They didn't have to wait long for the young riders to shuffle off to bed, their dragons with them, leaving Eragon and Arya to themselves. Arya watched as Eragon sat at the table and finished the last mouthfuls of his wine. He hadn't over done it, like he had in previous times, and for that Arya had nothing but respect for him.
But as her new rider's pendant hung around her neck, she didn't know what to think of him anymore. She knew that she cared for him deeply, possibly he was the person she cared for most in this world, and she didn't know what to do with that. She could not leave the forest, he could not leave the riders. That left nothing for them. Her subjects expected her to marry, to provide their race with an heir, and they expected her to achieve that end with an elf. Elves, much like dragons, rarely mated for life.
Her parents had the longest match she had ever heard of, two centuries long. When you lived for an eternity, it was difficult to maintain relationships for that long of time, so they'd compromised, elves would mate together for as long as they wanted, after which they would go their separate ways. There was a couple, currently not together right now, that had an on and off relationship for the past eight hundred years. But that was not the kind of relationship that Eragon had in mind. He was a human, humans loved forever.
"Shall we go?" His soft voice filtered into her mind, derailing her train of thought and bringing her to the present. The small smile that graced his face as he looked towards her both warmed her and made her sad, knowing that he had vowed to give her up. She didn't want that, but she wasn't sure where they could be anything more.
"Yes, please." She replied.
He stood and started toward the back of the hall. The dragons had covered this area as they huddled together during the feast and covered this area. Now it was just bathed in shadow, the recesses of the hall draped in shadow and darkness. It was cold in this part of the hall, unnaturally so when compared to the relative warmth of where they had just been sitting.
She listened as he mumbled something in the ancient language and placed Brisingr in a compartment that opened to the side of them. He gestured to her to do the same with Támerlein, she laid the green sword beside his blue and moved closer to him gathering his warmth into herself.
You're going to feel a slight weight fall upon you now, please don't be alarmed. It's a necessity of the Vault of Souls. His voice was soft in her head and he wrapped an arm around her shoulders, but kept his distance.
She just nodded and waited. Slowly, the weight he spoke of settled upon her and she knew quickly that performing magic in this place would be difficult. She could still access the parts of her that she needed, but it felt as if she were slogging through a bog, soaking wet. As everything still, the drawer with their swords closed and a slab of rock shifted open, leading to a small hall with a spiral of stairs that lead the way down.
Eragon disentangled his arm from her shoulders and lead the way through the hole in the wall, she followed behind him, keeping her eyes focused on the entrails of his shirt in the gloom. No human would be able to see in this darkness, but her elvin sight, and obviously Eragon's, allowed them easier passage.
They kept walking down, minute after minute slipped by and after ten she felt his mind reach out to her, maintain his distance. It was a struggle to lower her barriers, but she did it, wondering what he wanted to say.
Sorry about the precautions Arya, I made it an upmost importance to ensure the safety and well being of the eldunarí and the dedicated eggs that have not been sent out to match with riders.
I understand, even appreciate the effort, but the weight I feel, our swords? What is that?
Cauroc can defend the eldunarí and eggs brilliantly, but this was an added measure to prevent the disabling of Cauroc. No swords, no magic. It's a terrible feeling, I know, but one that I am happy to make.
The eggs we retrieved from the Wild Ones, when did you bring them down?
Just before the feast, I needed to get them safe.
Arya's excitement was growing the longer they descended into the mountain, she hadn't seen the last Vault of Souls, only had heard of it from Eragon. This was the riders greatest secret, and he was sharing it with her. As far as she knew, he was the only one that knew the exact whereabouts of the Vault, and that was something so monumental for the continuation and safety of the riders.
How much farther will we have to go?
She watched as his hand stretched out towards the wall and he ran his fingers along it for several seconds. Bringing his fingers back to his face he sniffed the fingers, an act that she was concerned about, but he quickly answered.
Several minutes. Shouldn't be too much longer.
When we get there, Cauroc will require mental submission to test your means and loyalty to the riders, though you can best me at any competition, I suggest you don't try it with Cauroc.
Who is this Cauroc?
He laughed suddenly out loud in the silence, You will see.
