And so I am back again! For all of you faithful readers, I've been getting better. The treatments and exercise I've been doing has alleviated the lower back pains that I have been having, thank goodness for that. It's been really stressful trying to adjust my lifestyle so that I didn't put any more stress onto my back which makes it difficult to find time to write new chapters for TMF. On a side note, the one-shot of ExF is up, called Victorious. If you haven't read it yet and are a fan of this ship, I would like to know what you thought of it. Otherwise in regards to TMF, progress has been slow but there shall be progress nonetheless. I'm just trying to get myself back into my writing mode so I can hash out chapters faster. In any case, I believe this is a slight filler chapter. This will be the last one leading up to Eragon, Morzan, and Brom confrontation and Eragon's return to the Varden, so look forward to that everyone! Formora will also get her chance soon enough as well for all the Formora fans out there. And Faolin...well, I'll work him in somewhere. In any case, R&R!


Backwater.

That was the first thought to come to Eragon's mind once Carvahall came into view. After days of traveling, the three of them had finally reached the isolated mountain village far from the reaches of Galbatorix's influence. Having finally laid eyes on Murtagh's and Roran's home village, Eragon understood why there was such a disinterest in it in the first place. It was a small village made with wooden houses, most of them built from stout logs bearing low roofs and wide porches on their fronts for talking and conducting business, cramped together about a central point, which he assumed to be the village square. The majority of the houses had a rundown appearance save for two. Those two houses belonged to the village blacksmith and butcher. Excluding them and the dirty tavern, the village was mostly comprised of farmers, at least to his direct eye. In the far distance, he could see the dark outcroppings of a forest, the Spine as they called it.

It's no wonder why my mother decided to leave, thought Eragon as he was now able to fully appreciate and understand Selena's desire for adventure. Just the mere thought in living in such a small and isolated place unnerved him. He'd become too used to being in the center of the Varden's affairs to want to live like a recluse. Had he lived his original life, he would have thought otherwise. It was once his dream to live a peaceful life with Arya, Saphira, and his family. After nearly a century of fighting, he didn't know how to go about accomplishing such a dream or whether or not it was even plausible anymore given the circumstance.

"Slow," said Eragon gently, digging the heels of his boots into his steed's side. The stallion slowed from a gallop to a canter, Selena moving to do the same beside him, Murtagh tucked safely within her arms, still asleep since it was early morn. Village life was already underway in Carvahall, the majority of the villagers awake and going about their daily routines. They swept their porch, made small talk with their neighbors, collected their laundry, and opened their shops. What unnerved him was how they would slowly turn to stare at the new arrivals, distrust evident in their eyes. For a very brief moment, Eragon contemplated whether or not he should show any type of response to their transparent unwelcome.

"It's best we leave it be," murmured Selena, discreetly shaking her head. Her lips were pursed into a thin line. "The villagers here distrust all who enter their midst. It is their way of survival, so detached as they are from the rest of the Empire."

"A smart attitude to adapt," said Eragon, as his eyes read the messy notches of lines in the wooden sign by the tavern. The rough wood markings formed the words Seven Sheaves. Amusement coursed through him. It certainly has character, he thought as their horses continued forward. Having led the journey to Carvahall up to this point, he deferred to Selena, unknowing of where her childhood home was. "Where is it that you live?"

"A little further north towards the edge of Carvahall," she replied, tugging her cloak closer around Murtagh. The cloak that Angela gifted him was tucked away now that they were in a relatively safe area. His eyes made another round of the village, trying to scourge for the slightest evidence of Galbatorix's presence be it in his banner or his soldiers. He found none. It was to be expected. There was no need for a ruler of an empire to bother himself with a village holding at maximum of three hundred occupants. If he'd had such resources to hold a small village, the rest of the Empire wouldn't be in such tragic shape.

As their steeds continued forward, his keen ears were able to pick up the sound of children laughing. Eragon's eyes darted to the smith's shop, where he saw two children playing a very simple game together. A tall, older boy indulged his younger brother as he chased him about their front porch. Having grown up isolated from his peers and without his siblings, he felt out of place watching such interactions. Truly, he was displaced from normal societal behaviors.

