A.N. MINOR spoilers for Inheritance, although this obviously takes place in Eldest. This is what comes of reading Inheritance nonstop for three days straight, obsessing over an awesome song (Anything For You by Evanescence), and pondering the intricacies of Murtagh's mind which he once guarded so vehemently. That, and I've always been curious how the name Thorn came about. I highly doubt these two got off to the best start, and I can't imagine stoic and angry Murtagh being infatuated with Thorn from the moment he hatched. He and Thorn have both had to fight for every little scrap of happiness in their lives, and they both deserve so much more.

And no, darn it, this is NOT ThornxMurtagh. Come on, people. Thorn is a freaking DRAGON!

Like A Little Thorn

Nothing left to make me feel anymore
There's only you and every day I need more
If you want me, come and find me
I'll do anything you say, just tell me

I'll believe all your lies
Just pretend you love me
Make believe, close your eyes
I'll be anything for you...

Murtagh fought even long after he had forgotten his reason for fighting. Long after the words Varden and Empire and Eragon lost all meaning and he couldn't even recall his own name. Through the weeks of excruciating torture that left him on the verge of death, through the constant mental assaults that battered against the fortress of his mind, Murtagh kept fighting. He resisted with everything he had, he lashed out every chance he got, he swore painful and bloody vengeance on the Twins and Galbatorix, and even the long-dead Morzan. He neither dreamed of escape nor prayed for rescue. Such concepts were beyond him now. He knew only that he must keep fighting. Murtagh had spent years engraining that one simple truth in the depths of his soul, in the most primal and bestial part of himself to ensure that if he was ever brought this low, he would at least remember that much. That one basic instinct that no amount of logic or pain could drive from the core of his being.

Fight. Survive. Endure. Live.

Had he been in his right mind, Murtagh might have gloated over the headaches he was causing Galbatorix. He might have gleaned a grim satisfaction at the punishment the Twins suffered each day they failed to break him. As it was, he was locked so deeply inside himself that he spent most of his days in a coma similar to how Arya was when he and Eragon found her in Gil'ead. But unlike the elf, Murtagh did not permit himself even the slightest awareness of his surroundings, not even when his tormentors were gone. The disembodied and solitary existence might have driven other men mad, but for him it meant refuge. It meant he was still safe. Nothing mattered, nothing mattered, nothing mattered except the sanctuary of his own mind.

He would not be broken. He would not be shackled and bound to eternal servitude. He would not bow to the same man who had turned Morzan into a monster that liked to throw swords at innocent children.

...in retrospect, it was a shame he hadn't gotten Eragon to teach him some of the ancient language. Perhaps then his oaths would not have been shattered so easily.

It happened when he first noticed that the pain was gone and had not come for quite awhile. Murtagh was wary at first, thinking perhaps he really had descended into insanity or that this was yet another of Galbatorix's illusions. But he instinctively knew it was not either. For the first time in nearly a month, his body had been completely healed.

Murtagh hesitated for a long, long time before the need to know what was going on overrode caution. He kept a tight rein on the barriers around his innermost thoughts, but he permitted his awareness to expand ever so slightly, coming back to himself for the first time in who knew how long. His body had been removed from the stone slab in the Hall of the Soothsayer. A soft pallet was beneath him, low to the ground so that his left hand brushed the heated tiles that made up the floor. So hot that there was a blister on his knuckle and the oppressive air was making him sweat.

Where? Wherewherewhere...?

Crack.

If Murtagh had not been keeping such a close watch on himself, the sudden noise might have startled him. He withdrew and braced himself for torture and interrogation, but neither came. Still, he remained on his guard. Galbatorix had done this before—left him alone for days at a time hoping to catch him unawares when his defenses were relaxed. It would not work. Whatever awaited him, he would be ready for it.

Crack. Crackcrack. Craaack.

It was a decidedly strange sound, Murtagh thought in detachment. Somewhere between a stone being split open and broken glass being crunched underfoot. Whatever it was, he was sure he would find out soon enough. The Twins were always eager to try out their newest techniques on him.

CRACK!

