entertained for a few minutes... and to think, I almost didn't even write this story at all. Had it in the back of my head for a while, then scribbled down chapter one (of the prequel) and posted, intending to leave it as a one-shot... and it just grew and grew to a total of 22 chapters. Crazy! Much thanks to Magma Fyre, Oblit and Sentinel for their ongoing support, and CP1064 and everybody else even if they didn't review much (no shame in that, I'm just glad you read it and liked it!) Enough outta me, I'm gonna let the newlyweds "consummate" and so on. See you 'round, and Gûntera Bless! ~MS
Chapter Fourteen – Rider-Kyn
Eragon and Elva's wedding feast was magnificent, if of simple selection. The blushing couple sat at the head of their table, presiding over the revelry with their hands bound to one another as a parade of their friends and neighbors congratulated them and offered gifts. From Orik, sturdy helms graced with the hammer-and-stars crest of his– their clan. From Arya, a ring bearing the yawë that was very nearly identical to Eragon's, crafted with her mother's generous permission; this forever declared Shiningbrow a friend of elf-kind. From Lady Nasuada and King Orrin, various jewelry and fine clothing – and also from Nasuada, a warm hug from which she did not flinch, bringing Elva to tears.
Roran and Katrina managed to scare them up an entire barrel of mead, all to themselves. Jeod and Helen presented a beautiful painting of Saphira. Trianna, on behalf of Du Vrangr Gata, had magically produced quite a large quantity of lace to add to Elva's dowry. Greta's gift was a hearth-rug for their future abode, Horst's was decorative shields, Angela's a paste that allegedly healed any wound, Jörmundur's one pair of fine dress shoes for each, Birgit's a scroll that had once been given to her by Brom (which made Eragon clutch her hand, eyes streaming in gratitude). Much to his surprise and the alarm of others, even Nar Garzhvog barged into their celebration for just long enough to present the two of them with an Urgal's namna, a woven cloth depicting the proud history of "Firesword and Quickknife." Both newlyweds were delighted in all of these.
Blödhgarm and his retinue did not present them with physical gifts; rather, they reenacted an elven story set to song in full. No one else could find words as the performance wore on, so captivated were they by the voices and movements and instruments, though only the bride and groom and a handful of the dwarves could understand the ancient language well enough to follow the tale. It told of two elven lovers, the man falling out of love with the woman, and how she changed the shape of the very world around them to bring his heart back to hers. Not a dry eye was to be found, whether or not they comprehended why; its meaning drove through to the soul by nature of its haunting music.
The evening wore on, and some of the dwarves of Dûrgrimst Ingeitum held games involving feats of strength and other showmanship, as was their age-old wedding tradition. Eragon chuckled ruefully when he realized they would not likely enjoy the Ghastgar as he'd witnessed after Orik's own ceremonies, given the absence of their Feldûnost mounts – and was therefore gladly proven wrong when two enormous mountain goats were produced and a handful of willing spear-wielders saddled them and began the jousting. All humans laughed and banged on their tables as they watched, glad for a showing of another culture's games. Elva spoke with Orik at great length about these, and the king beamed at her and reflected on the soundness of his decision to usher her into their clan.
At long last, the festivities began to wind down. Most of the dwarves either retired to their own camp or were passed out wherever they may lay, filled with food and drink. Many of the human guests had also found their way back to tents and duties on the home front or the war front. Lady Nasuada bade them spend as much time as they needed in one another's company before returning to duties – as long as it did not extend beyond a few days – before taking her leave, as well.
Roran and Katrina, the two very last stragglers, embraced them with the warmth that only resides within family. During this, Eragon overheard Katrina telling Elva that she wanted to hear "all manner of detail come morning." Eragon coughed into his fist, and Roran laughed and thumped him on the back.
This left them alone to pick their way over piles of saturated guests and back to his tent. Saphira mentioned in a would-be offhand tone that she was going far, far into the Spine to hunt and "warned" them that she could not be contacted through their mind-link over such a distance. Eragon, red as the setting sun itself, thanked her sincerely.
Then they truly were alone.
"That was a very stupid thing to do," he told them as he began to shuck his armor. It was slow going with their hands bound.
"Promising yourself to me in elven tongue. You are a woman chained now. I would not have asked that of you."
Elva smiled as she dropped the sword-belt he had bade Orik fashion in Du Weldenvarden next to that of Beloth the Wise. "Which is why I did not tell you beforehand. It was my own gift to you. Is the bride not permitted to give anything to her groom?"