"Albriech, careful!" A woman with honey blonde hair exited the house attached to the forge, gently scolding the older boy with matching hair. Her son, Eragon assumed, noticing their resemblance.

"Elain," Selena supplied, following Eragon's line of vision. "The wife of Carvahall's blacksmith, Horst. They have two sons, Albriech and Baldor. A sweet, kind family. The most welcoming out of the rest here in the village from what I can remember of them or rather Horst in the very least."

As they continued on the dirt path leading through the village, it struck Eragon that the very same people about him were the ones who'd crossed an entire empire, suffering little to no loss, and reaching the plains of Surda during a fierce battle between the combined forces of the Varden, dwarven army, and Surdan army against Galbatorix's. It had completely slipped his mind the moment he'd seen the rundown village, but he found the brief moments he'd spent with the villagers of Carvahall flooding the forefront of his thoughts. He remembered Elain and her childbirth, her daughter, Hope, being born with a cat's lip which was cured by Murtagh. He remembered Horst, the tall, muscular man with a mane of dark hair. There was Gertrude, the village healer. Birgit, the woman who married Katrina to Roran despite her vengeance towards him for her husband's death. He knew these people. He knew that in spite of his initial condescending attitude towards their meager life style that they had more in them than the most privileged of citizens. It almost made Eragon want to laugh aloud as he attempted to reconcile the quietness of the village and the future, ragtag band of wanderers Roran brought to the foot of the Varden.

Living in such isolation has hardened them. Or it shall harden them, he thought as they finally made it through the center of the village, continuing towards the outskirts. Selena turned in her saddle to watch Eragon almost as a means to distract herself.

"What do you think of my home village? Is it as charming as you thought it was?" The last question was said dryly. Selena almost looked pained speaking about it.

"If bleak and desolate is your definition of charming, then certainly," he said in the same tone, unable to even think of living a life in such a place. It was little wonder how naïve and oblivious Murtagh came to be. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Carvahall had nothing compared to other villages and towns. "Would it be little comfort to you if I said I, now, understand your reasons for leaving? Even sympathize with them."

"A little."

They continued side by side, along the dirt path toward the edge of the village. Selena wishing to let her son sleep in more while Eragon had little else to say. Instead, he contented himself with looking at the scenery. Open fields behind the houses as far as the eyes could see, a forest in the backdrop and beyond that the tops of mountains and cliffs. It was beautiful, he would give it that. A far cry compared to the vast expanse of concrete Eragon grew up looking at. In his youth, there was a lack of a horizon. Here, it stretched on as far as the eye could see. The sights were priceless here, he would admit that in a heartbeat.

Eragon narrowed his eyes slightly as they approached a rundown house. Nearing it, he realized that it was worst off then all the other homes in the village. Shoddy at best, crude at worse. From the look on Selena's face, he could tell that the small structure was her home. Murtagh's home. There were no words said between the two of them, instead only silence permeated the space. Selena had a nostalgic expression on her face, taking in the home she'd left for her own ambitions. All Eragon could do was stare at the small structure, wondering how his younger self would take to growing up so isolated and away from the world.

They came to a stop before the front porch. Lowering himself from his saddle he tied the reins of his horse to one of the wooden posts. Eragon peered at Selena when she didn't move from her saddle, her eyes focused on the wooden house, a look borderline nervous on her face. Realizing that Eragon was looking at her with a touch concern, Selena cleared her throat, turning her attention to Murtagh. She gently shook him awake.

"Murtagh, wake up," she said gently earning a whimper from him. Wrapping him tighter in her arms, she pressed a kiss to the side of his head, her voice still soft. "You need to wake up, sweetheart. We've arrived at your uncle's home."

"Uncle?" Murtagh repeated, confused. He sat up in Selena's embrace, glancing around with drowsy eyes. With tiny hands, he repeatedly wiped at his eyes, squinting at the shabby house before them. "In there?"