They continued on in silence, the tunnel and stairs descending deeper and deeper into the mountain, the air getting warmer and warmer as they went. Within a few minutes the tunnel started becoming lighter, bathed in a soft orange glow. Arya's eyes adjusted slowly, her vision becoming sharper in the light.
All of a sudden the tunnel ended and they were thrust into a room that was more grand than anything Arya had ever seen. There were eldunarí of various shapes and colors, soft light emitting from each one. On one wall the was an alcove of eggs of many colors, she couldn't be sure but on quick count there were over a hundred eggs there, dedicated to the riders, to the cause of the riders, and he heart soared as she took in the sight, Eragon's arm held in front of her preventing her from moving deeper within the cave.
Then she felt something enter her mind. It wasn't hostile, but it was immense and ancient in its presence, and it quickly required her submission. She did as Eragon had asked and submitted quickly and quietly and within minutes it seemed as if the giant medal statue that was known as Cauroc had what he wanted from them, and let their minds go. Eragon's arm dropped and he looked at her, smile still on his face.
"Let's go see Glaedr." She nodded and he set off quickly. She followed him while looking all around the chamber, the amount of eldunarí in the room was incredible, she could feel their presence everywhere, and she could also feel the madness of a few of them.
Evidentially Eragon had been watching her, because his voice sounded in her ear, his whisper full of concern and compassion, "Those are the eldunarí we saved from Galbatorix's castle. He tortured them for a long time, and we are working together, myself and the other eldunarí, to save them from their madness."
"Do they know where they are?" She asked in the whisper, fighting to urge to lean into him.
"I think so. Thrysré, one of the oldest eldunarí, seems to agree, but it will be a long road. They enjoy the rise of the riders, and seem to understand that we're trying to help them, but it's difficult. Cauroc defends them endlessly."
She nodded, unable to continue along that line of conversation, rage filling her body. She knew that the black king was long dead, but she still couldn't understand how anyone could harm the soul of a dragon. She supposed that is why Thorn and Murtagh were keeping their distance, they too were broken by the black king. Her heart suddenly filled with compassion for the two and for Eragon, knowing that Eragon could help his brother just as little as he could help these eldunarí.
"I'm sorry about Thorn and Murtagh Eragon." She whispered, turning them away from the corner with the mad eldunarí.
He swallowed and nodded, taking her hand in his as he lead them to the alcove that held the golden stone of the heart of her once mentor. She couldn't describe how much she missed Oromis, but she rarely let that show. Her mother yes, she wept for her mother a couple times over the years, but the depth of her sadness for Oromis was different. Their relationship hadn't been as tumultuous.
The first thing she noticed was that Naegling, Oromis's sword was in the alcove with the smooth stone. Without a word, Eragon dropped her hand and left her alone with Glaedr, offering her privacy for this reunion.
Glaedr. She whispered, gently placing her hand on the stone, it's warmth filling her.
I am well. His deep rumble caused a tear to slip from her eye. She missed this dragon, missed the music of his mind as the deep rumbling bass filled her.
I see that Oromis's sword is here with you.
A wave of appreciation overtook his mind as he reached himself to the store of energy in the pommel diamond. Arya reached her own mind towards it and was wowed at its store. It was unfathomable how endless that ocean of energy was.
Eragon-Elda gave it to me years ago, it's given me comfort for a long time. It is just energy, and I know that it is impossible to sense Oromis in it, but it feels like his mind.
Arya closed her eyes as she paid attention to the way the energy felt. She couldn't say that she felt Oromis in the energy, but if anyone were able to create such a vast store, it certainly was Glaedr and Oromis.
I sense discomfort in you Arya, what is the matter?
Nothing, nothing. I am simply happy to see you, and Naegling. She wondered where Eragon had gotten the sword from.
Arya, we've known each other for a long time, why do you insist on trying to trick me?
I'm not Glaedr-Elda. Well… maybe I am.
Tell me Arya, what is troubling you?
It is Eragon.
Is he acting the scoundrel again? I'll say, one of the most stubborn hatchlings I've ever had the misfortune to teach. His words were laced with malice, but his voice and feelings implied that he truly cared for Eragon.
