I am so sorry! but life, horse shows, summer vacation etc. kind of got in the way of regular writing/posting but never fear - I have been writing and will be positing some chapters very soon! :) so enjoy this and of course - tell me what you think! Thank you to everyone!
Where was she? Arya had the vague impression that she was flying, but, that couldn't be possible. How could she be flying? Had she finally lost her mind? Surely this was just an illusion of flying, or, if she really was flying it meant she was on her way to Galbatorix and that thought terrified her so much that she wished she had gone mad. Better mad then that fate but better to face the truth now. She would never run from the truth.
With great effort Arya opened her eyes, blinking at the blinding sunlight that hurt her eyes after her long imprisonment in the darkness of Gil'ead. It took a moment for the elf to adjust to the bright light and, when she finally could see clearly, she cried out in amazement. She must have gone mad for never in her life did she expect to be flying on this dragon. She had flown with Glaedr once and that was only because Glaedr wished to show her the joys of flight. This was not Glaedr or Shruikan but...could it be? That azure blue was terribly familiar, but, only in her wildest dreams did she imagine flying on the back of the dragon whose egg she had carried across Alagaesia. Yet, it had to be. Here, she, Arya, was and she knew, deep down, that she was not dreaming. This was real.
It was then that a vast, and distinctly dragon mind, touched her thoughts. This dragon's mind was smaller then Glaedrs and full of a different kind of music that was beautiful, proud and completely unique. This dragon was young and full of fire that had not been dimmed by the ages or the loss of all that it held dear. In a gentle tone the dragon said, How are you little one?
Arya was speechless and overwhelmed, she was unable to fully grasp the situation, let alone speak to the very dragon she had been waiting for years to hatch. She sacrificed her relationship with her mother, her life and Faolin for this dragon. Even thinking of her dead companion made her heart constrict with sadness.
When she did finally find her voice she did not recite the carefully worded speech she had planned for this moment in time nor did she make any attempt to conceal her turbulent emotions. Rather she acted as un-princess like as she had ever acted in all of her one hundred years. I...how did I end up here? What do I call you? Where is...
The dragon interrupted her, amusement coloring her thoughts and emotions. I am Saphira. If you can hold in your questions for a little while longer I will allow Brom to answer them. We will be landing soon and it would be better to discuss these matters then.
It took all of Arya's patience to agree to Saphira's request but the idea of refusing the dragon required too much energy and, when it came right down to it, it was terribly rude to disagree with a dragon on such a simple matte.
So, while Saphira began to angle her flight towards the distant ground, Arya turned her attention to her surroundings. The first thing she noticed was that she was not alone on Saphira's back. Strapped into the saddle in front of her was a human girl of about sixteen, maybe seventeen, years. She was quite beautiful and unlike any other human Arya had seen in Alagaesia. Her hair was a rich dark brown, almost black, with lighter highlights of gold and brown that caught the light. Her pale, lovely face was at odds with the weapons she carried; which while of beautiful design showed signs of battle. This girl looked like some sort of highborn lady - not that she could possibly be one. Why would a noble woman be flying with Saphira? Could this be the mysterious Zoe that had contacted her in her cell and offered a tantalizing promise of freedom?
With no way to immediately answer her question Arya had to content herself with observing the land that Saphira flew over. It varied from dense forests to open fields and Arya wondered where in the Empire they were. How long had she been unconscious and why was she not dead from the poison? If she had to guess she would estimate that they were somewhere close to Gil'ead; maybe three or four days travel away from the city.
Pushing away her thoughts Arya allowed herself to simply admire the sunset. The golden light spread across the land and Arya could not help but smile widely. She was free. It was enough to make her giddy with joy.
Saphira landed in a small, sheltered clearing and, when she had settled her wings, Saphira spoke, They will be here soon.
Arya nodded in understanding and loosened the straps on the saddle that had held her place. When they were undone she gingerly lowered herself to the ground. Her body, while healed, was still very sore and bruised. It would take time before she felt herself again. The sounds of horses made Arya turn and she watched as four horses and three riders entered the clearing. One horse, a steel grey mare, was being led by one of the riders. All of them had the hoods of their cloaks up but not enough to completely cover their features.
She immediately recognized Brom, what with his grizzled beard and weathered face he was as unchanged as he had been years ago when she had first met him in Du Weldenvarden. Perhaps there were a few more grey hairs and his eyes looked tired but it was still him - unshakable, ruthless, kind, loyal and brilliant; one of the few people who Arya trusted without question. Someone who could play the games of power without making a single mistake and end up farther ahead then you thought possible.
