I refuse to believe this saga ended the way that Christopher Paolini wrote it. If you were devastated by the ending, then join me in the truly concluding the journey of Eragon Shadeslayer and Saphira Brightscales!
(things must obviously remain somewhat similar for the first page or so. But – be not afraid! I won't betray you!)
As they emerged from the ruined citadel, the air cleared and Eragon was able to see the destruction the blast had wreaked across Urû'baen. The slate roofs of the nearby houses had been blasted off and the beams underneath were aflame. Scores of fires dotted the houses below and chunks of blackened debris littered the streets, the larger pieces having crashed through walls and wrecking buildings entirely. The air was filled with crackling from the many fires, and distant echoes of discordant shouting rang from the lower levels. Acrid smoke stung Eragon's nostrils as it wafted from the burning buildings into the sky, to gather under the over-hanging stone like a black fog. It seemed everyone nearby had fled either indoors or to the lower places of the city, for the streets surrounding the citadel were empty and silent.
"Do you know where your parents are?" Eragon asked, looking down to the children in his lap. The boy nodded and pointed to one of the nearby houses.
"Is that where you live?" Eragon pressed. The boy nodded. Eragon dismounted and helped the boy and the girl off of Saphira's back. As soon as their feet pattered to the ground, the children hurried across the road, pulled open the creaky door to the stone dwelling, and disappeared inside.
Murtagh and Nasuada dismounted from Thorn's back. Eragon briefly watched as Murtagh healed his gut wound, then began work on mending Thorn's broken wing. Eragon's heart jolted as he realized that he had completely forgotten his and Saphira's injuries. He turned around and stepped close to her. Saphira had a gash on her right foreleg as wide across as his hand, and her foreleg and claws were already stained red with her blood. The smell of it burned like acid in Eragon's nostrils.
Was this tooth or claw? Eragon asked.
Eragon recited the necessary spells in a low voice and the cut wove itself back together with a sound like footsteps in mud, then he healed the spot where Murtagh's sword had struck him.
A fierce ripping sound split the quiet.
Eragon spun to find that Murtagh had torn Nasuada's clothing. Eragon pulled Brisingr halfway out of its sheath before he saw angry welts that covered Nasuada's body. His stomach churned and he stifled a cry – he had seen those same sorts of wounds on Arya, long ago. Murtagh placed his hands on each of Nasuada's injuries and began to speak in the Ancient language. His touch was gentle, almost hesitant upon her skin. One by one her wounds faded, as though her flesh was being cleansed with flowing water. At once the tension held in her shoulders and around her eyes evaporated and she let out a sigh.
Eragon suddenly found his chest tightening and his breathing became shallow, a strange weakness overcoming his muscles. He slumped down to sit on Saphira's talon, running a shaking hand through his hair. His mind vibrated like a tuning fork, unfocused and jumpy. It felt as though a great burden had been stripped from his shoulders and his heart – but he couldn't grasp what had just happened.
We did it, he murmured to Saphira. Saying it out loud didn't seem to make it any more real. It was like he was far away, speaking those words in a nearly forgotten dream. She bent her head down and nuzzled his shoulder, the smooth scales of her nose brushing his cheek and her warm breath caressing his neck.
We did it, she agreed.
…what do we do now?
Rebuild, said Glaedr.
You acquitted yourself well, Eragon, said Umaroth. No one else would have thought to attack him in the way that you did.
I just wanted to make him understand, Eragon answered. I didn't even know what I was doing, to be honest.
At last, the Oath-Breaker is dead! Umaroth crowed. Eragon shook his head, trying to shake himself out of this haze. The idea that Galbatorix was gone, that they had actually won… was impossible. Inside he felt hollow, somehow; he didn't know what to do with himself. Then, as he pondered that thought, something released inside his mind, as though a wall had fallen. He remembered – remembered as though he had never forgotten:
I know, she exclaimed. The eggs! Excitement rushed between the two of them like a bolt of lightning. Eggs! Dragon eggs! Their race would not die. It would flourish!
