I know this is short but it is just a filler chapter that I had ready to go. It will start to pick up again soon! :)
The travelers forced themselves to rise as the first stars appeared in the darkening sky. Eragon shivered in the rapidly cooling air as he replaced his bed roll on Cadoc's saddle. Arya was discussing something in a soft voice with Brom while Murtagh was bent over Zoe. Joining his half brother beside Zoe's unconscious body, Eragon asked him, "Do you think there is anything we can do for her?"
Murtagh frowned and said, "No, if there was anything Brom or the elf would have done it already. We should go."
"One thing first," said Eragon. He soaked a rag and then squeezed the cloth so water dripped between Zoe's slightly parted lips. However, just before Eragon could rise from his seat by Zoe, Murtagh spoke.
In a soft voice Murtagh said, "What will I do when we reach the Varden? They won't welcome me because of my parentage and you, Brom and Arya can't protect me from everything. Nor would I ask it of you."
Eragon reached a hand out and placed it on Murtagh's shoulder, "You have Saphira, Arya, Brom, Zoe and I all supporting you. We won't abandon you Murtagh. Besides, think of all the help you've given us. Without you Arya, Zoe and I would still be languishing in the Empire's prision. That counts for something and no one can claim that you are anything like your father."
Murtagh smiled a small, half smile and put a hand on Eragon's shoulder. For a moment neither of them said anything; silently thanking each other and enjoying the companionship that had grown between them. The silence was broken when Murtagh said, "I always did like races."
"And now we are in one for our lives!" Eragon laughed slightly at Murtagh's words; amused by his brother's statement.
"Yes," said Murtagh with a smirk, "that's the best kind." The two brothers smirked at each other - nothing else needed to be said.
They headed through the hills avoiding the tops for fear of being spotted by sentries. Saphira stayed with them on the ground for the same reason. Despite her bulk, she was stealthy; only her tail could be heard scraping over the ground, like a thick blue snake.
Eventually the sky brightened in the east. The morning star Aiedale appeared as they reached the edge of a steep bank covered with mounds of brush. Water roared below as it tore over boulders and sluices through branches.
"The Ramr!" said Eragon over the noise.
Arya laughed and said with a joyful smile, "Yes! Long has it been since I last stood by a river like this!" The elf felt her spirits rise at the sight of the unrestrained, turbulent water.
"We have to find a place to ford safely," said Brom looking worriedly down at the fast moving water. The water here was too deep and too swift for them to cross safely.
That that isn't necessary, said Saphira. I can carry you across, no matter how wide the river is.
Eragon rested a hand on her side. What about the horses? We can't leave them behind.
As long as you're not on them and they don't struggle too much I would be able to carry them. We cannot afford to squander time here deciding whether or not to attempt it.
Saphira clambered down the embankment, passing his reins to Murtagh, Eragon followed her to the edge of the bank. The Ramr ran dark and swift, it was impossible to tell how deep the water was. Saphira placed her front legs in the water but quickly pulled them out when the current nearly swept her off her feet. Shaking her head she drew back and broadcasted her thoughts to include Arya, Brom and Murtagh. I am going to see how far across the river is and if there is a place close by where you can cross. If not then I will have to fly you over.
With a gust of air she took off. Eragon returned to Cadoc and remounted. After a short time, Saphira contacted them again, I'm on the other bank. The river is over a half-mile wide. You couldn't have chosen a worse place to cross; the Ramr bends at this point and is at it's widest.
"A half-mile!" exclaimed Murtagh. Eragon explained about Saphira's offer to fly them across the river.
Brom frowned and said, "I would rather try and cross without Saphira's help. Ask her to look for shallows where we can swim over safely. If there aren't any within a mile in either direction, then I suppose she can ferry us."
At Eragon's request, Saphira agreed to search for a ford. While she explored, they hunkered next to the horses and ate dry bread and a few roots that Arya managed to find. It was not long before Saphira returned, her velvet wings whispering in the early dawn sky. The water is deep and strong, upstream and downstream. You would have to travel more than a few miles to find a safe ford.
Brom sighed and said, "Murtagh, go over with Saphira first so you can watch the horses. We will have to go with Sahira's plan."