"Yes," smoothing her son's hair down, she kissed him one more time before holding Murtagh out for Eragon to take hold of so that she could swiftly dismount from her steed. The young child went willingly into Eragon's arms; the days they'd spent traveling allowing him to warm up to Eragon.

Patting down her clothing, Selena pulled her cloak tighter around her small frame, deliberating. Knowing how nervous she was at the prospect of seeing her older brother, Eragon quietly waited. He, too, was very interested in seeing how his mother was going to react when faced-to-faced with her only family left especially after she'd left Morzan. For a long time, the two of them didn't say anything, merely standing there. The only noises punctuating the silence was Murtagh's occasional yawn or the cries of passing birds.

Then eventually, she stepped up to the front door, stiffly brought her arm up, and knocked politely. From behind the door, he could hear the sound of footsteps, then the door was thrown open to reveal a tall, haggard looking man, clothed in what at first looked like rags. Under closer inspection, the clothes he wore was dirtied from years of living and the lack of washing. For a moment, Eragon could not tear his eyes away from who he assumed to be Garrow, Roran's father and his and Murtagh's uncle. He looked too weak, too filthy, and too much of a hermit to be related to his mother. His eyes darted to the woman behind Garrow, peering curiously over her husband's shoulder, a young boy with chestnut hair clung to her skirts, peering around his mother. For a long moment, no one said anything as they stood there staring at each other.

Garrow's dark eyes darted between Selena to Eragon and Murtagh, lingering for a brief moment on the young dark haired boy. Then in a harsh, gruff voice, he stated, "Back, are you."

"I…" Selena seemed to struggle with words. Her dignity was making it difficult for her. She opened her mouth, closed it, and opened it once more. "I am sorry, Garrow…You…You were right."

The words came out bitterly. Garrow's expression tightened. Rather than hold it against Selena, he grunted, turned, and retreated back inside his house. The woman behind him, gestured for them to enter, a half-smile on her face. Following after Selena, Eragon tried to keep his expression neutral as he took in the small interior. Right off, the furnishings in the living room was lacking. A few mismatched seas here and there, an armchair that had seen better days, and a small center table. Selena took a seat in the armchair leaving Eragon to settle for a wooden chair, Murtagh sitting in his lap, his eyes staring at Garrow's wife and Roran in discomfort.

Garrow soon returned holding two mugs of water, placing them on the table. He lowered himself onto one of the seats, taking great care in doing so as if his bones couldn't handle the motion. Eragon took the water, discreetly inspecting it before holding the mug for Murtagh to drink from. Selena merely held the cup in between her hands.

"Your wife?" She gestured to the woman with long, dark hair.

"Marian," Garrow supplied as she, too, took a seat beside her husband. "Your husband?"

"Close friend," Selena corrected. "This is Gabranth. He helped me out several times before. Had it not been for him, I would not be able to return to Carvahall to see you like this. And this is my son, Murtagh. I believe the little boy with Marian is yours?"

"Roran."

It was near painful watching the two stubborn siblings skirt around the real reason why they were all gathered together in the living room. It was here that Eragon was the least knowledgeable. He had never met Roran's family, never interacted with them despite sharing their blood. All he could do was allow Selena to guide the conversation. They fell silent once more. It was clear both Selena and Garrow were struggling for the right words to say. If they even existed.

Garrow rubbed his face. "How was it? The life outside of Carvahall that you've always wanted?"

"Nothing like I envisioned," admitted Selena quietly. "Gilded."

"What do you plan on doing now? It's been years since I've seen you. I thought you dead."

Eragon's eyes darted to his mother, wanting to speak out against Garrow's harsh and blunt words. What bothered him even more was how his mother didn't attempt to defend herself. Instead, she took a slight sip from the mug in her hands, eyes darting between Garrow and Marian.

"I came close enough several times," she drank another sip of water. There was another grunt from Garrow.

"Why are you back here?" The question was finally asked. Garrow's eyes narrowed as he beheld his younger sister. There was no suspicion, no distrust. Perhaps the way his expression tightened was out of worry, thought Eragon, shifting Murtagh on his lap.