"Aye, allright," he told her gruffly as his boots joined the armor. "But I'd rather you crafted me another fairth instead." Then he noticed how she stood anxiously by his bedroll, only having removed her belt and veil, trembling. "What is it?"
"I... this night has come after so long, and now I don't... I'm not sure I'm ready to..."
"There is no law saying we must," he told her gently, placing his free hand at her waist. "And we may remove the ribbon now if y-"
"No," she whispered urgently, then caught herself and pursed her lips as her other hand caressed the two joined ones. "Eragon, I'd like to keep it on for the remainder of our day. I'd like to keep it on until we die, but that would be impractical."
Nodding with a smile, he began to sit, and she followed. His pulse raced on. Slowly, they both worked to remove her sandals, and when they had done he traced a finger along the sole of one foot, causing her to giggle and twitch away. Eragon smiled to himself. "Clean."
"They're clean now. I can still remember how dirty they were when I met who you are for the first time."
Elva's reflective brow furrowed. "What do you mean, exactly? 'Met who I am'?"
"Well, I met you first when I blessed you, but then you were... someone else. It wasn't until you came to me in the clearing that I was introduced to Elva."
"That's putting it mildly," she laughed, tucking a ribbon-twined lock behind her ear. "There is little connection between she and I. Or between the Eragon who blessed me and the one whose touch is so tender now."
He averted his eyes from her, trying to hide the grin that would not be banished. "Am I really so different?"
"As east from west, beloved. We have both of us become something more in the interim."
As if by unspoken agreement, they removed Eragon's boots and his trousers. Elva's dress quickly followed, though as per her request they delicately slit one sleeve down the seam so it could be easily repaired rather than untie their marriage-binding. By this time, he could no longer think with a clear head, but when his hand went to her shoulder and began sliding the strap of her slip downward, she whimpered and trembled anew.
"You needn't fear," he breathed into her ear, causing her to spasm and gasp. "It is I."
"Astute observation," she joked to distract herself from this strange reluctance.
"Please talk to me."
Elva's eyes found his, pleading for him to understand even before she spoke. "I... do not think me dim, but I cannot help but return to that eve. Eragon my sweet, I am not virtuous. We are not. Both of us were filled to the brim with the sorcery of the saturnalia before, so what if... what if I fail to live up to your expectations? Whatever shall we do then?"
Frowning at her, he placed his hand firmly at her temple. "That can never happen. My heart knows what it wants. And how have we been robbed of virtue? It was only you and I before, and it is only you and I now. Somehow you think this unfaithful?" She only shook her head, at a loss to explain. "Oh, Cursed-By-Blessing. You are all that I need."
"I thought Arya was all you needed." When he drew a breath to protest, she rushed onward, "No, don't rise to that. It is not a challenge or accusation, I... you were so hopelessly invested in her, and now I have you in my arms. It boggles the mind. But I can never be Arya. I can scarcely manage Elva, who isn't half the woman-"
"Elva is all I need," he reiterated firmly. "Our decision was not entered into lightly. What we shared inside your mind? Nothing compares; I have felt your spirit, and it was to feel the touch of angels. We are silver-bonded and wedded by our clan-head, and... Angvard's gray horse, I love you so, you thick-skulled half-wit!"
Before she could again compile a list of reasons to refrain, she bucked upward and enmeshed her lips with his, fingernails scraping his back, devouring as if he were the only source of nutrition in an endless desert. Seconds drifted by like melodic whips of steam, and they tasted and touched as their movements became more feverish, salty mist rising from them and sensations blinding. And they were overjoyed.
When Eragon began to remove the final barrier to her elegant form, lips at her collarbone, she caught his wrist with a look in her eye that was as panicked as it was excited. "Eragon-ebrithil, I beg your patience; I must hear it from you this last time to be sure. We have been tricked into the same bed once before, and I'll not allow it to befall us now, so I would be absolutely certain... do you desire me?"
"Oh, you feel so exquisite." A slow, enraptured smile spread across her features when she recognized her own words from several days prior; she hadn't thought him to be paying her any mind. "When the time is right for me to take you as my wife... imagine what a fantastic encounter shall await us."
For the next hour, imagination bled into reality.
"A crown for your thoughts?"
Elva smiled, nuzzling into his chest, tracing tiny circles upon it. Her lover was nipping at the heels of sleep, but still his fingers played along her hair and back. This was her entitlement, and she pranced within it, ecstatic that she had reclaimed her rightful spot upon his chest as they slept. "They're not worth even that."