The noises altered then into clicking and scraping as something moved around on clawed feet. Something, not someone. An odd questioning warble reached him like that of a lizard or bird. Murtagh's face showed nothing, but he mentally smirked. So now he was to become a chew toy for whatever ravenous beast Galbatorix had managed to scrounge up. In a way, it was comforting. At least an animal had not the malicious intent of a human. It would only be following its nature, which Murtagh could forgive. Perversely, he hoped whatever it was would feast well of his flesh and end up killing him.

Unless it was a Ra'zac. In which case, he hoped he gave the demon a bellyache.

It was coming closer. The scuffling noises occasionally strayed sideways, but it was undoubtedly approaching him. Murtagh's initial morbid amusement turned to uncertainty. It sounded so...small. Small and weak like a newborn, maybe even a newly hatched Ra'zac. Except he had seen Ra'zac that were just hatched from their eggs. They were greedy, voracious things and nearly as savage as the parents. It should have been eviscerating him even as he lay here pondering the exact nature of the thing.

So what was it?

Murtagh almost opened his eyes...but stopped. This was just what Galbatorix wanted. For him to lapse for a split second and let himself be taken over. But there had to be a purpose to this, and to lack understanding of what exactly that purpose might be was dangerous to Murtagh. Thus, he had to decide. Remain in ignorance or open his eyes so he would know what was coming and prepare accordingly. It was a risk either way, a stalemate that made him loathe Galbatorix all the more.

The warbling increased in pitch until it was more of a plaintive whine, a woeful sound that made his heart twinge with pity. Maybe that was the catch. He was supposed to empathize with this wretched thing and let down all his guards for the sake of helping it. Clearly, Galbatorix had underestimated just how selfish Murtagh was. Not even for a human baby would he take that risk. The thing could die for all he cared. Mercy was for people like Eragon who went out of their way to haul unconscious elves halfway across the land while hordes of Kull stampeded on his heels. It was not for Murtagh, the son of Morzan.

A sickening feeling coiled in his gut. Gods, had he really just thought that? As if inheriting Morzan's ruthless nature and hot-blooded temper was something to be proud of?

The creature paused right beside the pallet, coming within a few inches of his hanging hand. Murtagh hesitated, then very slowly he opened his eyes. He had to blink several times to clear his blurry vision, but even then the rocky ceiling remained indistinct, the crevices cloaked in shadow. Only the immediate vicinity was in sharp focus. Murtagh let out a slow breath, his throat unbearably dry. There was no fireplace or other visible heat source, suggesting magic as the culprit for the uncomfortable temperature. But what was the point of...?

He got his answer when he turned his head ever so slightly, the muscles in his neck creaking with stiffness. Two other pallets lay close by, but these didn't bear people. One of them held a dragon egg of a deep emerald color nestled in blankets and cushions. The low light gleamed brightly off its surface, mesmerizing him. Murtagh drew a sharp breath, his eyes darting to the other pallet and the splintered remains of what must have once been a second egg.

No...

His heart skipped a panicked beat when he saw the young dragon at his elbow, a miniature Saphira with a brilliant ruby-red hide. Deep scarlet eyes with slitted pupils blinked at him, inquisitive as any wild animal that had not yet learned to fear humans. Its leathery wings were arched clumsily above its body, still damp with amniotic fluids but swiftly drying in the heat.

No, no. Nononono...

"NO!"

The hatchling froze just before its snout would have brushed his hand, and it locked gazes with him as if to say, Why not? Murtagh could almost see its hurt at the rejection, unable to comprehend his reasons.

"Get away from me!" Murtagh hissed. Most of his wrath was feigned, a mask to disguise the fear that made him search the room for anyone who might be lurking nearby. "Damn you, go away! I don't want you! And believe me, you don't want me either! He must have made you hatch early, he...he must be forcing this somehow. You can't...you can't have..."

You can't have chosen me...

The hatchling made another attempt to touch him. Murtagh tried to pull away, anguish rising in him when he realized he was tied down at the wrists and ankles. His body was healed, but still weak from starvation and forced idleness. He couldn't move, couldn't do anything to stop this.

"Don't come near me!" Murtagh shouted in the hopes of frightening the young dragon. "Don't you dare touch me, you little bastard!"