Selena rapidly blinked. Knowing she was with child—possibly carrying his alternative-self—Eragon wondered if her emotions were getting the better of her as she disguised a slight sniffle with a cough. Then, in a sincere and earnest voice, she asked Garrow, eyes directly holding his. "Is the night sky in Carvahall still the same?"

Garrow held Selena's gaze, he coughed in his fist, voice rough as he answered, "It never changed."

And just like that, the tension bearing down the living room was gone. There was no longer a stiffness to the atmosphere and from the way Selena and Garrow relaxed, Eragon could tell that whatever arguments they'd held in the past were long forgotten. Perhaps that was the miracle of family. His eyes darted downward to Murtagh, who was getting restless merely sitting about. Eragon gently placed the alternative version of his older brother on the ground, allowing the toddler to waddle about the living room staring at everything in sight

Garrow's eyes tracked Murtagh's movement, brows furrowed heavily. "Where is his father?"

"Selena's husband will be arriving here later," said Eragon, interjecting himself into the conversation. Selena stared at him in confusion. She'd never been officially married to Morzan, kept only as his lover and his secret away from the eyes of Galbatorix's court and inner circle. In Eragon's original timeline, he knew how much his father regretted not marrying and making an honest woman out of her. And if they were to live a brief, yet peaceful, life in Carvahall, being married would keep the village people from gossiping and casting their family in a bad light. "He was taken away on a business venture, thus as a close friend of his, I was asked to escort Selena and Murtagh to Carvahall. The roads of the Empire are not forgiving to young women these days."

"No, they are not," Garrow agreed, silence enveloping them once more.

He didn't have to read minds to know that the two siblings desired privacy and that Garrow still distrusted him. He placed the mug in his hands onto the table and stood. "I need to step out for a moment," his eyes darted to Selena, conveying to her with his mind, You and Garrow should talk about…everything. I will be nearby if you need me.

"Please take Murtagh with you, Gabranth," Selena requested. "Murtagh, go with Gabranth, please. The two of you can become more acquainted with Carvahall."

Eragon held his hands out to Murtagh, who willingly went into his arms. With a brief nod to Garrow's family, he left the house, releasing a deep breath as he did so. For a long moment, Eragon contemplated what to do to give Selena enough time to speak with Garrow. He could do as she'd suggested and take a gander around Carvahall, but a part of him didn't wish to just yet. Instead, Eragon found himself taking the dirt path leading past the village boundaries towards the Spine and the mountains that laid beyond. Though its beauty didn't hold a candle to the beauty of Du Weldenvarden, Eragon admired the greenery just all the same and he could tell from Murtagh's wide-eyed look of awe that he did as well.

"Do you want to live here, Murtagh?" asked Eragon, barely having heard a word from the toddler since he woke. "With your mother?"

"Yes," he replied quietly. "Not with Father."

"Do no worry about him, you will never have to see him again," Eragon promised him as they passed by large opened fields, the expanse of land a liberating sight. Reclusive as it was, he could appreciate why Murtagh came to like the small village growing up. My other self shall grow up here, he thought coming to a stop on the dirt road, taking in the uneven growth of flowers, a field fit for farming, and the horizon in the distance. It was difficult to imagine standing there that he'd lived two lifetimes, fighting a war that never seemed to end. He didn't know peace. Not the one that Carvahall offered.

Murtagh's squirming caught his attention, lowering the toddler onto the ground, he watched with a slight smile as a happy giggle left Murtagh's lips as he began running about the fields, touching almost everything he could get his hands on. For a moment, Eragon could envision it—he, Murtagh, and Roran growing up together, playing in the fields until the sun set, and returning home to their families for dinner and rest. The child in Selena's womb, be it his younger self or not, would lead a completely different life compared to Eragon. They would grow up with the comfort of family, the presence of a father, and the freedom from Galbatorix's influence. It would be temporary but it would be enough.

The only concern was Saphira. Would she hatch for him? He was tempted to remove the spell casted around the eggs to see her egg. Caution prevented him from doing so. As isolated as Carvahall was, he couldn't risk anyone spotting the eggs and relaying word back to Galbatorix. After all, the Ra'zac had once tracked Thorn's egg to Garrow's farm. Who was to say they wouldn't do so again?