Wait, he cut himself off, a sneaking suspicion coming to him. He turned his attention to Umaroth and the Eldunarí. You didn't make us forget anything else, did you?
If we did, how would we know? Umaroth replied.
Eragon vaguely realized that Elva had been standing next to him this whole time.
"Do you need healing?" he asked quickly. She shook her head.
"No, but many of them do," she said, pointing at the people fleeing down the side streets away from the citadel.
Eragon grunted – for the moment he didn't really care.
Elva suddenly whipped around to look at the entrance to the citadel.
"Look!" she cried, pointing.
Eragon turned to find Arya emerging from the cloud of dust at the citadel's cracked and crumbling entrance, Blödhgarm and the other spellcasters following her. Their clothes and armor looked torn and dirty, but they were otherwise unharmed. In her arms Arya carried a box of ebony with golden hasps. Eragon let out a breath that he didn't realize he had been holding and his heart leaped as a wash of cool relief soared through him.
Eragon jumped to his feet, rushed toward Arya and threw his arms around her, unceremoniously pinning the box between them. He sensed the other elves' surprise, but realized that he didn't care one bit.
"Eragon, what - ?" Arya protested.
"You're alive!" He cried. He pulled away from Arya and embraced Blödhgarm as well. It was an awkward moment before Blödhgarm returned the gesture.
"We are alive, Shadeslayer," he answered.
"Is that him?" Eragon asked as released the fur-covered elf and turned to Arya. A bemused light sparkled in Arya's bright eyes, but she opened the box she was holding. Eragon stepped closer eagerly. Nestled in silk hollow inside the box sat what was unmistakably a dragon egg, not any bigger than Saphira's had been. It was emerald green and sparkled like a multifaceted jewel as it reflected the sun that filtered through the smoke.
A flurry of wings swooshed behind him. Eragon looked behind him, and found Nasuada standing stock still, holding Murtagh's leather saddle bags and looking up to the sky after Murtagh and Thorn as they winged away through the smoke over the burning rooftops.
"Where is he going?" Eragon demanded, rushing to her. She stood watching Thorn and Murtagh, mouth agape.
"He said – 'away!'" she cried. "He gave me all his Eldunarí and simply… left!"
I am ready.
Eragon ran to her and leaped onto her back, not bothering to strap his legs to the saddle, and Saphira's claws screeched as she leaped from the cobblestones, powering her wings downward with a mighty whump and soaring after the red dragon already flapping away into the distance.
They sped over the damaged city and passed the city's walls. Cheers echoed up to them as they winged over the tents of the Varden camp, and many a soldier raised a hand in greeting and praise. Eragon kept his focus on catching the red dragon before he had the opportunity to get away. He could see that Saphira was clearly gaining on Thorn as they sped over the green grass of the plains beneath them. Thorn was fast, but there was no one faster than Saphira. Eragon's heart raced as the cool air whipped past his face and forced him to squint. What was Murtagh doing? What was he thinking?
When Eragon was close enough behind them to clearly see Murtagh on Thorn's back, with his black hair streaming wildly behind him as his dragon powered on, Eragon called out to him.
"Murtagh!" He shouted over the rushing wind.
Murtagh didn't turn.
Fly up next to him, will you?Eragon asked Saphira. She flapped harder, then spread her wings wide, arced and came up alongside Thorn, the tips of their wings only a few yards away from each other as they flew. Eragon tried again.
"Murtagh, I know you can hear me! Stop!"
Murtagh didn't answer, but this time Thorn dipped his head and began to descend. Saphira quickly followed.
Urû'baen was miles behind them when the two dragons touched down on the plains, their footfalls thudding on the earth. Murtagh jumped from Thorn's saddle and landed heavily, his armor clanking, and placed a gloved hand on Zar'roc's pommel.
"Don't try to stop me, Eragon. I would hate to have to fight you again."
Eragon slipped down Saphira's shoulder and landed lightly beside her talon, grass crunching under his boots.
"I'm not going to fight you," Eragon answered, raising a confused eyebrow.
Murtagh's shoulders relaxed and his hand dropped from Zar'roc's red gemstone.
