I was quite nervous about posting this story and almost didn't go through with it. I'm glad I did, and that you guys took the time to review it. Let me know if there's something you'd like to see in a future story… I just may get around to it one of these days.
And so it was that Eragon arrived in Ceris, the elven outpost, and spent several days waiting there for the other elves to make their way back. Blodhgarm and the others had reveled in the festivities even more than he, and this was evident in the week it took for them to assemble at his makeshift camp. They stumbled into the clearing in groups of two and three, staggering slightly about and squinting their eyes nearly shut to avoid the sunlight. Eragon, reminded of the behavior of hung-over humans, only shook his head.
They spent their final night in the open, rejecting the available tent in favor of the beauty of the night sky. Eragon barely slept. Instead, he watched the constellations spin slowly across the sky until the coming dawn obscured the starlight. Early the next morning, they packed their bags and prepared to leave.
With a heavy heart, Eragon strapped several packs onto Saphira. A new, impressionable dwarven rider was to accompany them, and he watched Eragon's every move in awe. Eragon found it necessary to actually walk around the young dwarf to fetch the various packs and pieces of Saphira's saddle, as the new Rider seemed unable to do anything more than stare.
He felt numb. There was no other word to describe his emotions. The world was flat, and the future held very little hope. He hadn't realized how much time he had spent looking forward to this trip. But now it was over. Now, everything was over.
Eragon. Saphira admonished him gently.
He grunted wordlessly, acknowledging her point but unwilling to force himself out of his own private misery.
He could hear Blodhgarm behind him, cursing in his lyrical, lilting voice as he attempted to package various items for transport in the awaiting elven ship. He'd picked up the habit of foul language from their first Rider trainee—the Urgal—and from the endless, lonely days of life on Mor'ranr. Some particularly inventive phrases caused the hint of a smile to flit across Eragon's face. Shaking his head, he continued checking the straps, as Saphira first complained about the stomach belt, and then a leg connecting piece.
Suddenly, Blodhgarm fell abruptly silent in the midst of a highly-colorful description. The silence was absolute. This fact sunk slowly into Eragon's consciousness, but when he finally took note, a flutter of worry raced through his stomach. Hand on his sword, he turned quickly around.
The elves silently ringed the circle of tents, watching the figure who stood in the midst of them in silent respect.
Eragon froze in astonishment. One hundred years before, he would have stared in open-mouthed surprise, but now he settled for a slight bow. "Your Majesty."
Arya shook her head with a hint of amusement, stepping forward until she stood no more than a few inches from him. As she was quite nearly the same height as Eragon, he could not escape her piercing gaze. She reached up and cupped his cheek in the palm of her hand. He flinched slightly at the unexpected contact and his heart skipped a beat.
"I was wrong," she said in a low, fierce voice, "I took the throne out of a sense of obligation, and it was not meant for me. It was a mistake, but I cannot now go back. I will rule here as long as I must. And you also must raise the Riders to their former glory. You cannot stay."
"I know," he responded automatically and defensively.
She smiled bitterly and continued, "But I was a fool to believe I could forget you so quickly." A pause dragged on.
His breath caught in his throat as what she said filtered through his consciousness. "I... have missed you," he admitted. Eragon was aware of the surrounding audience and strove to speak quietly.
Her smile was not quite so bitter this time. "It will not be one hundred years this time. Promise me that." Her tone left no room for refusal.
"I will be back," he promised, "And you, come visit. Meet the dragons," he smiled, gently covering her hand with his own.
Her smile faded, and she looked so serious that he almost took his hand away from hers in fear of her possible annoyance. "Eragon… You don't understand."
His stomach clenched, and this time he did drop his hand. Of course. He'd assumed too much. But he hadn't asked for anything more than a state visit! Maybe she'd read between the lines. "Oh, I don't mean it that way," he said politely, preparing himself for her hasty withdrawal. Fool. Fool. Fool.
"No!" Arya seemed almost agitated, "I only meant…" she paused and seemed to recollect herself. Her eyes searched his face, reading the hurt and helplessness inscribed clearly across it. Her gaze dropped to the ground for a long moment. She seemed to make up her mind. "Eragon," she said, motioning with a slight tilt of the head to the dozen or so elves, single dwarf, and three dragons massed around them, albeit at a respectful distance, "Elves are a private people."
"Yes," he murmured with false calm, a little irritated that she had been the one to touch his face and then freak out on him.
"You remember that?" her eyes almost seemed to flash fire, "Then understand the meaning of this." She leaned forward and kissed him on the mouth.
A heartbeat later, she pulled back, and while he continued to stare at her in shock, began to speak again. "I will visit. And I'm sure it will be interesting to meet the dragons. But they are not the reason for my coming."
Eragon risked reaching for her hand a second time, "I thought you'd never…" he trailed off.
She shook her head. "Do not try to put a name to it. For it can never be. I didn't realize it myself until I..." She smirked, "I've never lost my temper that badly. Never." She placed her hands on either side of his face and kissed him again. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders, pulling her closer to him in a moment that seemed outside of time.
Eventually, she leaned back, though she made no movement to break free from his embrace. She dropped her forehead onto his shoulder for a moment, then glanced back up as if to memorize his features. Kissing him briefly on the cheek, she took a step back.
"Visit soon," he asked, once he found his voice, utterly ignoring the astonished and somewhat disapproving faces of the onlookers. Blodhgarm, however, seemed amused.
"I will," she promised, and he noted that she too seemed to resolutely ignore the presence of the others. Her hand found his and they stood there, silently. Her green eyes stared straight into his own. Finally, she dropped his hand and walked away with measured steps. He watched her disappear into the trees.
The other elves left, but he delayed his departure for several more hours. Firnen and Saphira danced in the air, twirling about in flight just as his painting for the Agaeti Blodhren had so accurately foreshadowed.
When Eragon left, finally, it was not with the despair of a lonely century, but with the accompaniment of hope.
A hundred years were dust in the wind, but the next hundred were full of promise.