Murtagh nodded and scrambled onto Saphira's saddle, behind Zoe who was still strapped to the saddle. "Be careful with my horse!" he called down to them before Saphira took off into the clear air.
When she returned, Zoe had been removed from her back. With Brom's help Eragon led Tornac to Saphira, ignoring the horse's protests. Before Saphira could grip the horse around the belly, Arya said, "Wait Saphira." The elf repositioned Murtagh's saddle so that it protected Tornac's belly from Saphira's sharp claws, then Arya gestured for Saphira to proceed.
Tornac snorted in fear and tried to bolt away when Sahira's forelegs clamped around his sides, but she held him tightly. The horse struggled madly in her grasp and it took both Arya and Eragon's combined mental force to try and sooth the terrified horse. Before Tornac could try and escape again, Saphira jumped into the skyward, straining furiously to make it high enough. Tornac screamed in terror as the ground dropped away from him.
Eragon winced at the sound; if there were any enemies close at hand they would quickly be able to find them. Turning back, he helped Brom prepare Snowfire then Cadoc and finally, Melynlas who was the least panicked of the horses.
When all the horses had been ferried across the river by Saphira, Arya, Brom and Eragon climbed onto her back and flew over the river. When Eragon looked back he saw the distant lights of torch bearing soldiers as they made their way to the river. It seemed that the sooner they got away from the Ramr the better.
As if sensing his thoughts, Arya said, "The Ramr is an effective way of putting distance between us and our enemies. They will have journey for many miles to find a crossing."
"Yes," said Brom. "Now we must worry about making it to the Varden in time." Soon, they were all on firm ground once more and traveling again.
Eragon dozed even when walking. He was barely aware that Murtagh and Brom were equally tired. Only Arya and Saphira seemed to be fully aware of their surroundings - it was their vigilance that kept them on course towards the distant Varden. Eragon did not even notice when the lush vegetation that grew along the Ramr began to change to sparse, desert plants nor did he fully register when the ground became soft and sandy. By the time the sun was high above them, the Ramr was nothing more than a distant line behind them while around them sand dunes filled the horizon like endless rippling waves of sand that changed constantly.
Arya led Melynlas through the dunes beside Brom. Her thoughts were filled with memories of her mother and the time she had spent with the Varden. Raising her head to look at the sun that was only now beginning to dip towards the horizon, Arya wondered if she would be welcomed back to Du Weldenvarden. From what Brom had told her, the Varden had received no assistance from her mother since her disappearance. Did that mean her mother did actually care for her? Why couldn't she push her grief away and be the selfless leader? She was Queen and without the elves assistance the Varden were completely reliant on the dwarves who were as changeable as the wind.
Turning to look at Eragon who was grey with exhaustion and just managing to walk beside his horse, Arya could not help but feel slightly hopeful. She had known Eragon for only three days and yet she found herself beginning to respect him. He was capable, skilled with his weapons, comfortable with the Ancient Language and ready to advance to more complex spells. Her doubts had not completely been removed but they had been eased. Young he may be but he was no child who required constant hand holding.
Resting a hand on the sweaty neck of Melynlas, Arya absently stroked her. What was waiting for them at the Varden? Brom had told her of the Twins's part in her capture and she could hardly wait to take her revenge on them. That they had done such a thing made the elf's blood boil with anger. Mastering her emotions Arya turned her thoughts to the Varden, she was still the ambassador for her mother but she had been gone so long that she worried that her role may have changed - especially with the arrival of Eragon and Saphira as well as the return of Brom. They would be walking into a rat's nest of conflicting powers, all of which were desperate to control them. She would have to talk with Eragon so he, Saphira and Murtagh were prepared for it. Though she had the feeling that Murtagh was used to such political games and would need little coaching in such matters.
Shaking her head, Arya cleared her head of her thoughts and instead tried to find some semblance of inner peace away from the questions and problems that plagued her thoughts. Looking forward towards the seemingly endless desert, Arya could not help but inwardly smile. If she had wanted a peaceful, easy life far away such questions she could have stayed in Du Weldenvarden.