Silence. The smell of battle hung in the air, an acrid bitterness that fought with the scents of the earth and the plains. Not even the wind moved.
"Well, what?" Murtagh burst out after the silence became unbearable.
"What are you doing?" Eragon wondered, raising his palms in confusion.
"Thorn and I are leaving." Murtagh's face was hard as his gaze bore back into him from behind the ribbons of wild black hair that hung in his face.
Eragon stared back at him, his muscles tensing as though getting ready for a fight.
Murtagh snorted and tossed his head.
"You know better than that. It wouldn't work if I stayed. It's better for everyone this way."
"That is nonsense!" Eragon threw his hands out to the sides. "You were friend of the Varden once, Murtagh!"
Murtagh's mouth tightened. His eyes narrowed and wrinkles formed upon his brow.
"Thorn and I have been through enough."
"There is nothing better for a troubled heart than work to occupy the hands," said Eragon quietly. "And others to share the work with."
Murtagh turned away, his face turned downward and his nose wrinkled, his wild hair sliding from his shoulder to cover his face in a waving curtain.
"I have Thorn. I need no one else."
"That's not true and you know it."
Murtagh's eyes flashed to his.
"What do you know of me? You know nothing!" Murtagh howled, his face twisted in rage as he jabbed a finger at him. "You have everything that I ever wanted! You always received everything that was taken from me!"
"Not by my choice!" Eragon protested, raising his hands.
"No, never by choice," Murtagh managed, his voice cracking. "By fate!" He spat the word like a curse and stomped his foot, his eyes glistening. "By whatever god that designs to love youand punish me just for being alive." Murtagh's hands clenched into fists, the leather of his gloves squeaking.
"Murtagh," Eragon quietly began.
"Please, stop!" Murtagh shouted, raising his hands between them like a wall.
"I know you," Eragon continued, despite his words. "I saw you as clearly as anyone can, save Thorn himself." He carefully stepped forward, closing the gap between. Murtagh stood frozen as a tree on a windless day, his eyes boring back into Eragon like fiery daggers.
"Something clearly happened between you and Nasuada. If that something was great enough to change your true name, why would you run from it - from her? You only run from yourself."
Murtagh's eyelids quivered, and he could no longer hold back the tears that began to fall down his cheeks.
"Eragon…" he croaked in a near-inaudible voice. "Everyone that loves you wishes I were lying dead alongside the King."
"Everyone knew you were unwillingly sworn to Galbatorix," Eragon countered, continuing his advance and raising a placating hand. "They thought of you only as his weapon."
Murtagh shook his head once more, his lip trembling.
"I killed Hrothgar!" he whispered. "The dwarves will never forgive me for that. Even if I was sworn to Galbatorix at the time, I can't do anything to erase that."
"What did you do only a moment ago?" Eragon yelled, seizing him by the shoulders and shaking him. "You turned on Galbatorix! You killed him even as surely as I did! If you hadn't used the Name of Names, I would never have had the opportunity I needed! You saved my life, Arya's, Nasuada's, and the lives of everyone in the Varden!"
"They won't forgive me," Murtagh insisted, fresh tears joining the others.
"I am a member of Dûrgrimst Ingeitum," said Eragon fiercely. "I will vouch for you as a member of the Dwarf clans and as a Rider. You tipped the scales in our hour of greatest need, and I - will not let anyone send you away."
For a moment Eragon was silent as he stared into Murtagh's stormy grey eyes that sparkled with sorrow. Eragon's next words almost caught in his throat.
"You are my friend."
Throughout their exchange, their dragons and the Eldunarí had remained silent and watchful, but here Glaedr spoke.
Young ones, he spoke to Murtagh and Thorn.I cannot forgive the death of my rider –
Murtagh jumped at the voice, his face paling, his memory of its sound apparent, and Thorn made a noise in his throat like a surprised growl.
-but I know that it was neither your arm that swung the sword nor your jaws that snapped. There are scores of beings that must answer for their crimes... but I- and the rest of the Eldunarí agree with me - I do not believe you are among them.