Beside him, on a red bay horse, was a young human. His brown eyes were intense and his hair was light brown. Beside him was a dark eyed, dark haired boy of around the same age. Both of them sat their horses with ease and they wore their weapons with confidence that spoke of proficiency and skill.
Brom drew his white stallion to a halt and with a small smile he said, with perfect pronunciation, "Atra esterni ono thelduin Arya Dröttning."
Arya inclined her head and replied, "Morranr lifa union hjarta onr Brom-vodhr."
Finishing the ancient greeting, Brom said, "Un du evarinya."
Unable to contain the questions that had been bothering her ever since she had awoken, Arya said, "Will you please explain things to me Brom-vodhr?"
A worried expression crossed Brom's face as he replied, "Yes, I will to the best of my abilities but we can linger here only long enough to have a meal and then we must continue on. Much of the story will have to be told while we travel."
Arya nodded in understanding and waited while the three cared for their horses, removed the girl from Saphira's back, started a fire and then finally, when all of them were seated by the small fire and some vegetable stew was cooking, did Brom begin to explain matters to her.
With a gesture towards the dark boy on his left, Brom said, "Let me introduce you to Murtagh," Murtagh inclined his head in greeting, "and Rider Eragon." Arya's eyes opened slightly with shock. This boy was the Rider? For some reason she had imagined that Saphira's Rider was not with Brom and his companions but would be soon. This boy was barely seventeen and he looked far too weak to ever stand up to any powerful magician or swordsman. Then there was his name. Eragon was such a powerful name and could this boy live up to it? Arya had serious doubts. As if guessing her thoughts Eragon did not meet her eyes but rather kept his firmly fixed on the flickering flames.
Remembering the manners drilled into her, Arya automatically greeted the two with the same greeting as she had Brom, and, to her utmost surprise, they responded correctly. Eragon even had a passable accent while Murtagh lacked the same flow that came with practice. It had been a test she had unknowingly set for them and they had both passed it with full marks. Perhaps they were not as ignorant of the world outside the Empire as she had thought.
"Now Arya to fully explain this...situation I must go back to the time when I was searching for Saphira's egg..." Brom settled back and his face became clouded as he thought back over all the complicated twists and choices that had brought them to this moment. Pushing those thoughts away Brom continued with his narrative, leaving out Murtagh's past and the truth of his parentage as well as a full description of Zoe's skills and knowledge - though he hid nothing else from the elf.
On the outside Arya was impassive as she listened to revelation after revelation but on the inside she was reeling. Never had she imagined that Brom was a father nor could she have guessed, even in her wildest dreams that Zoe was actually from a world as vastly different to Alagaesia as an elf was to a dwarf. She felt pity and sympathy for the girl who had helped her in Gil'ead but was now slowly dying.
Brom had just gotten to the part when they had arrived in Dras'Leona when Murtagh interrupted him. "We should continue this conversation from our horses." His tone was brusque and Arya could not help but wonder at his rude interruption of Brom, no elf or member of the Varden would have dared to interrupt Brom in such a way. However, Brom did not seem angry nor did he reprimand Murtagh instead, he nodded his head in agreement.
"Before we do," said Eragon, "how will Arya travel? Saphira is more than willing to continue carrying her and Zoe."
Brom stood and all turned to watch him, waiting for his answer, "Arya can ride Melynlas for now."
Another thing, said Saphira, that must be dealt with now is how we will get to the Varden. What route should we take?
Brom removed the map of Alagaesia from his saddle bags before spreading it out on the ground. Everyone clustered around the paper examining it. Pointing at a small dot labeled 'Gil'ead' Brom said, "We are a little south was of Gil'ead. If we continue on our current path we will be able to cross the HadaracDesert's most south eastern corner. We will escape the Empire and be that much closer to the Beors."
Murtagh gaped at Brom in shocked horror,"You are suggesting that we cross one of the largest, most inhospitable pieces of land? The Hadarac is filled with poisonous snakes, inedible plants..."
Before Murtagh could continue in his long list, Brom interrupted him, "What other choice do we have? Our destination is the Varden. Besides, we will not be traveling through the middle of the desert but only through a small piece of it. We cannot get to the elves fast enough, Surda is full of too many Empire spies and besides, we could not get to Surda without being captured by the Empire. Too many town and villages separate us. Added to that is the fact that the Varden have the antidote for Zoe and need our assistance. You know the reasons as well as everyone else Murtagh."