He is doing a wonderful job training the new riders.
He would do, just to prove me wrong.
Hush you, you believed in him the whole time.
Perhaps you are correct. Oromis and I, we believed in both of them. As did you, if I recall.
Yes, I always have. It's just… Was she really about to confess her feelings out loud, to someone besides Fírnen?
You can tell me anything, I will guard your secrets and your heart young one.
I want to be with him. There, she's said it. Admitted it, and suddenly everything about what she'd done to him came crashing back to her in a tidal wave of memories and feelings. She willingly passed it on to Glaedr, the entirety of their relationship passed through her to him. Her fears about being with him, fears about being without him, everything.
So the choice is duty to your crown, or duty to your heart? Leave it to a dragon to sum it up so succinctly.
Her heart? Or her crown?
Can't you have both?
I don't know how that would work.
Young one, you spent thirty years apart from him and your feelings for him never faltered. Not once. In fact, they grew stronger. Why can't you have both?
Wait. How would a relationship apart work?
You are both fierce warriors with the fastest way to traverse the world. You both have an astounding command of magic, are you honestly telling me that if you commit to him and he to you, that distance would be the thing that is your downfall?
Is that what she was worried about? She didn't doubt the way he felt about her, and she didn't doubt the way she felt about him, but did she doubt the distance? No, that was silly. He was right, they had been apart for thirty years and still they cared for each other deeply. Distance was not the wall she had thought it was, and as it came crumbling down, he fears of his promise to not pursue her further filtered through her mind.
What if he no longer wanted to be with her?
The boy is no fool. He would not turn you down.
Can you be so sure?
Arya, I am dragon, I can be sure about everything.
Thank you Glaedr.
As Arya spoke with Glaedr, Eragon moved about the eldunarí, placing his hand on each one giving them a few words, absorbing their memories. It had taken him a few years to wear down their distrust of him, but eventually each heart of heart of every dragon was willing to help him in his goal of training the new riders. Together he and the eldunarí worked on plans to draw each of the tortured eldunarí out from their depression.
He moved to the crazed eldunarí and blocked his mind, spending a lot of energy to protect himself, they had almost driven him insane with their madness the first time he tried this now he knew that he needed to protect himself. It was made difficult by the protection rendered upon the cave, but he persevered.
The part of his mind that he left unguarded slowly spread towards the wealth of eldunarí, projecting nothing but good thoughts and well wishes for their health and safety. He was sure that they knew they were safe here, but they didn't trust him, and nor could he blame them. They had been tortured and abused for so long that Eragon was amazed at the small progress they had made in the past few years. But he wouldn't give up on them. He had a special place in his heart for these dragons and he would never give up on them.
Withdrawing, he gave them his thanks and turned to see Arya holding Naegling in her hands, as she move about the room, looking at the dragons and every now and then looking at him. The smile she offered him was small and timid and he returned it. In this place, he only had love. Also there was a sense of a great weight coming off his shoulders. The elves that helped him move these here were sworn to secrecy under his rule, and were unable able to even speak of them, the knowledge was protected by Eragon's spells. He knew that Arya would keep this secret, take it to her grave.
He moved to stand by the dedicated eggs, their brilliance shining in the artificial light of the room. The open door was to his back and he watched as Arya walked around the room, wonder and amazement written on her face.
Do we need to leave soon? She asked in his mind. In this state of weariness imposed by the protection of the cave he loved the way the music of her mind was subdued but not silenced.
No, we have as long as you like. When we're done here I'll take you to the sword room.
That would be lovely, thank you.
Why do you have Naegling?
Glaedr and I decided that Oromis would not like his store of energy, nor his sword, to be here where it is not useful.
What are you to do with it?
Well, normally a sword would pass from father to son, so Glaedr thought that you should have it. You don't have your father's sword; you should have one from someone who love you as such.
Gratitude over swept him and he simply nodded. She withdrew from his mind and he leaned against the wall content just to watch her. He knew that she could never be his, and while that twisted the knife in his heart, he was slowly coming to terms with it. They were never meant to be, there was too much distance between them.
