Chapter 6: Interference
Eragon ducked under the huge Urgal's swing, the blade whistling over his head as Eragon scampered sideways, his sword barely ready in time to stop the next swing. Eragon's entire arm and shoulder vibrated under the weight of the swing. If Eragon didn't know any better, he would say that Raknovosh was trying to cause him harm. Eragon shoved the blade away, raising it and holding it ready for the next attack. It was a matter of patience with Raknovosh, Eragon had learned. Surely if Eragon pressed the offensive he could overcome the Urgal much more quickly, but the Urgal tested his endurance and once Raknovosh had tired himself, it was a simple matter for Eragon to best him. The next swing was low and short, coming up more quickly than Eragon was ready for and even his improved reflexes were hard-pressed to slap the blade back down and away with his own sword.
Had the swords not been warded, they would have sparked at the whirling motions that Raknovosh and Eragon made as they fought. The display was rather impressive, Raknovosh using his size and strength to his advantage and pushing Eragon to his very limits, often leaving the smaller man with no choice but to take an extra step or two to counteract the single step that the Urgal had taken. Many had gathered to watch the fight, it was rare to see two of the senior Elda spar together. Most knew of Eragon's plans to depart with Raknovosh, and the crowd that had gathered remained respectfully quiet, allowing the two combatants to focus. Eragon did not pay the crowd any thoughts at all however, he focused on avoiding the painful bruises that would come should Raknovosh strike him. The Urgal's heavy sword clanged against Brisingr again and Eragon had to shuffle back a step to compensate against the force of Raknovosh's strength.
A flash of gold caught Eragon's attention for less than a second, but that was all Raknovosh needed. In that flash, Eragon dropped his guard for just long enough to allow his opponent to take the advantage and slap Eragon squarely on the thigh. Eragon jumped at the sudden pain and swore loudly. The fire in Raknovosh's eyes was enough to speak for him. Eragon flourished his blade and pushed the tip of the sword against the ground, a scowl coming to his face as he watched the triumphant Urgal raise his arms and bellow to the sky, to the cheers of those that had gathered.
"Your mind is not all here Firesword," he said, noting that Eragon was searching the crowd.
"No, it is not." Eragon admitted. He stared past those gathered, wondering what he had seen. It was infrequent that his eyes betrayed him. He was, though, getting older, by his own observation. To some, he was still as sharp as ever, that he knew. Especially to the newer students that had gathered to watch the sparring match. To those who had known him longest though, he was certain that their eyes saw what he saw. An aging Rider.
Eragon paused long enough to lift his sword and dispel the wards around it, his gaze moving to watch Saphira, who lay quietly enjoying the sun. Her eyes locked with his, and she turned her gaze away from him, and he, following her gaze, saw Arya as she left the courtyard, her golden tunic shining in the sun. Eragon turned to Raknovosh, who too had followed his gaze. The Urgal grinned at him before moving away to speak with some students, who were eager to ask questions about the match. Eragon, however, was not amused. He slid his sword into his sheath and left it with Saphira as he followed the Elf queen through a short tunnel and into yet another courtyard.
There, Arya- He stopped and corrected himself. Queen Arya. Dröttning. He mulled the word over for a moment as he took a step back and leaned against the wall of the tunnel, watching her speak to the elves that had joined her at the fountain. He noted Ralyn's presence among them. He was almost disappointed to see that Ismira was not among them, yet glad too. The Queen would corrupt her, he knew it. The young woman was so impressionable, much as he was at such an age. No doubt Ismira's meeting with Nasuada had a similar effect that he imagined the elf queen would have on his niece. Eragon turned his head, not looking but listening to the unfamiliar footsteps that approached.
"The Elves are so elegant." Ismira said, and Eragon nodded slowly.
"You aren't so far off." Eragon mused.
"I'm a human." Eragon could hear the envy in her voice as she spoke.
"So am I."
"Not any more."
Eragon considered the thought for a moment. Ismira was right, of course. Very little about Eragon constituted him as a human anymore. He could still grow a beard, and the thought brought a grin to his face. "Yes," He said.