Murtagh stiffened, as though all of his muscles had locked in panic. His jaw clamped down and his eyes went wide. His shoulders shook as though a tremor rocked him.
"Eka eddyr buartha," he whispered. I am sorry.
"Vér fricaya onr, Murtagh vor," Eragon answered. He spread his arms. "Gánga néiat." We are your friends. Don't go.
Murtagh's head slowly lowered and he became still. Once more they were silent, the only sound Murtagh's heavy breathing through his nose.
"I've been imprisoned for so long," he murmured. "Suddenly being free… you don't know how alluring an idea it is to run. To fade away and forget."
You are needed here, said Saphira. The more Riders Alagaësia has, the more quickly we can restore the world to the way it was meant to be.
"She's right," said Eragon.
The silence that followed stretched for so long, Eragon forgot to breathe. He only watched Murtagh's face with a focus he had never known before, desperate for any sign in Murtagh's eyes as to what his half brother was about to decide. After all that Eragon had done today, he knew he could not let his friend exile himself only moments after he'd been freed.
The right corner of Murtagh's lip twitched and he snorted again, raising a hand and wiping away his tears with the back of his fist. Thorn nudged him with his nose and hummed deep in his chest.
Thank you,Eragon and Saphira, for freeing us, he said, his intense orange eyes looking to the two of them with fierce gratitude. His voice surprised Eragon – it was rich and musical, like the low tone of an Elvish flute. Murtagh nodded, swallowing, looking down at Eragon's knees.
"If we stay… we won't fight any battles for anyone. Thorn and I have had enough blood for a very long while."
"I will act as Rider for the Varden," Eragon agreed, nodding. "You and Thorn can stay in Urû'baen and find all the peace you need."
A smile filled with mirth slowly lit Murtagh's face and he clapped Eragon on the shoulder. He shrugged with a joyful chuckle.
"Then let's go, Eragon."
They returned to their dragons, climbed into their saddles, and Thorn and Saphira leaped into the air. Their brilliant scales of blue and crimson flared in the noonday sun as they sailed on the wind back to the city.
Hundreds of people – soldiers, healers, magicians, and common folk – were milling about the gates and the walls, most looking unsure as to what to do. Everyone gasped and cried out in fear as Thorn burst into view over the city walls, but when he was immediately followed by Saphira, they all stared at them with furrowed brows, taken aback.
Eragon shook his head, almost laughing at all of the people staring, and waved a hand.
"All is well," he called, and after a few more moments of raised eyebrows, the soldiers, healers, and other miscellaneous people continued what they had been doing and the normal, deafening roar of hundreds of voices talking at once assaulted Eragon's ears again.
He and Murtagh hopped off of their dragon's backs, their boots clopping onto the stones, and as soon as they landed Murtagh grabbed Eragon's arm.
"I forgot," he said quietly. "Can you remember the Name, or are Galbatorix's spells still affecting your memory?"
"I can almost remember it…" he admitted, straining his memory, then he shrugged and gave up. Murtagh muttered the Name to remove the spells that protected it from Eragon's mind, then leaned forward and whispered it in his ear.
"Don't tell anyone," he advised. "If it becomes common knowledge, it would make magic worse than useless."
The two of them and their dragons began walking through the streets, the dragons' combined footfalls rumbling like distant thunder, even over the noise of the people. The crowd swiftly parted before the two of them as they walked, and they had everyone's eyes as they passed. Eragon suspected that the spell that Galbatorix had used to kill himself was the same one that had been used by Thuviel on Vroengard, and that meant that people would need healing from the poison Glaedr had told him of. He and Murtagh worked in tandem, healing everyone they came across – some were beginning to look sick already – because, unfortunately, until Eragon could vouch for Murtagh publicly the people Murtagh would try to heal all thought he was there to kill them.
Up on the citadel, Eragon could see a group of elven spellcasters already at work closing up its entrance with stone, sealing the poisons inside, and all other magicians were sweeping across the city, healing the sick and cleansing the air and surrounding buildings of the toxins.
The sun began to set over the city, bathing the buildings in a warm orange glow and casting long shadows on the grey cobblestone streets. The sky faded to a magnificent, royal gradient of blue, purple, and gold as the sun's flame settled on the horizon.
