AN: I can't help but wish that there was a scene like this in the fourth book. It would have been very squeal worthy and amazing.
Disclaimer: I do not own the Inheritance Cycle. CP does.
Arya sighed as she weaved her way through the kitchens, the sounds of the men laughing and cheering at their latest victory almost painfully loud within her ears. Had her sights not been set upon the young man that hovered at the edge of the commotion, much to the protests of the others, for they all knew their latest victory was due almost entirely to him, she, just like the other elves that were currently residing with the Varden, would have remained within her tent, resting in the relative silence that solitude brought. However, as it were, she could not forget the slightly haunted look that had played within his eyes when he had returned from the fight, nor could she dismiss the way he had refused to meet either her or Rowan's gaze as he had slunk off to treat his wounds. So, after obtaining the needed information from Saphira, she had set off to find the Rider and gain some answers.
The sight before her wasn't as promising as she would have liked.
It was clear that Eragon was partially drunk, thought luckily neither the dwarves nor the humans had anything quite as strong as the faelnirv the two of them had once shared together. Settling herself on one of the wooden stumps that had been dragged under the covered tents to serve as chairs, she watched as Eragon glanced at her before fixing his stare on the bottom of his drink, determined not to look at her. Letting out a soft sigh, Arya slowly reached out to brush her hand against his, but paused when she saw that her movement had caused him to stiffen, though whether it was because he would rather avoid her touch or because he was preparing himself for it, she couldn't tell. Allowing her hand to fall back into her lap, she waited until his body had relaxed a bit before speaking, her voice only just loud enough to be heard through the laughter and merry-making of their peers.
"What happened during the battle with Murtagh?"
Eragon flinched at the sound of his half-brother's name, his shoulders hunching forward to further hide his face from her. Feeling the slight frown that had been present on her face since earlier that day deepen, Arya forced herself to breathe in the sharp tang of the smoke and sweat scented air as she allowed him his thoughts, her own swarming with a thousand questions that she knew would be worse than useless to ask. Just as he had come to learn the many times of when to speak and when silence would prove more rewarding, so too had she mastered the art of drawing information from her prey without uttering a word. She just had to wait.
Luckily, she didn't have to wait long.
Whether it was because of something Saphira said, for for a brief moment she could sense the faintest touch of the dragon's mind, or because Eragon himself had finally decided to share a small portion of the burden that had driven him into the ale barrel, Arya could pinpoint the exact moment the war within him stopped. His shoulders losing some of the hard tension that had inhabited them since Murtagh and Thorn had disappeared over the horizon, Eragon quickly drained his tankard before dropping it once more to the tabletop, where one of the few servers that hovered around the edges of the tent scurried over to retrieve it, bowing in the process. Beckoning for her to follow him, a quick glance at the rest of the soldiers showing her his unease with the idea of speaking surrounded by so many others, the two slowly allowed their feet to carry them from the kitchens and out into the slightly chilled night air, where they continued on until the makeshift barriers that protected their flank forced them to stop. Luckily for them, the guards had just begun to change their shifts, so they had a few moments more to be alone before their every word was heard and analyzed by others.
It was the perfect time to strike.
"Eragon," Arya began slowly, her voice neutral as she watched his eyes flicker to her before returning to their outward gaze, fixed upon some far away point that she could not see. "During today's battle with Murtagh, you cut off contact from myself and the other elves. Since then, you have been unable to do any more then look at someone for a few moments before you force yourself away. What transpired between the two of you that has caused you so must grief?" Even as the question left her lips, Arya could see the words turning in Eragon's mind as he tried to find the ones that would explain his earlier actions, ones that would most likely also match her overly formal tone. Finally, after a few moments of silence, it was with a nod that he began.
"Before the battle, Murtagh contacted me, claiming that he had a message from Galbatorix that he was bound to deliver."
"You allowed him into your mind to hear it," Arya replied after a moment as more statement than question, the shock that ran down her spine causing an almost unnoticeable shiver to follow. There had been no sign of Murtagh or the men that had been under his command until right before the battle, so the idea that Eragon had known of his presence and had allowed their enemy to catch them unawares just so he could hear a message from man they were sworn to kill truthfully scared her. Eragon, as if sensing her thoughts, gave a slightly sheepish nod as he continued, though the look on his face told her that he regretted nothing.