"How Elvish of you." Ismira murmured.
Eragon regarded her curiously. She stood straight and tall, a sign of her upbringing. He had always thought that Roran carried himself with dignity; he wasn't sure why it surprised him that the man's daughter was any different. He turned his gaze back to Arya, who he was surprised to see was watching the pair closely.
"We appear to have worn out our welcome." Eragon said, turning away. Except, when he turned, he found that Ismira was no longer standing next to him. Instead, when he looked, she was halfway across the courtyard, making a straight line for Arya and Ralyn, Ismira's dragon padding alongside her as quick as its legs would carry it to match the woman's long strides. Dumbfounded, Eragon could only watch in horror.
Ralyn turned her gaze just in time to see Ismira enter the circle of elves that had gathered around her queen. Almost instinctively, Ralyn put herself between Arya and Ismira. None should be allowed to approach her queen without showing due respect. That a human woman would dare approach in such a brazen manner, Ralyn felt her temper flare. Another joiner Ralyn, standing shoulder to shoulder with her. Perhaps luckily for Ismira, the other elf spoke first.
"Who are you to approach, human?" The elf practically spat.
Behind her, Ralyn felt the Queen stand. Ralyn knew that if she did not act now, disaster would strike. And yet, when Arya pushed the two apart and stepped forward to greet Ismira as brazenly as the woman had approached, Ralyn's temper broke. "My Queen! With all due respect, who is this child to think she may come greet you unbidden?" Ralyn stepped forward, and reached out to touch Queen Arya.
The Queen raised a hand and snapped a warning glare at Ralyn, and instantly Ralyn felt ashamed. Here she was, the newest representative of her race to the Riders, and she presumed to warn the Queen of her entire people what she should or should not do. Ralyn felt very small as those around her instantly reacted to the Queen's near-instant look. Suddenly she was alone in a sea of familiarity. Luckily, all focus was on Ismira, who, when finally standing but a few steps from the Queen, knelt and bowed her head, remaining there until the Queen spoke. "Ismira Katrinasdaughter. Rise, child." Ismira stood, still not speaking. The Queen nodded, and a seemingly unspoken conversation passed between the two. Now Ralyn's envy was brought to the fore of her thoughts. Who was this insolent child to share a thought with Ralyn's Queen? "Leave us." The Queen commanded. Ralyn remained rooted to the spot, and as the crowd around them dispersed, Ralyn felt as if she stood at the center of a giant bowl, and all the world's light was focused on her.
Arya turned to look at Ralyn, and then reached out and touched Ralyn on the arm. Instantly, Ralyn was brought back to reality, and immediately she felt the chill of fear as she considered what may happen should she disobey. "Ralyn. Go stand with Eragon. I am in no danger." Arya indicated the spot where Eragon stood on the threshold of a small tunnel that led to another courtyard beyond. The man looked much as Ralyn thought she may have just a few moments ago: ready to pounce at any second. Ralyn, after a moment and a nod from the Queen, went and stood next to Eragon. Eragon watched her, and Ralyn avoided his gaze. She sat quietly, collecting herself and watching the exchange between Ismira and Arya silently.
Ismira's first question surprised even herself: "What made Eragon so much like an elf?"
The Queen's gaze made Ismira feel very small, yet she remained strong. Who was a Stronghammer to back down from an elf?
"The magic of dragons is very much misunderstood. Even I do not know for certain what magics caused his transformation." The Queen said, returning to her seat on the edge of the fountain.
Ismira paused long enough to muse that this was the same fountain that Ralyn and herself had shared just barely a night. "So, you don't know."
Arya nodded slowly. "What is your real question, Ismira?"
Ismira herself didn't know. "I don't know."
Arya nodded again. "I did not think so. May I propose an answer?"
"To what question? Uh, drott- Er, drut-" Ismira promptly shut her mouth to prevent embarrassing herself further. She has practiced this word, too! She had caught Graufdera earlier that day and asked what the right title for Arya was, in the Ancient Language.
Arya seemed to ignore the slip, "No, you cannot be like him."