Eragon examined the map closely and traced the proposed path with his finger. "If this map is accurate then the distance from here to the Beors is about the same that we travelled on our way to Gil'ead - that took us a month…No wonder the Empire ends at the desert; anything beyond it is too far away for him to control."
"Is there no shorter route?" demanded Murtagh. "Zoe does not have that much time!"
Arya leaned forward and said, "If we push ourselves, which we already have to do because of the soldiers, then the journey will only take a fraction of that time."
"But Brom," said Eragon frowning in concentration, "how will we get water? I thought that the tribes in the desert hid their water supplies to protect them from being used by travelers? It would be impossible to create rain and equally difficult to make water out of nothing."
Brom was quick to reply, "You forget that there is always groundwater. If we did a deep enough hole, which is easy enough with magic, then we will be able to reach that water. Now come for time is of the essence. With a little luck we will all make it to our destination in time."
"Wait," said Arya. Everyone turned to look at her, "Forgive me for asking, for I would risk death for a close friend as well and I know that I owe her my life, but...why is Zoe so important to all of you? She must be more than a dear companion to inspire such loyalty."
It was Saphira who answered, It is because if one of us were in the same situation as Zoe is now, she would do all in her power to save us. She has never asked for anything in return for her sacrifices nor can we ignore the fact that it because of her that we are where we are.
Arya inclined her head in understanding.
Murtagh quickly tamped down the fire and destroyed any signs of their camp while Eragon lifted Zoe's unconscious body back onto Saphira. Arya followed Brom to the horses that were picketed on the edge of the clearing. The steel grey mare reminded Arya slightly of an Elvin steed. Her wide spaced brown eyes were bright with intelligence and her small ears constantly flicked back and forth as she listened to her surroundings.
Arya reached out with her mind to sooth the mare and gently the elf princess stroked the dark neck. The mare did not react to her touch, so, in a smooth movement Arya put her foot in the stirrup but, she had no sooner put a slight bit of her weight when the mare flew sideways; away from Arya and Brom who stood a few paces behind Arya. Melynlas watched them warily from the end of her tether; her head was up and her nostrils were opened to show the bright pink lining. Arya had never had such a reaction from a horse to her touch, and, so puzzled and surprised, she turned and asked Brom, "I thought you said she was quiet."
Brom considered the mare for a moment but before he could respond Murtagh said, "She gives Zoe no trouble but no one else has ever tried to ride her." Arya caught traces of amusement in his voice as if he found the situation rather funny. It irritated her; Murtagh grated on her nerves what with the way he had spoken to Brom and now, the way he silently laughed at her.
Arya spared him a quick glance before turning her attention back to the mare who was still watching her as if daring the elf to try and mount her again. Reaching out with her mind again, Arya tried to sooth the mare's thoughts but it was difficult for Melynlas not frightened of her per-say but rather unwilling to allow anyone but Zoe on her back. Trying to convince the stubborn horse was as difficult as trying to convince dwarves that they should give up gemstones. In other words: impossible.
"Why don't you just ask Melynlas?" Everyone turned to look at Eragon who was leaning his back against Saphira's side looking like he was just about to fall asleep right there.
Arya raised an eyebrow, rather impressed by the boy's suggestion, but also doubtful that the mare would respond. Or perhaps that was where she had made her mistake. Slowly, so as not to startle her, Arya moved forward and rested one hand on the mare's neck. Softly Arya said in the Ancient Language, "Please let me ride you Melynlas until your own rider is able to."
The muscles in the Melynlas's neck were tense but slowly, as if resigning herself to her fate, the mare relaxed and did not shy away from Arya when she put weight in the stirrup. In a swift movement Arya mounted. When she was secure in the saddle, she reached down and stroked the mare gently with one hand, trying to convey her thanks. Melynlas merely swished her tail and pinned her ears as if to say this is temporary.
Once all of them were mounted, Saphira leapt into the sky and Arya watched her, joy filling her as she watched the blue dragon vanish in the darkening sky. There was hope for the Varden; for her people. There was hope after so long spent fighting a losing battle.
As they rode Brom continued with his story. If Arya had been amazed and surprised before she was doubly so now. The more Brom told her of Eragon and the more she came to realize that perhaps her first judgment of the boy was incorrect. He was young certainly but not as far behind in his education as she had feared when she first saw him. Added to that was the realization that she had also misjudged Murtgah. From what Brom told her, Murtagh had been not only a steadfast ally but worthy friend to all of them. It irked her that she could be so blinded by first impressions to cast a worthy ally away merely because she disliked the way they acted.