Taking a seat on the grassy field, he watched Murtagh frolic about, having to hold back a slight chuckle. It was amazing how resilient children were. One moment he was trapped living in Morzan's estate and the next he was free from it all. He pulled one knee up, draping an arm across it as he watched his older brother. Or rather the younger version of his older brother. This must be all new to him, thought Eragon feeling significantly lighthearted knowing Murtagh and Selena were safe from Morzan's reach.

After allowing Murtagh to tire himself out by running about for a near half hour, Eragon stood calling from him to hurry back. He happily complied, running to Eragon as fast as he could, presenting the tall man with a white flower he'd plucked from the field.

"For me?" He gestured to himself.

Murtagh nodded shyly, showing his very small teeth as he did so. How odd, thought Eragon almost amused. To think that in his previous lifetime, he spent a great portion of his childhood and young adolescence loathing Murtagh with a passion. It was hard to place. Seeing him so young and defenseless. I wonder how it would feel to see my alternative self, Eragon mused, turning the flower in his fingers, the stem snapped at the halfway point, if I live long enough that is.

"Thank you, Murtagh," Eragon tucked the flower into his pocket, reaching down to lift Murtagh up in his arms. It was about time they returned to the village and become acquainted with its people. He took the dirt path back to Carvahall, taking notice of the villages now out and about, starting a new day of work. Try as they might, the moment Eragon stepped into their midst, more than one pair of eyes turned in his direction. Distrust was the main spectator with curiosity cropping in a side glance every so often.

Unsure of where he should go first, he decided to play it safe and headed towards the direction of Horst's forge where the muscular man was already stoking the bellows to prepare for another hard day. Seeing the sight of the burning coals reminded him of his time spent in Rhunön's forge. It'd been a long time since he'd visited her. He'd have to make a stop by before…Well, before anything had a chance of happening to him.

"Good morning to you," Horst greeted upon seeing Eragon's approach. "Our village is far removed from the roads for most travelers. What brings you here—?"

"Gabranth," Eragon introduced himself, holding out his hand for Horst to shake. A civil man from what Eragon could remember of him, Horst gripped his hand in a firm shake. "I was asked by Selena's husband to escort her back to Carvahall. They plan to raise their children here."

"Horst," the smith retracted his hand, voice understanding. "There's not much out there nowadays in the Empire. Plenty of the ambitious youth leave for the greater sights in the cities. It doesn't take long for them to turn back. The only work to be had is in the army. Raised in a village like ours, one learns the way of the sickle and perhaps a hammer. Not a sword. Still, it is good to see Selena returned home."

"Are you a close friend of hers?"

"Everyone here is close to their neighbors though not always in a positive light," Horst's eyes subtly darted to the butcher shop. Sloan, Katrina's father, owned it Eragon recalled. He'd never met Sloan but he heard the stories from Murtagh. None good. Nor did Katrina seem up to recounting tales of her father, whom Murtagh told Eragon had become almost obsessive over her life after the death of her mother. "As for Selena, I knew her father, Cadoc, growing up here. A fair and kind man and quite the hand at farming."

Cadoc, meaning my grandfather. Murtagh only mentioned Cadoc by name but apart from that there was little else his older brother knew about their grandfather. Eragon never felt the need to ask his mother about Cadoc and she never mentioned him. There was a possibility that because of her leaving Carvahall to follow Morzan that she had a falling out with Cadoc. The more he thought about it, the more interested he became. Exchanging a few more pleasantries with Horst, Eragon soon took his leave for Sloan's butcher shop, hoping to purchase several pounds of meat to feed Selena and Murtagh with. The pouch filled with crowns given to him on the day of his departure had yet to be spent.

The butcher's shop was a broad, thick-beamed building in which a chimney belched black smoke overhead. Pushing the front door open, he stepped inside the shop. The spacious room was warm and well-lit by a fire snapping in a stone fireplace. A bare counter stretched across the far side of the room. The floor was strewn with loose straw. Despite the nature of the shop, everything was meticulously clean. Behind the counter stood a small man. Sloan, Eragon assumed. He wore a cotton shirt and a long, bloodstained smock. An impressive array of knives swung from his belt.

