WARNING: SPOILERS FROM INHERITANCE. IF YOU DON'T WANT THOSE, TURN BACK NOW.


Arya Dröttning, Arya Svit-kona, Argetlam, Shadeslayer, queen of the elven race, sits in a tavern.

Roran had promised her no trouble during her travels in Palancar Valley, rebuilt with such speed and diligence it astounds her that mere humans could be behind it. Ellesmera is as beautiful as it has always been, but she had not stayed stationary, ruling, for long before the wanderlust she had always been prone to suffused her yet again. The yawë on her shoulder seemed to itch.

So, leaving her trusted advisors in her stead, she had taken one of the dragon eggs and set off about Alagaësia, pleased to be working at the trade she had loved for nearly a quarter of a century.

The egg lies, carefully concealed physically and magically in a canvas pouch, at Arya's feet. No matter the promises of safe passage, Arya knows that her kind are too easily recognizable. She loathes that the bones on her cheeks and jaw are in the wrong place, that her ears appear rounded, and that her eyes see the world through a disorientating level plane, but she knows that all of the precautions are necessary. She also detests that Fírnen must remain outside the walls of the city, but this too was not debatable.

Occasionally, she'll nudge the egg's nesting place, feeling its warmth against her slim ankle. She has been eating methodically, but the sensation makes her falter with her utensils, flooding her well-shielded mind with thoughts she does not necessarily want to dwell upon.

Eragon, she thinks, has touched this egg. So overwhelming are these words in her mind, she actually pushes back her chair with a scrape and looks down at the pouch, as though she expects to see a silver handprint glowing on the egg. Like the mark on his palm. Like the mark on hers.

He never actually makes the pilgrimage back to Alagaësia; instead he sends the eggs to a predetermined location by magic. Sometimes he sends a note. Usually to her, saying a few kind words and telling her not to worry, he's fine, and he hopes that she fares well.

She'd like to send one back, responding, but she wouldn't know where to send it to.

Little one. Fírnen's voice filters through her mind, and it's a moment before she recognizes it as her dragon, not a random intruder. You are distracted. These thoughts cloud your mind like a snowstorm.

I know, she responds. I apologize for my heavy thinking; I am…simply tired.

You should know better, he says with a bit of a snort, than to try to conceal the truth from me.

Yes, yes, I know, Arya says, glimpsing what he thinks the truth is in his mind. He's right, but she won't give him the satisfaction. She withdraws from the contact, coming back to herself in the tavern, a tankard of mead in front of her that she has no intention of drinking. Not nearly as appetizing as the faelnirv back in the elf dwellings.

It's a moment before she realizes that someone is speaking.

"Gather round!" wheezes an old man, older than the age where someone should be in a pub. Of course, Arya probably can't raise that argument since it is her one hundred and twenty-sixth birthday coming up soon. "Gather round!" he says again in that old, old voice.

But the crowd heeds him, gathering in a crude semi-circle. The drunken banter dies down, an amazing feat in a tavern of this size, and with a crowd of this level of drunkenness.

A man steps up on a table, using it as a stage, a man in a black cloak with long hair and a pinched, pale face. His voice, however, when he begins speaking to the crowd, is deep and comforting.

"A song," he says, "to unrequited love."

A few of the men boo and hiss, but when the man on the table begins to sing, everyone falls silent as the grave. His voice sails over the crowd, pleasuring even Arya's ears, and she's so accustomed to the elf voices.

"Back in a pure white forest, in the morning new," he sang, his hands moving of their own volition. "He saw her there, her raven hair, her eyes as clear as dew."

Arya's own raven hair tumbles around her shoulders as she slides her hood up to move closer to the bard. If she's going to listen, she will have to cover herself. She slings the bag with the egg over her shoulder. Anyone with ill intentions would simply see a folded pile of blankets.

"His hand a'glow, her ears a'point, the stars were just and willing," the singer continues. "Hearts a'fire, they did admire, raven-birds a'trilling."

Arya's usually-pointed ears become much more interested at the song once she hears the line about the "ears a'point." The human's songs of the elves are usually sung praises, and they are usually quite nice to listen to, if only for a moral booster.

"She slumped in his hands, the hands of a slayer of Shades, the hands of a man that the gods had made, 'twas poison that found her, 'twas creeping 'round her…"

Her slanted eyes narrow. This story is beginning to sound awfully familiar…

The man continues to sing, but the words seem to recede from her sharply keen ears, only a few key phrases making their way to her brain.

Princess, she hears. Magic. Raven. Elf. Rider. Love. Regret. Loss.

"Ship sailed away," the bard sings, his mournful tone rocking in time with the pubgoers,. They're swaying with mugs of ale in their hand, lamenting the star-crossed love story of the first Rider of the New Generation and the princess-turned-queen of Ellesmera, one of whose participants is sitting in that very same tavern.

Arya shudders, not of her own volition, and casts her eyes down into the bottom of her own tankard.

"Away," he sings, repeating the word as if it were the only thing left to him.

Until now, Arya has tried quite hard not to think about the brief span of the time in which she and Eragon were…friends? For someone whose life has been so very long, those months certainly define her more than she would like to allow.

And if there is one thing Arya is talented at, it is hiding her true feelings. She has had quite a lot of time to practice.

But Eragon...

"Away…" Eragon had been unlike all of the elves that she had grown up around, and indeed all of the humans she had traveled around after becoming an ambassador.

"Away…" He spoke his mind to the point of fault, which was both annoying and refreshing.

"Away…" He and Saphira had made it look so effortless to be a Rider, when in reality sometimes it makes her head hurt, what with all these new things that she must learn, and all these responsibilities she must take onto herself. Added onto her queenhood, sometimes she feels if it mayn't be better to just fly into the skies of Alagaesia and never return.

"Away…" And he had said that he loved her.

No, she chided herself, he did not. But the meaning behind his words had been clear enough, hadn't it?

Arya wonders if she should cry, but she does not, keeping her mouth in a straight line as the last note of the song trails off. Eyes around her are wiped with shirt sleeves, and the last vestiges of mead are drunk with casual gestures, giving the moment a sense of finality as applause rings through the tavern.

"Little one," Firnen murmurs in her thoughts, and she vows to go to him in the morning.

"A room for the night?" she asks the lady of the house, who is clumping around in too-big shoes, cleaning up after the departing drunks and wiping her brow with a dirty rag.

The years have been hard to her, Arya thinks.

"O' course," the woman grunts, using the same rag to wipe up a few drops of spilled liquor on one of the chairs near the bar. "Beau'iful song it was, eh?"

"Yes," says Arya, the epitome of polite, tilting her chin back and giving a small smile. "It was indeed."