"Allow me to judge."
"Very well." Neck stretching to its fullest, her lips pushed into the side of his throat, and she felt the muscle beneath convulse; still so new, everything so new... "You are all."
"All of what?"
She grinned into his skin and clung tightly to him, afraid he might descend through the bed and the dirt and away from her even as she soared on wings of satisfaction and gratitude. In binding their hands, they unearthed a hidden paradise. At long last, the orphaned wastrel had found her place - and as she'd always known, it was at his side.
It was wet upon the ground when they woke. Apparently it had thundered and rained fiercely, but neither of the lovers knew of it; they had sank into the arms of contented sleep after the many exhausting activities of their wedding... and all things related.
When Eragon made to stand from their bed, he was yanked back down onto it by the ribbon still tied around their wrists. This also woke his new bride, who gave a mighty shriek when she saw that they were both clad in only the ribbon. Following this, they laughed, discarded the bothersome satin and initiated their passions with renewed vigor.
Following that they bathed each other, and even this was a voyage of wonderment and discovery, exploring in the light of day what had previously been enshrouded. Eragon couldn't help but reflect on how embarrassed she had been for him to see her younger self being washed by the elf-maids in Ellesméra; how everything had changed! A nostalgic smile at his lips, he realized that she had at last convinced him to take a bath with her – and it had taken nothing more than sacrificing her life for his and a hastily-assembled marriage.
Elva was also taught the spell Eragon used to shave, mentioning that "it may pose some use to me". Comprehension dawned on him when he saw a very fine stubble falling away from her legs, and she laughed to see him squirm.
Clean and smooth, they returned to the bedroll for a time, doing nothing more than watching each other's expressions, punctuated by light caresses and lips seeking out lips. When they could no longer make excuses to stay, they finally dressed and braved the world outside their sacred hideaway.
"I'd been meaning to ask after that bloodstain on your headband," Eragon said as they walked. "Your answer left something to be desired."
"It is not of your concern," she grunted. "But… I suppose I should hide nothing from my husband."
"You could tell me through the mind-link if you'd rather."
Elva blushed. "I… would you think me strange if I said I'm not ready for that level of intimacy just now? Silly, as we've plumbed the depths quite thoroughly."
"I have plumbed them," he said suggestively, and she giggled.
"You're even beginning to sound like me." A deep sigh. "It was… a reminder to myself. That I sometimes behave too brashly, take on challenges greater than my abilities. My attempt to manufacture temperance within myself."
"It's Arya's blood, isn't it?" When she didn't answer, he nodded. "I guessed as much."
"You could say it's also a badge of honor. But I shall wear it until this war has reached an end, to remind me that while I have become a fearsome warrior… my lessons remain incomplete." Then she grinned. "What else would you teach me, O Master?"
"I'd teach you to stop calling me Master," he shot back. "People who overhear that may get the wrong idea about how I treat my wife. And I never liked it, anyway."
As they reached the Stronghammer tent, she shrugged in concession. "I'll try and keep it between us, then… but you shall always be my master, because it was you who trained me. It is meant in deference to one whose knowledge of the ways of the Rider ushered in my own, not to you as a more worthwhile being than I, or because it is a childish pet-name. You're the only Rider left who can be called Ebrithil, are you not? It belongs to you."
"Can't you just call me Eragon?"
Elva stopped just short of the tent-flap and grasped his hands. "I could, but as I've stated time and time again, you aren't 'just' anyone. Not in the slightest. So much more…"
A brief kiss. Then they entered to eat and talk for a span.
During their meal, they learned from Roran that all was in place to defend Surda's newest annex, and that they would likely be marching in the morn, once they had stocked wagons and replenished their collective health. On to Dras-Leona. Both couples bemoaned their hurried pace, especially the two who were still trying to enjoy their honeymoon. Alas, war does not sit idly by while romance has its way.
Katrina also inquired after those details she had mentioned the night previous. Eragon and Roran politely excused themselves while the women gossiped. Although Roran asked his cousin a few similar questions, both men seemed to be in unspoken agreement that neither of them truly wanted to discuss the matter.
The newlyweds returned to the practice fields and sparred off and on, mostly playing. Their laughter drew attention from far and wide far more than their swordplay. When Arya and Orik arrived, the four of them dulled their blades (Orik allowing Elva to make up for his lack of magic) and staged a battle royale, darting at each other as if representatives from four opposing armies total. It was long and bloody work, and left them all aching through to their marrow, and they had not a single regret. The four bowed to each other and agreed to share a drink come nightfall.