"Who might you be?" Sloan asked rudely, suspicion unhidden on his sallow, pockmarked face.

Unmoved by his attitude, Eragon took a moment to evaluate the man before him. Katrina was a pretty woman. Copper hair, slender body, and fair skinned—the man before him held none of those characteristics. I suppose this is where the resemblance to the mother holds truest, he thought unable to find any resemblance between Sloan and Katrina.

"Gabranth, a friend of Selena, daughter to Cadoc."

Sloan's eyes narrowed. "Came running back like the rest of them, did she?"

"Not running. She just decided to return home."

The snort of disbelief made Eragon feel a sliver of anger. It was the tightening grip of Murtagh's arms around his neck that prevented him from biting back a retort. The small toddler was staring at Sloan's knives with a pale expression. Protectively placing his hand on his back, Eragon pushed on.

"I would like to purchase enough meat to last the week."

"And where is your money?"

Expertly holding Murtagh in the crook of one arm, he pulled his heavy crown purse out, shaking it for effect. A waterfall of clinks could be heard from the pouch, emphasizing the numerous amounts within. Sloan glared at him but dutifully slunk to the back room. Sounds of heavy handed chopping could be heard and after several minutes, the butcher returned with a sizable stack of wrapped meat, a thin line of twine bounding them together. Not a single word was said as meat and coins changed hands. The only sound was Murtagh crying uncomfortably at the sight of Sloan's knife covered in dark liquid. Sloan barely casted the child a second glance as he cleaned his knife in plain sight unmoved by Murtagh's distress. Eragon looked at the butcher in disdain.

Now came the hard part. Murtagh in one arm, Eragon gripped the twine to take the wrapped meat in hand, leaving the butcher shop. He'd barely made it a few steps towards Garrow's house before the front door was pushed open to reveal Selena.

"What is that?" Selena asked, accepting Murtagh from Eragon once she was within reach. Immediately seeing his mother, Murtagh went to her. Unoffended, Eragon handed him over. "Hmm? What is it, Murtagh? You look sad."

Murtagh dug his face into Selena's neck. "I'm scared."

"Scared? Of what?" Alarmed, she turned her questioning gaze to Eragon.

"A lack of thought on my part," he muttered, guilt at the edge of his mind. He pinched the bridge of his nose. In hindsight, he should have thought about the fresh trauma Murtagh must still be reliving. Soldiers, knives, and blood…everything pointed to Morzan. "I went to buy some meat. I had not realized it would affect him so. It was thoughtless of me…Forgive me."

Understanding dawned on Selena's face. She glanced between Murtagh and Eragon, then with her hand, lightly tapped Eragon on the shoulder. "Bad Gabranth," Selena scolded with exaggerated effect. Then in a consoling voice as she stroked the back of Murtagh's head. "There, I scolded him, Murtagh. Gabranth will not bring you there again. There's no need to be afraid."

A quiet nod was the only response to his mother's words. The matter resolved, the two of them fell into step, heading back towards Garrow's house. Eragon studied his mother, taking note of the slight redness to the tip of her nose and around her eyes.

"I take it you and Garrow resolved your differences," tactfully, he chose not to bring up the evidence of her tears.

"A pretty way of stating it," lightly laughing, Selena stopped just shy of Garrow's front door, turning her gaze to Eragon. "Living as I have these last few years has made me quite the cynic. I expected unfamiliarity, anger, and perhaps even resentment. Yet, seeing my older brother, married and with a son, his once youthful face aged with time…It felt like everything had changed and at the same time, nothing did."

"Family is strange in those ways. I have seen it many times over." Myself with Murtagh and Brom. Arya with her mother. Murtagh and our mother. The list went on. "You can spend nearly all your life despising them. Then the next moment, the hatred disappears."

"As much as I appreciated your reassurances about my reunion with my family, I expected the worst coming here. I thought I would see Garrow again, look at his face, and see only a stranger. That I wouldn't be able to love him like I had before I left with Morzan."