Then there was Zoe. Brom spoke little of her skills; he emphasized the help and assistance she had given them but said nothing more. The elf wanted more than anything to question Brom privately about just what kind of skills Zoe had, but, she had the distinct feeling that Brom would not tell her anything more about Zoe without good reason or the girl's permission. Arya did not want to push the limits of her friendship by asking questions that Brom could not answer in good conscious. She would have to wait.
Dawn came a few hours later but the four riders stopped only long enough for a quick meal and to rest the horses before pushing on, ignoring discomfort and fatigue. They drove the horses as hard as they could without killing them. Sometimes they dismounted and ran on foot to give the horses a rest.
Though the soldiers who had pursued them from Gil'ead were far behind now, they found themselves having to avoid new soldiers every time they passed a town or village. Word of their escape had been sent ahead of them. Twice they were nearly ambushed along the trail, escaping only because Saphira happened to smell the men ahead of them. After the second incident, they avoided the trail entirely.
At long last, the sun slipped below the horizon and darkness fell like a heavy blanket over the world but they did not stop. Relentlessly the companions paced out the miles that lay between them and the Varden far away in the BeorMountains. In the deepest hours of the night, when the only light came from the stars and a distant sliver of moon, the ground rose beneath them to form low cactus-dotted hills.
On a low rise they stopped the horses and gazed out. Brom raised one hand and pointed in the direction they were going, "A few leagues from here is the town Bullridge. We must slip around it now while it is still dark to avoid being detected."
A few more hours of riding brought them close enough to the town that they could make out the straw-yellow lanterns. A web of soldiers patrolled between watch fires scattered around the town. Muffling their swords with rags and dismounting the four riders led the horses in a wide detour. Arya went ahead so as to make sure they did not stumble into an encampment; the elf moved so silently that she could have been mistaken for a shadow darting from tree to tree.
After an hour of tense watchfulness they were able to mount again. Eragon glanced back at the lights of Bullridge as they trotted away. It had suddenly struck him how much he missed his home. He missed not having to ride through the night so as to avoid capture and the death of his best friend. He missed all the things that came with being part of a village like Carvahall. As they continued on, Eragon came to the realization that he missed life he had before Saphira. The simplicity - he missed wishing for adventure. Pulling himself out of his depressed thoughts Eragon focused on the connection he had with Saphira. Surely that connection, that shared sense of the world with his partner of heart and soul, was worth it.
Finally daybreak flooded the sky. The four stopped their tired mounts in a sheltered hollow of juniper trees beside the RamirRiver. They had covered over sixteen leagues in one day and had the saddle sores to prove it. While Eragon and Murtagh set up camp, Arya helped Brom with Zoe. The girl remained unchanged, her breathing was slow and rhythmical as if she was merely asleep and could be woken with a spoken word or gentle touch. Her mind, when Arya touched it, was guarded behind impenetrable walls of iron.
Leaving Zoe on a blanket beside Saphira, who took first watch, all fell into a deep sleep too tired to dream. Even Arya found her waking dreams lacked their usual splendor; her mind too exhausted to conjure up the usual fantasies.
Far behind them, in the capitol city of the Empire, Galbatorix was pacing his throne room, alone expect for the massive bulk of Shruikan hidden by the thick shadows. How? How had a boy from a little known, isolated village managed to become a Rider and escape all his traps? Galbatorix stopped and turned to look at his black throne on it's raised dais. A smile slowly curled his thin lips, he could not help but feel a little respect for this boy and that meddlesome Brom. It would make catching them and that elf all the more enjoyable. He could wait. In the end he would win, after all, he always did. No one was strong enough to defeat him. They never would be - so why should he concern himself overly much?
Looking down at the letter in his hand Galbatorix focused on the writing at the bottom of the page. Written, as if it were an afterthought, the Captain of Gil'ead said, Found with the dragon rider was a young woman of sixteen. She too escaped with the Rider and his companions, but, was given Skilna Bragh poison. No antidote was taken for her. We have no leads on who she was or why she was traveling with the Rider. That was it and yet. This girl...she raised his curiosity. She must have had some sort of skill or knowledge that made her valuable to the Rider. Or maybe she was some sort of relative and could be used as a bargaining tool? There were endless possibilities for who she was and her purpose. However, she would be dead by now and any use she may have had for him was gone. He dismissed her completely from his thoughts and focused on other problems. Later he would regret his dismissal. Later, much later, he would wish he had not overlooked such an interesting piece of the games but that is later. When a great many things had become clear for a great many people.
For now at least, the travelers resting beside the Ramir river in a small grove of trees with a sapphire blue dragon watching over them, were safe enough