Bruised and slick with sweat, Elva dragged Eragon back to their tent, where they again became one in glorious, frenzied movements, scarcely bothering to discard their garments – indeed, scarcely able to reach the tent at all. The pleasure intermingled with ache from their mock swordplay, and was somehow all the more gratifying. Eragon would never have thought that the odor of hard labor combined with dirt and leather vestments coming from his wife could be so very intoxicating. Yet it was – far moreso than any perfume. Her strength matched his, and it showed in every aspect of their union. He could almost sing of it... if he were a bard.
Another bath was drawn, in which they soaked quite a bit longer that the heat would invade their bones and soothe them. Baths were a luxury in such desperate times, but they had been newly united; they could splurge for one day. Each time the water grew cold within their wooden tub, they took turns muttering a spell to raise the temperature. Legs and feet played beneath the surface, teasing, igniting sparks of passion that quickly faded; neither of them could muster the energy to venture beyond this.
All the while they talked. Of themselves, of Oromis, of the elves further north and their battles… of Arya and Nasuada, and of the Urgals and the wisdom of accepting them into their ranks. Eragon welcomed her insights into how Murtagh might find his true name and alter it, but neither of them came to any startling revelation. Elva whispered an apology for wounding his half-brother, a member of his- their family, and was quickly silenced.
"Do not," he said firmly as he toweled her off, hands loving and gentle in opposition to his tone of voice. "He has chosen his fate – or had it mostly thrust upon him. Even so… he could rend his own stomach and rob Galbatorix of his most valuable knight."
"He might," Elva said doubtfully as she held his hands fast where they rested over her chest, sliding her fingertips along his calloused knuckles. "Though I have difficulty laying that burden upon him. It is only natural for a body to lust after life."
Eragon rested his chin on her shoulder. "I have a body worth lusting after in my very tent."
"Swine," she countered, batting his hands away. "You redirect my attention from the topic of his plight with wily words."
"It is the very last topic I wish to speak of during my all-too-brief honeymoon."
"Perhaps one day we shall live a peaceful life tilling your land, Farm-boy," she goaded with a smirk. "Two Riders of legend, looking after the cows."
"Aye, perhaps. If… I am to live out my days here." When she turned to look at him with concerned eyes, he nearly ignored her unspoken question in viewing her freshly-scrubbed face and how it set his stomach to pirouetting. "So alas, my love, there is a prediction."
When he had finished, Elva gave him a solemn nod. "It could be true. It very well could be – and after both your loss of loved ones and swooning over clearly the wrong woman," she bit out, eliciting a chuckle from him, "I would also be inclined to trust in Angela's words. But is it set in stone that you must leave Alagaësia behind?"
"What about you? What do you see, my far-seer?"
Rolling her great violet eyes at his flattery, she spent a long moment concentrating. "Nothing. I'm sorry… I can't even see so far as your confrontation with the Emperor, let alone what follows. All I sense in our future is great joys and great tragedies, neither of which I can pinpoint so far ahead of time."
"Then you must promise me something: that you will look after your own life with at least half the attentions as you do for mine. No, I'll not hear it," he headed off her protestations. "Remember, you've become far more important to me than some sniveling apprentice."
"At what point did I snivel?" she muttered.
"You are my happiness, as I told you in the ancient language. Which means I believe every word, down to the bottom of my essence. Being parted from you would be worse than dying for me."
"But how would it be for the Varden? For Surda, for the suffering Empire? Far better to lose me than to lose you."
"But if you are lost, then so am I. One is the same as the other."
Elva threw aside their towel and embraced him, pressing flush with his form as if trying to absorb every drop of warmth. "A mutual conviction, vinr-eka."
Elva smeared a coating of nalgask on her lips to prevent them from chapping as they wove and tumbled through banks of clouds on Saphira's back. She handed the small container over her shoulder to her husband, who stowed it in a pocket somewhere. Then he slid his hands around her waist.
"I recall there being an era in which you recoiled when I pressed my back into your front," she announced. "Has that era passed?"
"It has." Immediately, there was not an inch of distance between them. "Ah, your warmth..."
Please refrain from over-exciting yourselves while we are in midair, Saphira said testily. I am not a bed upon which to copulate.
Saphira! Eragon cried out, but Elva was laughing.