The hatchling darted back when he thrashed and his hand nearly struck its wing. Then of all things, the hatchling growled at him. The sheer authority coming from such a tiny thing almost made Murtagh laugh at the absurdity of it. The great king of the Empire couldn't make him submit so what made this baby think it could succeed where Galbatorix had failed?

Once more, the hatchling sidled closer. Murtagh wrenched at the ropes desperately, and his wrist started to bleed where it chafed the rope. The hatchling chirped softly and swiped a rough tongue over the wound tenderly.

"Don't," Murtagh pleaded hoarsely, his rage fading to anguish. "Please, please don't. If this happens, if you...then you'll only know pain. All your life, you'll only know pain."

A horned head nuzzled his fist until the hatchling could burrow beneath his fingers and thrust its snout into his palm. Murtagh gasped when an icy chill coursed through his veins and froze the breath in his lungs. His entire arm was numb from the contact, his palm burning like fire. And in the space of a few heartbeats, the walls around his thoughts were gone. Not broken or vanished, they simply fell to pieces like so many children's blocks. Another mind touched his own that was very basic in its needs and very not human in its thoughts and feelings, and Murtagh almost broke down completely at the boundless trust he sensed in the hatchling's mind. The utter surety that he, Murtagh, would never harm it or cast it aside. They were together. They were one.

Gathering his resolve, Murtagh shuttered his thoughts and drove a painful spike into the hatchling's mind, pouring all his hatred and raw anger behind it. WE ARE NOT ONE!

The hatchling shrieked and darted away from him. It curled up near the pallet where the shards of egg were scattered, watching him with wide eyes and a stiffened tail. Its confusion was obvious even without the mental connection, and it crooned at him softly, imploring.

Then Murtagh heard the sound he had feared all along. A deep, indulgent chuckle. "Now, Murtagh," Galbatorix said, pacing into view, "is that any way to treat your partner of heart and soul? Show a bit of kindness. He is yours forever now."

"He's not mine," Murtagh hissed, craning his head to watch the king.

"Oh no? Your gedwëy ignasia says differently."

Murtagh reflexively fisted his hand to hide the silver mark. He bared his teeth in a silent snarl when Galbatorix bent down and scooped the shaken hatchling in his arms, stroking its neck to sooth it. The sight pained him for reasons he didn't yet understand, but Murtagh allowed none of his sudden protectiveness to show. Instead, he did all he could to break the bond by driving the hatchling away with his thoughts. He sent wave after wave of abhorrence and hostility until the hatchling was trembling and whimpering softly, unable to cope with the complex emotional turmoil. Surely, surely it would reject him of its own accord. He had seen Saphira work great magic before, and even though this dragon was young, perhaps it could still break ties with him and choose another. Any other.

"Be still, little one," Galbatorix murmured to the hatchling, never taking his eyes off Murtagh. "Your Rider is only overwhelmed by the gift that has been thrust upon him by fate. But he shall not be for long."

"You can't use him to get to me," Murtagh said savagely. "I don't give a damn about that thing. Do whatever you want, I won't lift a finger for his sake! Tear him to pieces, for all I care!"

"Very well."

Galbatorix seized one wine-red wing and twisted brutally until the bone snapped. The hatchling screamed, instinctively flapped as if to fly away, then cried out again when the movement made the jagged bone rip through fragile skin and membrane. The young dragon hung limp in the king's arms, eyes glazed as it panted for breath. Murtagh felt the shock and helpless terror echo along their bond, his own arm throbbing with phantom pain, and for the first time he understood why Eragon had a tendency to go berserk whenever someone drew Saphira's blood. Murtagh walled his mind, hardened his heart, strove not to let its suffering affect him, but it was a losing battle. It was so young and bewildered and in so much agony for no reason other than it had been born in unfortunate circumstances. And damn it all, Murtagh couldn't help himself. He reached out to the hatchling along their newly-formed bond, a little pulse of comfort and reassurance just to help take its mind off its misery.