"Murtagh and Thorn both swore in the Ancient Language that neither they nor their men meant us any harm, nor would any of our own be allowed to come to it, so long as we heard what they had to say." Arya, despite the sinking feeling in her stomach, had to nod in agreement as Eragon spoke, her frown continuing to pull at her lips as she listened. Although the Varden had gained nothing more than a few cuts and bruises from the battle that had ensued, the chaos had proved to be enough that none of the elves had been able to stay close enough to offer Eragon protection during the fight. Originally, they had thought it a miracle that he had been able to drive off his half brother without their help, but now she knew otherwise.
"So the fighting between Saphira and Thorn..."
"Was nothing more than playful banter," Eragon replied with a wince, no doubt using his brother's words as he remembered the shallow but painful gash Saphira had received along her flank. "I thought it prudent, while the promise of relative peace still stood, to take them up on their offer and hear what they had to say. Since neither Saphira nor I were in any danger, and since the message seemed to be of a personal nature, I saw no harm in keeping it that way."
"And what was this message," Arya asked with a graceful curve of her eyebrow, her gaze boring into him. Already she could tell that she had struck a nerve, that whatever had transpired between the brothers was something Eragon would rather keep to himself then allow her to share his knowledge. However, she could also see the drink that had so far loosened his tongue was also compelling him to continue. Finally, it was with another tilt of his head and a brush of Saphira's mind that the words fell from his lips.
Oh what words they were.
"Galbatorix offered me you."
Arya could feel her eyes widen in shock as the words forced themselves into her frozen mind, her shock and surprise breaking through the carefully created mask she normally wore. The small, involuntary gasp that threatened to give her feelings an audible indication became stuck in her throat just as the handful of different responses she had created over the last hour since she had decided to go looking for him, reassurance and plans, ideas and random thoughts sure to help take his mind off the trouble that plagued him, fell from her mind like stones from a cliff, leaving her thoughts blank. The only thing she was able to think of was a single word, one that aptly summed up her current experience without any other explanation, so, in a voice so breathy and faint she could barely call it her own, she said it.
"It wasn't just you," Eragon said quickly, casting her a concerned glance that, had she been in any other state of mind, might have annoyed her, but that now just made her feel even weaker then she was. "The message was a memory of Murtagh's, first of Galbatorix talking, offering me peace for all of the Empire, the Varden, and Surda, should I join him. The rest was illusions, images of what was to come should I give in and join him." For a single moment, Eragon paused, his eyes gaining an unfocused glazed to them as he stared out into the distance towards the rising moon, the silvery glow mixing with the dancing flames behind them to cast an almost ethereal dance across his face. When he did speak, it was with a wistful tone, as if he wished he could return to whatever world Galbatorix had planted in him mind. "Arya, I fear there are few words, in either language, that I could use to make you see what I saw. The best way would be to show you the memories first hand, but even then it would be nigh impossible for you to understand, so I will try to make do with what I have."
"There were a thousand images Murtagh showed me during the short time we conversed, though only a few were able to stand out and remain in my mind apart from the rest. They were..." Here, Eragon shook his head as if to clear if from a fog, the tone of his voice assuring her that he had partly succeeded, though the look in his eyes still unnerved her. "It was nothing more then a series of dreams," he said firmly, "but a lovely one at that." Taking one more glance at her face, Eragon launched himself into the memories,his eyes fluttering shut so as to better be able to remember them.
"I saw Nasuada and Murtagh, finally free from the bonds forced over them by Galbatorix. They were together and in love, able to live their own lives without retribution so long as Murtagh helped to raise the newest Dragon Riders. There was no pain, no suffering, and Nasuada even ruled under Galbatorix as his second in command, the Queen of the Empire while Galbatorix continued his research and studies, able to fully immerse himself in the knowledge of the past because someone capable and willing was finally there to take the burden of leadership from him. Under Nasuada's and Galbatorix's rule, the Empire tripled its size, reaching across oceans to encompass the entire world, bringing with it an era of peace and advancement. Galbatorix had finally found something to make the laws equal and fair, so not even the elves could use magic to abuse their power. The most common spell spoken was waise heill, and only the Riders themselves had the power to judge who was or was not guilty of some sort of crime. A dim-witted child could walk from one end of the world to the next without fear of harm, for there was none who could harm him."