Perish the thought, Bjartskular. For a time, they flew on in silence before Elva cleared her throat. "Ah... Eragon, my love, there is..."
"There is something I would tell you. It is news which may not be welcome at this time, and I cannot predict your reaction, for I... I'm not sure what it may mean."
"No." He gaped at her for a long moment, scalp tingling. He slid one hand up to grip her stomach. "Are you...?"
"GODS!" she cried out, swatting the hand away. "Have you taken all leave of sense? Of course I'm not – a single day later? You may come from a strong lineage, but not that strong!"
"Allright, allright, enough!" he said, laughing sheepishly. Then his brow furrowed. "But... if not that, then what is the matter?"
Almost as embarrassed as he was, she turned and dug into one of Saphira's saddlebags; he could just see the hint of redness in her cheek from his erroneous assumption. When she straightened, she held a small sack, which she drew open... and Eragon nearly spun to earth.
Merciful Wyrda! Saphira cried out, uncharacteristically taken aback.
"That..." Eragon's throat worked to produce sound. "That is an egg."
"It is. And, as promised, it is also my dowry that was to be disclosed at a later date. Adequate?"
"Adequate!" No more words would come to him. It was a dragon egg; it looked nearly identical to Saphira's, save that it was emerald in color. However, the more he stared at it, the more he was unsure of his first impression. "Why... that is, I think my mind plays tricks on me."
"Don't be so sure," she told him darkly. "For when I draw nearer to it, the color changes – if that's what you had noticed. Every time it comes this close to my skin, it begins to take on a violet cast. Like my eyes. Make of that what you will."
"What happens when you touch it?"
Elva shrugged as she allowed it to drop into the sack and tied it off, carefully placing it back in its saddlebag. "None can know. I've only handled it through a layer of cloth."
"I don't understand. Why haven't you touched it directly?"
"Because I'm afraid it will hatch for me!" she told him breathlessly, a true fear in her words that was not fabrication or exaggeration. "Will I then be a genuine Shur'tugal? Yes, I already have the prerequisite sigil and brightsteel blade, but will I be prepared to fully take on that title? On the other hand, what if it does not hatch for me? Am I cursed to be eternally dragonless? Either possibility gnaws at my innards, so... I cannot bring myself to find out. Not yet."
"You don't foresee which will occur?"
"Nay; it is clouded to me." Elva's lips twitched in a resigned grimace as her hands gently caressed his where they lay on her hips. "Possibly because it is my own future, or because it is my own choice that influences my future. Six of one, a half-dozen of the other."
What shall we do, then? Saphira asked. Do we tell Nasuada and the Varden that we have the final egg of my race?
"It is not their concern." When Eragon leaned forward to stare at her incredulously, she smiled at him. "Is Nasuada a Dragon Rider? Are any of them? Bonded mate, it is you and I; we are the only two remaining free Rider-Kyn. Consult with Glaedr if you wish, but in the end it must be our decision what will be done with the last dragon. Ours and Saphira's."
"How did you get it, anyway?"
A light shrug as she turned to survey the ground below. "I didn't. It came to me."
Each of them thought on this for a time. How often would these bouts of unintentional gramarye flare up? At long last, Eragon adjusted his grip on her waist and said, "If you were to touch the egg, and it hatched... what then would you do?"
"First and foremost?" She twisted in the saddle, hands slipping around his waist now as the wind fanned her sleek black hair out around her head like a corona. "I would stay by your side, husband. Naturally."
He grinned. "A familiar refrain. Very well, Skilfz Delva; decide either way, but know that I will always welcome your nearness, and always expect you to be... a thoroughly astounding creature."
Blinking up at him with eyes that perhaps were not so virulent after all, she reached one hand up and slid her bandana down to hang loosely around her neck. His palm raised, pressed silver mark against silver mark... and Saphira roared in reflected joy as three beings slid into one consciousness, soaring through clouds, hands on waists, sunset warming their hearts. It was one of the finest days to be alive and so high above the blue-green world.
They then broke the white-hot link and Elva lifted her chin, whispering something just before she lost herself in his lips. As she spoke, she pinned his gaze down with a look that betrayed how very fortunate she thought herself, how grateful to whoever ruled the heavens that she had been given what she desired most, had been allowed to fight for him and what they believed. What irony; in rashly blessing a nameless babe, he also profoundly blessed himself. There, deep in pools of amethyst, Eragon Shadeslayer glimpsed what love really was: it was belonging.
"Aye, my Ebrithil."