Too late, he realized his mistake. Galbatorix was already waiting for him inside the hatchling's mind. Murtagh recoiled and fled, but Galbatorix followed, using the bond between him and the hatchling to seek out all the cracks in his armor, all the weaknesses that the king and the Twins had spent weeks trying to root out and exploit. Flaws that not even Murtagh had known about and was powerless to defend against. He arched against the ropes holding him and howled at the ceiling, hearing the hatchling wail along with him as all his memories and beliefs and fears and dreams were forcibly ripped from him and left exposed for all to see. Nothing, nothing was left to call his own. He could do nothing to repel the invasion, only lie there and scream and try to ride out the fiery storm until he heard the words that made everything grind to a halt. The words that hooked their claws in his soul and pinned him down, labeled him and dissected him in such irrefutable terms that he began to weep like a child even as Galbatorix continued to ferret around in his head.

A flash of light to the side and a crazed fury that was too untamed to be his own. Distantly, Murtagh sensed another mind hissing and snapping at Galbatorix like a wasp trying to repeatedly sting a bear. Murtagh emerged from his torment long enough to gape in disbelief. The red hatchling had bitten Galbatorix. It was gnawing on the king's gauntleted hand with single-minded fervor and paying no heed to the magical wards that flared and stopped his sharp teeth from breaking skin. Galbatorix let the hatchling have his way with his fingers for a few seconds, then he applied pressure to the broken wing, causing the hatchling to yelp and cease its attack, both physical and mental.

Galbatorix spoke into his mind, his words filled with wry amusement. Like a little thorn, isn't he? Such a small thing, and yet so sharp and tenacious...

He made as if to break the other wing as well. Murtagh choked and strained toward them. "L-Leave him be!" he croaked.

For an agonizing moment, he thought Galbatorix would ignore him and continue to torture the hatchling out of spite. But Galbatorix turned a speculative look on him, lips curving upward. When the king spoke, Murtagh shuddered at the sound of his true name pressing on his ears, compelling him until word by word Galbatorix extracted his unwilling oath of fealty. When it was done, when Galbatorix knew for certain he had Murtagh firmly in his grasp, he summoned servants into the room to untie him. Murtagh tensed, ready to fight the moment he was free, but a single spoken word from the king eradicated his will to resist. He was ordered to stand, and he did. He was given further orders to rest and eat and report tomorrow for further instructions, and Murtagh knew he would do all of these things without a word of protest. The chains were in place. Galbatorix owned him. His life, his thoughts, his soul. Not even death would release him because Galbatorix owned that too. He would live and die only by the king's leave.

Galbatorix passed the hatchling off to a servant with orders to have it fed and its injury seen to. "You need not be concerned for your dragon," he added to Murtagh. "My most trusted men will see to his needs, and Shruikan and I will personally oversee his training. But I encourage you to spend time with him. If nothing else, to solidify your bond so he will always obey you even under duress."

Murtagh said nothing, showed nothing. If Galbatorix expected him to care, he was in for a disappointment. Murtagh was so drained of emotion that he couldn't spare a moment's thought for the hatchling, let alone his own sorry fate. He wanted nothing more than to crumple in a limp pile on the floor and sink into true sleep where only his dreams could plague him.

But Galbatorix didn't dismiss him quite yet, instead considering Murtagh in thought. "I must confess. Your name...it's far less like your father's than I expected. But I can see Morzan still holds a powerful influence on you."

Despair made Murtagh's lips tighten. Galbatorix had it backward. He was more like his father than he ever imagined, more than he ever wanted to be. That knowledge alone had destroyed him like nothing else, and he was convinced there was nothing more Galbatorix could say to sink him further.

He couldn't have been more wrong. Galbatorix favored him with a nasty smile entirely too reminiscent of the Twins. "It makes me wonder...how similar is your true name to that of your brother's?"


Hours later found Murtagh clean and fed and provided with clothing suitable for his noble birth. In all appearances, an honored guest of Urû'baen rather than the prisoner he was. The suite of rooms granted to him wasn't much compared to what he had grown up with on Morzan's estate, but after camping out of doors for more than a month, Murtagh supposed it would suffice. By commoner standards, the large and lavishly decorated sitting rooms, the bathing room with bright mosaic designs on the tiles and the bedroom with glass double doors opening onto a balcony were downright extravagant. Eragon's jaw would have been on the floor if he could see where Murtagh was now. That decorative vase in the corner probably would have fed his entire village for a year.