"I saw Rowan and Katrina, living in a castle on the hill Rowan and I always said we would build one if we had the time and money, one that overlooked all of Palancar Valley. They were surrounded by a hoard of children, every single one of them happy and healthy and just glad that there was nothing they ever had to fear. Carvahall had been rebuilt, better than I could have ever imagined it, full of color and hope for the future. It was a rich city, one that benefited from trade with the entire rest of the country. The Spine had been conquered, and although it remained covered in forests, roads from every which way crossed them that reached into every part of the Empire. My friends, my family, were all safe and unharmed."
"I saw Saphira, Thorn, and the yet unhatched green dragon laying together, side by side, their necks and tails intertwined as they enjoyed a nap in the sun in the middle of a courtyard, one large enough to fit fifty or even a hundred dragons of their size. They were all half asleep, quiet and comfortable in each other's company, but all of them kept a keen eye on the small, blanket lined basket in front of them, which held half a dozen eggs of various colors that had just been laid no more than a day or so ago. Already, children were lining up outside the castle walls for a chance to be selected by the hatchlings that resided inside, all eager and willing to serve their king. The dragons, and the Riders, were going to return, stronger and more powerful than we ever could have hoped."
"I saw a world where humans, elves, dwarves, and even urgals lived together in peace, creating sprawling villages and enormous cities that stretched around the world, scholars teaching and in turn being taught about the rest of the world that has so long remained a mystery to all but the elves, and even then all your people have are rumors and songs. We actually found your original homeland, the place where elves and humans and urgals first came from. We found friends amongst the native people that lived there, unknown of until the moment we stepped onto their shores in peace. Because the Riders were in his service, Galbatorix destroyed the remaining Ra'zac and Lethrblaka, claiming them unpredictable and treacherous in their dealings." A bitter laugh tore itself from Eragon's throat at this as he shook his head, the seething darkness within him that Arya had only seen a few times before clear within his eyes as he continued. "He even gave me the honor of finally completing my revenge."
"And then he offered me you." For a long while, silence followed as Eragon's words echoed between them, her own words lost as she struggled to make sense of his perfectly clear message that her mind refused to accept. To believe that Galbatorix knew of her, personally, sent chills of fear unlike any she had felt before racing down her spine, causing her to tremble like a leaf in a gale-force wind. To know that he knew enough about Eragon to know if the Rider's feelings for her, that they were quite possibly the greatest gap in his defenses, sent her stomach curling, a wave of nausea beginning to rise in her throat even as despair began to line her heart with lead, making it heavy in her chest. Had her voice not been shocked into silence, she couldn't help but believe that she would have laughed at the irony of the situation, as twisted and wrong as it was. So much pain had passed between them, she had broken both of their hearts so many times, believing that she was helping to win the war, but it had all been for nothing. Shaking her head, Arya forced herself to return her attention to Eragon who, with his head still bowed in shame, had continued.
"The vision Galbatorix showed to me of us was...wonderful," Eragon said with a soft sigh, his face half turning so he could look at her. "After the war was over, after I had joined Galbatorix, the Varden had broken up, and Surda had once more become part of the Empire, there was no reason for us to remain apart. Although I am unsure of the details, somehow, we had admitted to being in love and had become mates. We were safe, we were happy, and, Arya..." Here Eragon rose to his full height, turning so that he could look her in the eyes, his voice cracking with emotion as he told her the rest of her fate in a world owned by the enemy. "Arya, we had a family, children, a little boy who longed for nothing more than for his father to take him flying again that afternoon and an infant daughter who was as beautiful as her mother. In the few moments I saw that future, it was everything I ever could have imagined and more. It was perfect." His voice trailing away, it was with tears in his eyes and a conflicting smile on his lips that Eragon lifted his hands in a slight sign of surrender, making it clear that there was nothing more for him to say, but that she should begin forming her judgement.