The thought hadn't crossed her mind until the Queen spoke, but now that it was in her mind, Ismira realised that it was something she had wanted, perhaps without knowing that she wanted it, but wanted nonetheless. "How does that matter? I'm a Human. I know that can't change."
Arya looked past Ismira to where Eragon and Ralyn stood. Ismira turned and looked and saw them talking between themselves, though Ismira could not even hope to hear what they said. "Did you know that racial tensions have only gotten worse since the Games have been held? The Urgals, while satisfied with their victories for now, are hungry for blood. Elves and Humans, while intermixing more than ever, are still separated in the cities they share. Humans find themselves aligning more with their industrious kin, dwarves. We Elves revere nature too much for our interests to align with dwarves. The fires of industry are spreading. This world is about to become very, very small Ismira."
Ismira cursed audibly, and Arya regarded her with surprise. "Nasuada said war was brewing."
"I'm sure in more words than that, but it does not surprise me. Has Eragon told you of what is out here, past the mountains that separate Alagaësia from the rest of the world?"
"Why do Queens find it necessary to confide in me? I'm just... just..."
"Just a girl? Ismira, you, now that you are part of the Riders especially, are going to be extremely valuable in the coming future. Nasuada wants you to be on her side. I want you to be on the Riders' side. Nasuada has Murtagh already wrapped around her finger."
"You make her sound like a tyrant."
"Nasuada is doing what she feels is necessary. She is preparing for a major change in the world. A change that will extend far beyond her own borders, and our own."
Eragon approached, "Enough. Ismira is not a major part in this play. Do not frighten the poor girl, Arya."
The Queen looked at Eragon, and her voice turned to ice as she spoke: "You know as well as I do that every Rider in existence, young or old, is going to be a major part."
"Arya, that's enough. You're frightening her."
Ismira stamped her foot. "What is happening? Eragon, what is really going on here?"
Ralyn now spoke as she joined the group: "Eragon is going to depose Nasuada."
"What? Why? She's done nothing wrong!" Ismira protested.
Arya raised a hand. "No, he is not."
"I am not going to harm Nasuada, nor will I depose her. A solution must be found, though. Dwarven industry is expanding too rapidly and the humans are doing nothing but encouraging it. Manufactured goods are becoming commonplace. Surely you have seen this, Ismira."
"Well, yes, I mean, some of the finest silvers my father owns are from dwarven fires."
Eragon nodded. "An industrial revolution is coming. The world will change and be destroyed in the process. There will be new warfare, with weapons untold until now." Eragon produced a minuscule pouch and tossed it into the air, igniting it with a word that Ismira did not understand. With a loud pop, the pouch exploded into a mix of fire and smoke. Nothing was left afterwards.
"Just magic." Ralyn said.
"No. I only ignited it. The powder inside does all the work. Magic for anyone." Eragon corrected.
"Why is that not a good thing?" Ismira asked. "Wasn't that what Nasuada wanted in the first place? Either control magic or give it to everyone?"
Arya spoke again, "This is no magic. It is a dwarven invention. Any fire will ignite it. In enough quantities, it will move mountains."
"This is why I send Riders back every so often. I have to have a way to keep tabs on this powder and how it advances in the world. So far, the dwarves are keeping it secret. I had Orik bring some to me." Eragon said.
Arya said, "This powder, and other things the dwarves are working on, are extremely dangerous, especially in the wrong hands."
"But I thought the Riders weren't allowed to interfere with the world?" Ismira asked.
"We are its arbiters and ultimate lawmakers." Eragon corrected.
"So what if these things turn out to be good? What if they're how things are supposed to be?" Ralyn asked.
"They can be, if controlled properly. Nasuada does not know any of these things that we have just spoken of, and as such it is natural for her to prepare for a war that we hope to stop." Arya said.
"So that's why you're going." Ismira said.
"Yes." Eragon said. "I have to try to explain these things to Murtagh and Nasuada."
"And if you don't?"
Eragon shared a distressed look with Arya.
"War. In every corner of the world."