DISCLAIMER: Eragon belongs to Christopher Paolini.


Pretending

She walks faster the moment he is out of sight and she begins running as soon as she's sure that he can't hear her. She jumps over holes and rocks and roots, swatting branches away from her face. She deftly maneuvers herself around trees and runs even faster, almost sprinting. Everything blurs together and for a faction of a second she feels as if she's lost for the first time in the forest. But she stops just long enough to hear the faraway sound of music and she's off again.

She quickly jogs up the stairs to her room, shutting the door behind her. For the first time since the beginning of the festival, she is alone.

That's when the tears come. Unwelcome and almost alien, they trace her cheeks, leaving invisible scars behind. She wipes them away angrily; they taste bitter. But they keep coming and she has no choice but to sink to her bed and let them drench her pillow. It feels good to allow herself to cry, she decides. It stings and it makes it hard to breathe, but it feels good. At least until the tears run out and an empty hollowness finds a home in her ribcage.

So that's why they call it a broken heart. It actually feels like it's cracking in two.

Almost automatically, with no real purpose, she starts gathering her things. She doesn't realize what she's doing until her bags are packed and she's halfway through lacing up her travel boots. For the first time, the young princess does not allow herself to rethink her decision. It would be best this way. They won't have to face each other. Her mother would have fewer chances to try and convince her to accept the throne. And besides, she reasons, an Ambassador's work is never done. She is needed elsewhere.

After seventy years of diplomatic work, she is almost good enough to believe herself.

Almost.

Sighing, she scribbles a hasty note to her mother and leaves it in open view on her pillow. After murmuring a few words in the Ancient Language to assure that no one but her mother would read the letter, the elf gives her chambers a final glance and departs.

The girl takes quick, decisive steps as she makes her way through the garden and around the celebration. The last thing she needs right now was meeting someone she knew or, worse, her mother.

But Lady Luck is occupied tonight, it seems for the princess chances upon an elf near the stables. Brazul, she curses, but her appearance is disinterested. I need a horse to get away.

He is tall and lean, his posture causal as he slouches against the door obviously waiting for someone. Long black hair almost hides soft hazel eyes. He has a long, almost crooked nose and thin lips with a pointy chin. And though his appearance is not unusual, he carries an air of laughter and friendliness.

"Arya," he greets her, nodding once. She swears again and gives a tight-lipped smile.

"Claten." She returns the greeting and stares at her childhood friend. He hasn't changed a bit.

After a moment of silence Claten's grin is replaced by a deep frown as he squints at Arya's face.

"Have you been crying, Sweet Princess?" He demands.

Though a smile tugs at the corners of her lips at the use of the old nickname, Arya remains silent. There is nothing she can say without lying.

"It's him, isn't it?" Claten questions. At her raised eyebrows he smiles. "The Rider, Eragon."

Her face is answer enough for him. "You're leaving." It's not a question.

"Yes," Arya confirms and nods toward the stables. "I need to get through."

Claten watches her as she gathers supplies and gets her horse ready. He watches as she leads him out and converses softly with her mind. He watches as she gets on and is halfway across the short distance between the stables and the path before speaking.

"How did you do it?" he calls out, making her halt.

"Do what?" she can't help asking even though every fiber of her being is yelling at her to get as far away as she can from him.

"Lie to him in the Ancient Language. How did you manage to convince Eragon that you don't love him?"

Arya is not surprised that Claton noticed; she is not surprised that he cared. He has been her best friend from the day they met on her thirteenth birthday, her lonely and him unafraid. He had called her a Sweet Princess and she laughed with him.

She gives him a curious, cryptic look as she decides how to answer. Finally, in a soft, bittersweet soprano she tells him, "For those few moments when I told him 'no', I convinced myself that what I was saying is true. I willed myself to believe that I don't love him, and it worked well enough for me to lie."

With that, Arya rode away leaving Claton to stare after her in bemusement.


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