For a long moment Arya was silent, her mind still trying to wrap itself around the shock that a simple illusion of a future together could cause this much damage to one who had seemed, while not perfect, at least strong enough to withstand any attacks that could be thrown at him. But in the end, all it had taken was a promise of a future that fit his hopes of the present, and he had broken. Despite the weakness that promised to become a problem in the future, Arya could not begin herself to possibly look down up him, much like any other elf would have done, because in that moment, she understood. What Eragon had spoken to her, his voice half dead as his earlier drinks did what his sober will could not, had mirrored what she knew many wanted and wished for. And besides...
"Galbatorix offered you the world," Arya said slowly, choosing her words carefully lest they come out wrong, "yet you came back. Why?"
"Because everything Galbatorix showed me was wrong," Eragon replied with a slight shrug, his body once more half twisted as he both tried to face her and keep himself from seeing the disappointment and anger he knew should be in her eyes. However, it was with a slight surprise of his own that instead there was only curiosity for his decisions, her head slightly tilted as she waited for him to explain.
"All the vision Galbatorix showed me were flawed," Eragon started just as slowly, his mind sorting through the perfection to find the cracks that had allowed his mind to slip through. "I have Murtagh to thank, to be honest. He was the one who tampered with the illusions that Galbatorix gave to him, perhaps to show me exactly how those futures would be in reality." Shaking his head, he straightened his body so that he was once more fully facing her, determined to prove to her his loyalty with the full disclosure of his thoughts, despite them being the reason he had taken to drink so quickly after the battle had been won.
"The visions of Murtagh and Nasuada were true, but their freedom was not. With a single word, Galbatorix could twist them to his will, forcing them to serve him in any capacity that he wished. They and their children were nothing more than slaves without chains, and the world they helped to create was nothing more then they. The Riders were corrupt and twisted, their dragons nothing more then captives of their own mind, since most of them had been forced to hatch for their Rider. They were just as likely to claim an innocent man guilty as they were to free a criminal and make him an earl, giving him power over those he tormented. The elves, the dwarves, the urgals, humans, dragons, none were truly safe from harm. Without magic to protect themselves, swords could easily cut down any who the Riders felt should die, and often time weeks were dedicated to slaughter."
"Carvahall, while it had been rebuilt, had been constructed on the backs of her former people, now nothing more than slaves kept in pens and bred like pigs for the purpose of work. Rowan and Katrina lived in the castle we had always imagined, but the children they cared for were a mixture of orphans, bastards that Galbatorix had allowed his men to force on Katrina, and their own, though the latter was the smallest of the groups. They lived in fear behind the Spine, no longer secure in the protection it had once offered, for now enemies could come from any path instead of just one. The smiles I was shown were nothing more then masks to keep themselves from crying and cursing my name."
"Saphira, Thorn, and the green one were no more than cattle, breeding stock that could be forced to mate and produce the eggs Galbatorix needed to build his empire and Riders. Bound by their true names, they were forced against their natures to do as Galbatorix bid, binding each of their eggs to a Rider the moment it was lain. While the Riders themselves would prosper, the dragons would become common house pets, each bound to one who neither loved nor understood it. The wild dragons would remain extinct, or if there are any, Galbatorix would hunt them down and kill them."
"The peace I saw was a lie, for instead of accepting and welcoming us, the natives of the lands we found were either killed off of enslaved, forced to destroy their own homes to make way for ours. They cursed us, but fell in line either way out of fear for the Riders and our spellcasters, for in other lands knowledge of the ancient language had become mostly lost. The only reason Galbatorix allowed me my revenge on the Ra'zac and Lethrblaka was because he no longer had use of creatures he could not control, for, apparently, they have no true names. I decimated the entire species with my own hands, killing hatchling after defenseless hatchling, and I laughed as they died."
"And then there was us." Stepping forward, Eragon slowly raised his hand so that his fingers were almost touching her face, the heat that radiated from his fingers almost tracing a path along the line of her jaw. His voice was soft as he spoke, his breath washing over her as he whispered the greatest of his shames to her for judging, allowing her to know just how much of a monster he really was.