Selena blinked rapidly several times. She was as emotional as he remembered when it came to family. Had she and Garrow been on good terms in his first lifetime? He remembered hearing about his uncle's death at the hands of the Ra'zac, but nothing more. He'd also never learned of his mother's reaction to that particular piece of news too busy as he was fighting and training for war.

"But you still love him," concluded Eragon when words failed Selena. A nod was her only aswer. For her dignity, he steered the conversation down another less emotional and private path. "Have you two talked about your return to Carvahall?"

"Briefly. This house once belonged to my father before Garrow inherited it. My old bedroom is still here. Garrow's made it known in very few words that I can move myself back in. The only issue is that you would not have a room, if you are planning on staying that is."

He briefly did the calculations in his mind. When Galbatorix found out about the eggs—if he already hadn't—every stone in the Empire would be turned over. The prime suspects would be the Varden and the elves of Du Weldenvarden. Morzan would then be charged with search and retrieval. Hopefully, Brom and Hefring would realize upon their attempt to steal the eggs that someone had already beaten them to it and turn back. The ambiguity came in during Morzan's and Brom's confrontation. His father had to believe his mother dead to triumph over his sworn enemy. And Eragon had done everything in his power to paint Selena's supposed death back at the estate, razing the entire fortress to the ground. The events had changed, yet the results would be reflective of the original history. He hoped.

"I shall stay until I have built a decent house for you and Murtagh to live in. Then I will leave to search for Brom," he answered realizing he'd made her wait longer than necessary. "Two weeks, perhaps three at most."

"You need not have to," she shook her head. "You have done plenty for my son and I, Er—Gabranth," she said his alias in frustration, wanting to convey her gratitude by speaking his real name but being unable to. "If you must hurry and tend to your other duties, I shall not mind. Carvahall is a far cry from the capital."

"I shall stay," he iterated firmly.

She stared at him, searching his expression. Then she nodded in quiet acceptance.

Seeing her willing compliance, Eragon added, "There is one condition, however."

"What is it?"

"You are not to contact anyone by any means necessary. No one."

Selena frowned, shifting Murtagh in her arms. "I may not like the condition, but I understand you are only doing it for my wellbeing. I shall do as you ask. I doubt I can do much else as I am now. At least without only risking myself in the process."

Her hand rubbed at her stomach. Unsure of how to respond, Eragon lifted up the wrapped meat, signaling it was time for them to end their conversation and rejoin Garrow and his family for dinner. It was a tensed atmosphere, all of them barely fitting in the small dining room with the children eating on the laps of their respective mothers. Garrow for the most part kept to himself asking necessary questions here and there about Selena's wellbeing in between long bouts of silence. The family dynamics were certainly as awkward as his own experiences. Once dinner was done, Selena had shown Eragon her small bedroom where she and Murtagh would momentarily stay. Eragon for his part was welcomed to a makeshift cot of blankets in the corner of the living room. It wasn't much but it would have to do. The following morning, Eragon was quick to rise with the sun, an unusual action, to start the beginnings of construction on Selena's home.

Day by day, he spent his time in Carvahall building a wooden house beside Garrow's. As much as he wanted to use magic for it, he was forced to go about it the mundane way. The only saving grace was his strength and stamina. Cutting trees for logs, making the ropes, forging nails, and the overall construction of the house went smoothly. Though not vain, he couldn't help but want to make it the most luxurious house in Carvahall for his mother's comfort. Rooms were made two times larger, the walls sturdy and well-built to weather tough storms, and the overall appearance and design were far more than any of the other houses in the village. Selena often liked to tease him whenever she came by to take in his progress, calling him out on his delicate sensibilities. But Eragon didn't mind. For his family, a decent wooden house was the least he could give them. Time passed as he worked, spending the majority of his days building with little interactions with the rest of the village save for Selena and her family.

It was on the beginning of the third week that he received outside news. His mother's house nearly completed with the only task left being the furnishings, Eragon lowered his hammer as a white swallow appeared from overhead. The bird circled around over top before descending in an elegant flurry of wings before him. It stuck out its leg, revealing a small, rolled up letter. Cautious, Eragon reached down to unwrap it. The moment the letter was free, the swallow took flight, heading in the southeast direction.