Eventually she made her way to him, still offering him the same small smile that warmed his heart. She handed him the sword and scabbard and they started their way up the stairs. It would take a while to climb up, and they made the journey in silence. Eragon marveled at the sword in his hands. He's pretty sure he knew how it came to him but he didn't know if he was wrong or right in his assumptions. It appeared one day on Grassboat Bluff, just the sword and the scabbard, no note or anything.
The situation told him that it may have been Murtagh and Thorn, but he couldn't be sure. He ran a myriad of spells over the sword to make sure its appearance wasn't the result of dark magic, but it hadn't. It was just the sword and he'd been grateful for it.
But then his thoughts turned to Arya, why was she suddenly smiling at him all the time? He could write it off as a product of being with the eldunarí, but it had happened before then. After she had spoken with Glaedr her smiled had turned on him, and he knew that he would always love her smile, even after he'd given her up, her smile would be able to illicit one of his own.
Finally the reached the top of the stairs and stepped out into the great hall, the door shutting itself behind them, sealing the entrance until the next time he needed to make the journey downwards. He didn't need to retrieve an egg at least for a year, when he would send each of his students back to their people with an unhatched egg. They would rotate through all four races of Alagaesia and hope for new riders, any eggs not finding their rider would be placed back into the Vault. The process would proceed again with new eggs depending on how many hatched in a few years time. He wanted to train up these riders, give them the skills and ability to train their own students.
Just as the drawer that held their swords opened, he placed Naegling in the drawer to better be able to tie Brisingr back to his hip but before he could pick up his own sword, Arya grabbed his hand and turned him so he was facing her. Confusion filled him as he looked into her impossibly green eyes. He felt his love for her filling him as they stared at each other. His hand in hers was warm and electricity was tingling from his hand to his brain, subtly reminding him that she was holding his hand and that she was not letting him go.
"I know what you said, about letting me go." She began, her voice calm and cool, her normally commanding tone present but at a much less level than normal. But there was something else there, too. "I don't want you to let me go Eragon."
He was still so confused. His heart picked up a staccato beat behind his ribs and suddenly his lungs were on fire, he wasn't sure he could remember how to breathe. "What do you mean?"
She took a step closer to him and grabbed his other hand. He could feel her breath on his cheek as he looked down at her. He was slightly taller than her now so he had to look down into her eyes. They were shining at him now. They were bathed in darkness still, the only light visible from the entrance to the Great Hall to their left.
"I want to try and be with you." She whispered.
So badly he wanted to believe her. She was here, in his arms, finally saying the words he wanted to hear, but he couldn't just give in. He couldn't just fall into her arms, and expect her to stick to what she said. Which was weird, because if the was one thing about Arya that was absolutely dependable, it was that she always meant what she said. She wouldn't play with him like this, of that he was absolutely sure, but still his mind was cautioning him not to follow her blindly.
"How do I know that this is real?" He choked out. His throat dry and warm in the wake of her uttered confession.
For an answer Arya brought her lips to his, using her hold of his hands to pull him to her. This kiss was different from the last one. It didn't start out chaste and move to something more passionate, it started with a frenzy he had never felt before. Her hands dropped his and suddenly his hands were on her back, holding her tightly to him as she deepened the kiss. A small moan escaped his lips as her fingernails scratched his scalp again.
Several minutes passed and the only thing that broke them apart was a mutual need for Oxygen. She didn't pull away from him, simply tucked her face against his neck, breathing deeply. He took this chance to fill his lungs with the pine scent of her and laid a small kiss on the crown of her head. He shivered as he felt her lips on his neck.
When he finally caught his breath, he whispered "You rejected me after the last time we kissed."
She sighed and kissed his neck again. "I know, and I am so sorry for that, I was afraid – no, I am afraid."
"Why?" He asked, kissing her temple.
"Because I wasn't sure that I could handle being with you but not having you." She sighed and kissed the corner of his mouth. "I was afraid that the distance between us would cause more problems, but we've been apart for thirty years and nothing came between us."
"You're absolutely sure?" He was embarrassed by the desperation in his voice, he needed to be sure. He need to know that she was sure.
"Yes, now kiss me." He did just that.