A/Notes: Posted 12-10-2013

I really appreciate that all of my readers are so understanding with my sparatic posting schedule. I really do intend to get all my stories completed as best I can. I am partway through the next chapter of "An Enemy's Heart" but I had the urge to do this first. So the next bit will either be that or another installment of Kumar's "The Man on the Hill". Hang in there with me... I am still pressing forward. And I am doing it for you. XDD


The Simplest Save

Part: Seven

Last chapter...

After Eragon and Nasuada had concluded their business the scrying spell ended and the surface of the pool darkened to it's natural shaded color.

Ta'Leah clapped her hands, delighted with the outcome of the contact. She turned to Murtagh and threw her arms around him once again and giggled.

"See... I told you I wouldn't let anyone harm you..."

Eragon watched this with a mixture of amusement and confusion. Somehow seeing the child's confidence made this whole situation seem almost real... his brother almost free... the odds of being able to bring down the king almost doubled...

Continued...

"Yeah Murtagh..." Eragon threw out his own jest as he gave his brother a comical grin. "We'll protect you..."

The red rider let a smile peek out at the girl's enthusiastic claim. Eragon's words however created quite another reaction in him.

It was clear that his brother was playing with him, but Murtagh couldn't see the humor in it. When had anyone other than Thorn -and now Ta'Leah- ever shown him any concern...

"Save it brother..." he muttered turning away. "When have you ever even entertained the notion of coming to my aid?"

Eragon's amused smirk had fallen from his face, and he scowled. He really didn't have an answer for his brother's accusations. Other than wanting to search the tunnels under Farthen Dur, when Murtagh first disappeared, he had not given the rescue of his brother any thought at all. He had let anger and his own need to focus on the fight dictate his desire to conquer his brother in battle, to kill him even, and all thoughts of rescue had flown out the window...

Eragon's frown continued, but now he was frowning at his own lack of compassion... He had displayed more compassion towards a slimy slaver than he had for his own brother.

"Murtagh..." he said almost a whisper. "I'm truly sorry..."

The red rider scowled, not really wanting to hear what he believed to be an empty apology. But when he looked up at his brother, he could tell that the youth actually meant his words. It was not what he had expected, and Murtagh shifted uncomfortably. Not sure how to escape the awkwardness of the moment, Murtagh turned his attention abruptly to chastise Ta'Leah, who had forgotten to tend the bubbling concoction.

"Hey... careful or you'll ruin the stew..." the rider grumbled to the girl in mock irritation, as he grabbed the spoon and stirred. But the girl saw through the rider's pretense, and she even giggled at his attempt to appear grumpy. She turned around to face the cooking pot of stew and leaned in to take in the aroma.

"Oh my... this smells delicious."

Murtagh grunted a reply to the girl, but he could still see Eragon through the corner of his vision, patiently waiting, hoping for some reaction to his contrite declaration. But uncertainty and confusion marred Murtagh's ability to respond to the younger rider.

"Don't worry about it..." he finally said shrugging. "It's not as though there was much you could have done, even if you had tried."

Murtagh had meant this to release the blue rider from further guilt surrounding the issue. Still, it could have come across as an insult to Eragon's abilities, and the son of Morzan hoped that would not be the case.

Eragon watched his brother brush off the situation as if it meant nothing, but they both knew differently. Murtagh's life would have been spared a great deal of pain had he been rescued, rather than abandoned to the king and turned into a slave. And now Eragon felt a pang of loss that he hadn't been aware of before.

Saphira brought him out of his reverie with a private farewell, as she made ready to fly to the Varden. She would be gone most of the night, returning with Nasuada and Arya by the sun's first light.

Oblivious to all this, the little girl slipped under Murtagh's arm as he stirred the stew, and bent over to inhale the aroma again.

"Is it ready yet?" she smiled up at him.

Murtagh couldn't help smiling back at her, not really caring if his brother caught sight of him with his guard down. He nodded to the child and used the spoon to fill three good sized bowls with the simmering mixture. It really did smell wonderful, either that or the rider was really hungry.

The two remaining bowls he sat in front of himself... the girl was still leaning her back against his chest, but he nudged her to move.

"Don't want to spill my dinner on you..." he smirked, before nodding to her, for her to start eating.

Saphira had lifted off, and her silhouette grew tiny as her long journey took her across the southern sky on her way to Feinster. And Eragon gave a great sigh, the sensation of separation already starting to kick in.

"Eragon... come and eat," the little girl said, and the blue rider quirked a small smile. He was hungry. And the sound of the plaintive little voice made him partially understand how she could have gotten under Murtagh's defenses so quickly. He made his way over and lifted the stew before realizing it had meat in it... and he scowled... and he sighed... and he set the bowl back down on the rock untouched.

Murtagh couldn't help laughing at the expression on his brother's face when he looked at the stew.

"Sorry brother" he smirked. "I guess I forgot about your change in food preferences."

The red rider rose and dug through one of his saddle packs and triumphantly pulled out a raw potato, a turnip, and a slightly bruised apple.

"Here... catch." Murtagh fired the edible items to his younger brother in rapid succession, laughing even more at the comical response of the recipient.

The blue rider' reflexes were very good. He reached out and caught the thrown food, almost loosing his balance in his efforts to get them all, but his expression of surprise gave way to a glaring frown.

"Ge thanks," he grumbled half heartedly. He wasn't really angry, just a bit embarrassed... and annoyed. The stew really did smell delicious.

The girl looked up at him puzzled at his actions, and then looked up at Murtagh who seemed to be amused by the whole thing...

"Does he not like your cooking?"

Murtagh gave a knowing grin, and began to dig in to his stew.

"No... it's not that..." he said between bites. "He doesn't eat meat anymore."

The note of scoff in the red rider's voice was really just to tease. Murtagh did understand Eragon's reasons. For he well knew the sensations of both killing and dying, as well as many other hideous uses that arose from the ability to perceive and endure the experiences and feelings of others. But the rider was not about to discuss issues like that with the young girl.

And in spite of all the times the son of Morzan had been linked to a prisoner during torture, death, vivisection and more, he had never found himself having any aversions to the eating of meat. In fact Murtagh rather envied the creatures that he hunted, for he did so swiftly and mercifully. Those animals were the lucky ones.

The red rider gave a satisfied moan as he savored the taste of his next bite, and he looked up at his brother.

"Are you sure that you won't have some?"

Eragon was truly torn... but he did his best to cover that fact up as he dug his teeth into the slightly bruised fruit. It was sweet and juicy, but there was a buried part of him that still craved the solid texture and flavor of the meat in his brother's stew...

Ta'Leah looked perplexed, and brought the bowl over to the blue rider.

"Shur'tugal," she began hesitantly, " the animal is already dead... Isn't it wasteful to let his death be in vain?"

Raising an eyebrow, Eragon returned her perplexed look. How could the simple logic of this small child have pierced his stern intentions so thoroughly?

The rider then smiled ever so slightly. He nodded as he took hold of the bowl, and began to eat the greatly appreciated meal. It had been so long now since he had tasted something this satisfying...

"It's not too bad..." he commented grudgingly between bites.

Murtagh didn't even try to cover up his chuckle. Besides the good food, he was quite content. He was with the partner of his mind and heart, Thorn. He was with his judgmental {though-partially-open-minded} brother Eragon, and he was with his young and fearless savior, Ta'Leah. He was safe, and warm, and eating his fill... But most of all he was no longer a slave...

Swallowing past the emotional lump in his throat, Murtagh let the full sensation of the moment wash over him, tasting and savoring the complete spectrum of his new situation.

He and Thorn were finally and completely free.

To be continued...