Eragon...

Brother...

For lack of any better place, Murtagh went over to the enormous four-poster bed and sank onto the thick quilt bathed in moonlight from the open doors of the balcony. Curled on his side, he gazed at the far wall without seeing it and absently scratched the silver mark on his palm. Try all he might to think of nothing at all, the little details kept repeating again and again in his mind. His mother's disappearance. Morzan's death when he was a child. His life among the nobles of Galbatorix's court. His flight from Uru'baen with the only human being he had ever trusted, and thereafter his rescue of Eragon and Saphira from the Ra'zac. Seeing Eragon's anguish as he tried so desperately to save his mentor had been...painful. A reminder of Murtagh's own recent loss as well as a revelation of just how much was lacking from his life. Simple things like trust and companionship, both of which Eragon had offered Murtagh without a second thought. Without asking, without prying, without even caring what his past had been before that moment when Murtagh chose to save them.

For the first time in his life, Murtagh had known what it was like to be judged solely on his own actions. Contrary to how others had seemed to expect the worst of him, Eragon had expected—and indeed, demanded—the best of him. It had been startling and strange at first, but also something of a relief.

But it had been a fantasy. One that died the moment he was cornered into revealing the truth.

I am Murtagh, the son of Morzan.

He still remembered the shock the revelation had invoked, the almost reflexive fear and hateful distrust that Murtagh had seen in the eyes of nearly everyone he met, even servants of the Empire. But after all they had been through together, Murtagh had truly thought Eragon to be above such petty prejudice. The brotherhood they had forged through blood and fire and their desperate flight from Gil'ead had been the closest thing to true friendship Murtagh had ever known. And even though Eragon had later defended him from the Varden, even though he had listened and understood and seemed to sympathize, it didn't erase that split second in the forest when his hand had twitched for Zar'roc. Morzan's sword. Their father's sword. A simple twist of fate had put him and Eragon where they were now, and that same twist could have switched them or left them both here in the Empire. That was probably the most frightening thing about all of this.

What would you say now, Eragon? You told me you never knew your parents, mother or father, yet you would judge me for mine. If you could come so close to hating me, then you must now hate yourself as well.

He wondered if he would ever get the chance to tell Eragon the truth about their blood relation. It would be worth it, Murtagh thought bitterly, just for the look on his face. Murtagh had been living with this burden his entire life. It was about time someone else understood what it was like.

His palm itched worse than before. He heard what sounded like a bat flapping just outside on the balcony and paid it no heed until a familiar crooning reached his ears. Murtagh uncurled just enough to peer over his shoulder. A slight breeze swept back the gauze curtains and allowed him to glimpse the red hatchling perched on the balustrade. Its wing was healed, and he realized with a start that it was already starting to grow. From the size of a housecat to a small dog in the space of half a day. It seemed Galbatorix was too impatient to wait for the hatchling to mature on its own.

Murtagh scowled and rolled back on his side. He didn't react even when he heard the hatchling hop off the balustrade and skulk inside the room. Its movements were unobtrusive, almost like it was trying not to aggravate him by being too loud. But the deliberate caution vexed Murtagh anyway. It reminded him of how people used to tiptoe around his father for fear he would fly into a frenzy at the most inconsequential things.

"I told you to stay away from me," Murtagh growled lowly, and he heard the young dragon pause. "It's your fault. You're the reason I'm his slave now. You couldn't have just stayed in your shell, could you? Stupid beast, you must have been born with a brain defect if you thought I'd make a good Rider."

The hatchling couldn't understand his words, but the disgust in his voice was perfectly clear. Its wings flapped again as it hopped up to the foot of the bed. An inquiring tendril of thought brushed against his stormy musings, and Murtagh stiffened. He seized a glass statuette off the nightstand and chucked it at the hatchling with a shouted oath. The hatchling dodged just in time, and the statuette hit the opposite wall and shattered, showering the carpet with broken glass.

"Why won't you leave me be?" Murtagh roared, punching the quilt with his fist. "Why haven't you forsaken me yet? Everyone else already has! Why not you?"