Eragon and Murtagh came across Arya at the gates soon after the sun had disappeared from sight, she returning from the Varden's camp. Her features were set in such hard lines and her steps so agitated as she passed through the soldiers that Eragon immediately knew something horrible had happened since they were last together.
"Murtagh," Eragon muttered as Arya approached. "Could you and Thorn go talk to Nasuada?"
"I don't know if enough people know I am on your side yet," Murtagh warned.
"If anyone confronts you, swear to them in the Ancient language that I have vouched for you, and show them this as proof," Eragon said, slipping Aren off of his finger and handing it to him.
"Wasn't this Brom's?" he asked quietly as he took the glistening silver ring from Eragon's fingers.
"I will guard it with my life," he promised, and he and Thorn turned and strode up the streets in the direction of the citadel, Thorn's footfalls rumbling and his tail swaying as he walked.
"Arya," said Eragon as she drew close to him. Her features were like steel- the corners of her eyes were clenched and her shoulders were taut as a drawn bow.
"What is it?"
Arya snapped her head to the side, not looking at him.
Eragon's jaw went slack.
Arya remained silent and still as stone.
"Arya, I'm so sorry- "
"Please, Eragon, I wish to be alone."
And she strode past him, her gait sharp, not looking back.
Eragon looked after her, stunned. Islanzadí was the last being that he would have expected to die in battle. He had been much more worried about Roran or Nar Garzhvog –
It hit him like a blow - he realized that he had no idea who had survived the battle and who had not. He blasted his mind outward like a tidal wave and searched for Roran, his heart pounding. He had to have survived. Eragon begged Helzvog and every other god whose name he knew that Roran would be still alive.
He breathed a sigh of relief when he touched a familiar consciousness.
Roran! He cried. He felt Roran jump in alarm, then relax.
Eragon. Where have you been?
Chasing after Murtagh, then healing people on the lower levels.
Did you kill him?
Eragon paused, choosing his words carefully.
If it were not for Murtagh, we would all be dead, he answered. And he told Roran of how Murtagh had taken advantage of the change of his true name, turning on Galbatorix with the Name of Names and giving Eragon the chance to succeed. It took a moment for Roran to answer him.
There are few songs or tales that can match what has been done today, he said quietly.
If you would, tell as many as you can about Murtagh and Thorn's part in the King's defeat, Eragon asked. He wanted to disappear forever, but I promised him that he would hold no blame for what he has done.
Eragon felt Roran's surprise, almost like a cocked eyebrow.
Even for killing Hrothgar?
Even so. Every one of us would have been in the same position had we been forced by Galbatorix to swear that kind of fealty.
I suppose. Very well, I will spread the word.
Eragon spent the next few minutes sending his thoughts across the city and the camp, searching to make sure his friends had survived. One by one he found Nar Garzhvog, Horst, Baldor, Katrina and Ismira, Jörmundr, the other villagers of Carvahall, and Orik. With each find his disbelief and joy bubbled higher like an ever-filling glass of mead. So few had died! So many of his friends had survived! However, it was only Orik that he directly contacted with his mind; he didn't want to frighten the others out of their wits.
Barzûl, Eragon! Orik shouted at him after he recognized Eragon and let him into his thoughts. I thought some magician was going to kill me only hours after our victory.
It's just me. I thought you would want to know that Saphira and I are all right.
That is good news, mine foster brother, Orik said in relief.
I…I also wished to ask if you would grant an audience?
An audience? You need not ask for one, brother; you may speak with me at any time.
The audience is not for me.
Orik was puzzled, but refrained from asking more about it.
Perhaps after the Council meeting, he said instead. Speaking of which, you must be there as well.
Council meeting? Eragon asked. When?
In half an hour. I believe Nasuada has sent a page to find and tell you.
I'll let him know that it is no longer necessary to do so.
I will see you at the meeting, Eragon. Thank you for what you have done this day.
Thank you as well, Orik.
PLEASE REVIEW! It's how I manage to stay alive!