"You never really loved me," Eragon said in a matter of fact voice as he stared into her eyes, his own swirling with twisted shame, guilt, and disgust for himself. "From the moment you first came to me, just a few days after the war was over, I knew that Galbatorix had found your true name and had compelled you to be mine. I knew that, with a single word, you could be free once again. All I would have to do is send you away, and he would have released you." Although she couldn't force herself to look away, Arya saw out of the corner of her eyes as Eragon's hand clenched and began to tremble, just as his voice became hoarse with his confessions. "I didn't. Knowing that magic was forcing you, I took you and kept you for my own. The children I was so proud of were born from force and trickery. And although the magic forced you to say you loved me, forced you to take comfort in my arms, your eyes told me every moment I looked into them that, the very second you were free from Galbatorix's control, you would kill me. Even as you laughed at our sons' tales of playing in the courtyard, you promised me a long and painful death. And I knew, the monster that I was, that I deserved it. Just as I deserve any punishment you see fit to bestow upon me now." Dropping his hand to his side, Eragon once more put distance between them, his arms open as if to accept the strike of her sword, an action he would welcome without a word of complaint.
Instead, although her body was trembling, not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, from fear of the man before her, for she knew, deep in her heart, that should he ever falter and join Galbatorix, every word he had just spoken would be the world's fate, Arya crossed the distance that he had just put between them, her hands coming to cup his face to force him to look at her. Taking a deep breath to calm the twisting of her stomach, Arya stared deep into his eyes as she slowly picked out the words she needed, the one that, perhaps, could both fix the broken pieces of the man before and insure that Galbatorix's future would never come to pass.
"You are not that man," Arya said swiftly in the ancient language, lest Eragon believe her words to be a lie. "You are no monster, nor are you deserving of any judgement or punishment. You are a good man, Eragon, one who has been shown his every desire and turned them away because he knew that they were wrong. In a possible world, one that I doubt will come to pass now that you know to guard against it, you might have done things that were worthy of that title, but in this lifetime, the only one that truly matters, you have done nothing." Reaching up to brush the hair from his face, a soft smile forced its way onto Arya's lips as she saw the hope in his eyes, the joy that her words, spoken in the ancient language, were true. For a while, the two of them just stood there, looking at each other and taking comfort in the other's presence. Before her very eyes she could see the broken pieces of Eragon's faith and confidence sewing themselves together, becoming one as he took her words to heart. Finally, it was with a nod that Eragon returned her smile, his mind lightened by the burden she had taken from him.
"Thank you," Eragon said softly as he leaned into the warmth of the hand that still cupped his cheek, his words murmured almost lovingly into her palm. "Thank you for not hating me."
"Eragon," Arya whispered softly, finally coming to terms with something her heart had known she should have done long ago. Taking a deep breath to steady herself, Arya slowly closed the space that was between, their noses brushing when she finally stopped, their breaths intermingling as she fought with the part of her mind that still held her back, that still wanted to deny the feelings she knew could evolve into something wonderful, if she just gave them the chance they needed. Pushing through that last barrier, her eyes half closed as she watched him, Arya gently brushed her lips against his in a quick, feather-like kiss that only hinted at the feelings beneath, one that promised a future that fit both of them to come, should the dice that they had rolled at the beginning of this war fall in their favor. Drawing back, it was with a slight laugh that she took in the astonishment on his face and the stiffness of his body, as if he was afraid that touching her would break the dream before him. Stepping back so that there was once more the appropriate amount of distance between them, she quickly gave a slight nod of her head before turning on her heel to return to the center of camp, the last of her words floating back over her shoulder to give him a verbal promise to fit the one the kiss had hinted at.
"You are a good man, Eragon, and I could not hate you. For, after we have won the war and have cast out Galbatorix, once the world is again at peace, there are parts of the future you have told me about that I would like to see come true." Pausing so as to pick the correct words, the final part of Arya's farewell was soft even to his ears, but the words were loud enough to give him the hope he craved. "Perhaps, once Saphira is large enough, flying could become a family event."
Leaving Eragon in the dark, hopefully with the memory of those illusions and the possibilities of his future crimes forgotten, despite the voice that sounded suspiciously like her mother's that was scolding her for her actions, the only response Arya had was to brush her fingers against her lips, which were still tingling from his touch, and smile, both of which quickly silence the voice so she could enjoy the rest of the night.