The hatchling stretched out its long neck toward him in entreaty, a range of conflicting emotions flitting along their bond. Murtagh blocked most of it, but he got the vague impression of longing and fear. No, it didn't fear him precisely. Rather, it feared displeasing him. The hatchling thought Murtagh's anger was born of something it had done wrong and it couldn't understand what or why, but it wanted to mend it and make him not angry anymore. It wanted his forgiveness and praise, his happiness, his love.

"I can't give that to you," Murtagh muttered, his heart aching. He broke eye contact and glared out the balcony doors at the spread of the city far below. "Just...just go, please. I'm not your Rider. I'm not...I could never be what Eragon is to Saphira."

The hatchling made an irritated little grumble in its chest and pushed at his hand that bore the gedwëy ignasia. It didn't know who Eragon or Saphira were, and it didn't care. It was here because it hadn't liked being separated from Murtagh and had sought him out. Murtagh had stopped the black-eyes-black-heart man from hurting it. Murtagh was strong and good and could teach the hatchling to be strong too in this strange and frightening place.

"You don't understand!" Murtagh said in frustration. He shook his head and raked his fingers through his hair. "I'm just as powerless as you are! We are slaves. Worthless tools that he'll throw away at the least opportunity! Our lives, our feelings have no meaning anymore, and the closer we become, the easier it will be for him to use us against each other."

Bewilderment, incomprehension, that same yearning. It was trying so hard to decipher the whirlwind of his emotions, but it couldn't grasp such complex thought processes. It couldn't fathom it, couldn't understand. Murtagh snarled wordlessly, his temper flaring, and he seized the hatchling roughly by the wing that had been broken earlier. The hatchling chittered in alarm when he left the bed and stomped out onto the balcony, its other wing flailing wildly and buffeting him weakly.

"Do you understand this?" Murtagh demanded and raised his arm to dangle the hatchling over the edge of the balcony. "Do you understand now? I'm just like the bastard that broke your wing! I'm worse than him. I had people that actually gave a damn about me, and I still hurt them! You shouldn't care for me, you should fear me! I might as well snap that wing again and let you fall. I only wish someone would do the same for me."

Quick as lightning, the hatchling twisted in his grasp and clung to his forearm with all four legs. Sharp teeth clamped down on the part of his hand between his wrist and the base of his thumb with unbelievable strength. Murtagh gave a startled curse, tears springing to his eyes as blood welled from the stinging bite and trickled down his wrist. The hatchling vaulted off his forearm, hind claws shredding the sleeve and gouging deep into his skin. The young dragon rammed Murtagh's chest with such force that it knocked him clean off his feet. He landed flat on his back with his legs splayed and supported by his elbows. The hatchling stayed perched on his chest, feet braced apart. It was heavier than it looked and made it difficult for Murtagh to draw a full breath.

Fiery red eyes bore into his own, and Murtagh could hear the hatchling's mind raging at him, its frustration almost a palpable thing as it struggled to make itself understood. It had hatched, it had chosen, it had bonded itself with another. Why did Murtagh deny it still? Why did he shut his eyes, close his mind, hoard his heart? Why was everything the hatchling did simply not good enough?

"I'm the one who's not good enough!" Murtagh bellowed, and for a split second he lost control of his thoughts. His doubts, his fears and his loathing of himself leaked along their bond, and the hatchling squalled and flinched away from the self-destructive torrent. But then it made that gentle crooning again and reached back to him, and pure reflex made Murtagh slam up the defensive walls that he had never, ever let another breach. But when the hatchling touched his mind, that was all it was. A touch. Even though it knew Murtagh's true name and all of his weaknesses, it refused to make use of that knowledge against him. Instead, it waited. And it trusted.

No one had ever done that for him, not even Eragon.

Murtagh exhaled very slowly. What was the point of fighting? He had already lost possession of the one thing he had ever counted as sacred. There was precious little else the hatchling could take from him. It took a lot of effort and went against every fiber of his being, but Murtagh made himself relax and one by one let the walls around his mind come down.

He sensed a flicker of joy from the hatchling, and its mind eagerly surged forth. Its almost zealous need to share absolutely everything with him was overwhelming at first and made Murtagh jerk away in alarm. Luckily, the hatchling seemed to realize its mistake and curbed its enthusiasm with difficulty. Very gradually, their thoughts mingled like thick oil in water, but it became easier the longer they stayed this way. Murtagh hadn't realized the act of sharing his innermost thoughts could be so...natural. Comforting, even. The hatchling's mind was completely open to him, hiding nothing, an equal trade. Its view of the world was simplistic and naïve, but lying dormant in that small body were ancient memories and instincts just waiting to be awakened. And weaving it all together was the bond they shared. The magic that bound them to each other wasn't merely a compulsion or a spell, it was an essential part of the young dragon's being. And that made Murtagh the center of its—his—universe.

"But why me?" Murtagh murmured. Somehow he was sitting upright again, and his arms were cradling the hatchling close to his chest. He pressed his cheek to the hard scales, breathing the warm and spicy scent of its hide. The hatchling chittered softly as it nuzzled his temple and chewed on an errant lock of hair. "Why someone like me?"

The hatchling stilled, and to Murtagh's amazement, it spoke. Its grasp on language was still tenuous despite the forced maturation of its body and mind, but the halting words were reinforced by the hatchling's intense feelings of affection and sorrow at the moment their bond was forged.

You...were alone. And so was I.

A single tear fell from Murtagh's eyelash and struck the glittering scales, refracting the brilliant red. He swiped his eyes with his sleeve. "W-We are the same, aren't we?" he breathed, voice cracking. "We didn't ask to be here, we didn't want it. We never even got a chance to decide. And now there's nothing we can do. We have nothing left...nothing but this."

The hatchling only hummed softly. Murtagh grunted as he got to his feet, shifting the hatchling so its weight wasn't pressing on his wounded arm. The bleeding had stopped for the most part, and Murtagh knew he should clean the gashes and get them seen to properly. But in the end he simply set the hatchling down on the bed and tore off what was left of his sleeve to bind up the worst of the wounds. That done, Murtagh kicked off his boots and burrowed under the thick quilt. The hatchling didn't hesitate to climb on his pillow and coil around his head like a cat, its barbed tail draped around his neck and one wing folded partly over his hair. The sleeping arrangement wasn't the most comfortable, but it was the closeness they needed right now. The reassurance that they were both right here and nowhere else.

"Don't leave me," Murtagh whispered, knowing he sounded pathetic and lacking the inclination to care. He reached up and traced the spikes along the hatchling's neck as it lay its head down. "Don't ever leave my side. I'll do anything to keep you with me, anything you say. Just tell me..."

The hatchling opened one eye. Anything?

Murtagh nodded. Anything.

The hatchling blew out a puff of air. A...a name? A name for me. Like you, Murtagh. Will you...please...?

A name. It seemed like such a tiny request, but it wasn't really. A name was identity and purpose and, in the case of true names, power. But the hatchling wanted a given name. Something that the entire world would know him by, and it wanted Murtagh to be the one to grant it. Murtagh turned the idea over in his mind and immediately rejected most of the draconic names he had read about. The hatchling had no need to steal another's name, no matter how grand or brash the choice might be. The name should be simple and striking, one that like Zar'roc, would brand itself in the minds and hearts of their enemies.

Like a little thorn, isn't he...?

"Thorn," Murtagh said to himself, testing it on his tongue. At first he disliked the thought of taking his dragon's name from Galbatorix, but the more he thought it over, the better it seemed to fit. That was what they were. The thorn on the rose, the harsh reminders that the world was as ugly as it was beautiful, as painful as it was wonderful. The shining future that Eragon and the Varden were trying to create would never erase the century of bloodshed left in their wake. The scar on his back was proof of that.

"Thorn," Murtagh repeated. The hatchling gave a sleepy mumble of approval and shut its eyes. Murtagh's lips twitched, the soft smile turning feral as he slipped into a dream where he and Thorn soared together through a smoke-filled sky while the screaming masses below cowered from the sight of them. And as he drew Zar'roc and held the flaming blade aloft, his blood burned not with hate, but with pride.