Curious, Eragon placed his hammer on the ground, standing to his feet. Walking towards the outskirts of Carvahall, he unrolled the tube of paper, eyes taking in the neat characters of the ancient language. There was a faint scent of crushed pine needles.

Wherever you are, we must speak. Sundown, look for me on the water's surface.

Arya. She had sent him the letter. But why? Whatever it was, it must be important. She knew he was on a delicate mission for the sake of the Varden. She wouldn't jeopardize it if it wasn't of great import. Burning the letter after taking another look at it, he returned to work in an attempt to look normal. Selena, who'd taken up to telling Murtagh stories, some too grand to be real and others too mundane to be anything but, on the front porch of Garrow's house smiled at him as he picked up his hammer to continue his work. It was visible now, the slight bulge on her stomach. Each time he caught sight of her, a combination of apprehension, wonder, and fear ate at him. The convergence was coming closer and yet there was still much he had left to do. Pushing down his apprehension, he turned his attention back to the wooden house before him.

He worked late into the day, even past sunset as he usually did. When the majority of the villagers retired to their homes, Eragon kept working inside the living room of the wooden house. In the safety of the newly built house for Selena, Eragon lowered his hammer to pick up the bowl of water nearby. The living room was now sporting several comfortable armchairs and a cozy couch. Warding the house as a precaution, he turned his gaze to the surface of the clear water, reaching for the magic in the back of his mind.

"Draumr kópa."

There was a ripple on the surface of the water, his distorted reflection changing with each gentle wave before Arya's image replaced his. His heart jumped slightly at the sight of her emerald eyes. So focused as he was on trying to keep busy so that he didn't tempt himself trying to contact Saphira in her egg, he'd momentarily forgotten his new relationship with Arya until he was staring at her once more. She looked relieved to see him, though a touch confused by his human appearance.

"A temporary disguise," Eragon told her, amused about calling his once natural appearance a disguise. Living too long as an elf put him out of touch with his true human origins.

"I am glad to see you in good health, though the rounded features have taken me by surprise," Arya admitted, her eyes darted to his ears, almost distracted. "Is everything going well on your end?"

"Fortune has been on my side so far. And what of you, Arya? Has something happened?" He frowned thinking of the many possible reasons why she would want to speak with him. "Is everything…"

"Everything is fine on my end as well. Perhaps more so," she glanced off to the side, hesitant before her eyes returned to him. "Brom returned recently with a man by the name of Jeod and news that could possibly turn the tide in our favor, if handled with great care."

So it'd happened. The deliberations to steal the eggs. Worry entered his mind. It'd been neigh on four weeks since he'd stolen all three eggs and yet not an alarm was raised through the Empire. At least not from what Eragon could scrounge up in the middle of nowhere. He must be handling it as quietly as he could to keep his enemies at bay. If news of Galbatorix's priceless treasures snatched directly out from beneath him reached the common folk, it would cast the king in a pathetic light.

"Jeod?" he maintained curiously already knowing who the aforementioned man was.

"A scholar and self-proclaimed bibliophile as we were told upon his introduction. He claims to have found evidence of a secret passage existing directly beneath Urû'baen. For days, the leaders of the Varden have been in council deciding what to do with Jeod's circumstantial evidence," Arya explained, a troubled look on her face.

"You do not believe him?"

"It comes from a book of his. I would be more inclined to believe him had he not based most of his knowledge on books he comes across. They could be misleading. Just as his knowledge of elven culture tends to be misguided," Arya's lips thinned, then she sighed. "Still the mention of any passage at all should not be overlooked."

"What has Deynor decided?"

Arya's brows knitted together, a worried look on her face. "Deynor, under much say-so from Brom, has agreed to carry out an operation to turn the tide in the favor of the Varden. A thief, the best within his profession, will be scouted to search for the passage and steal the eggs. Attempt to in any case."

Meaning Brom was on his way to the Empire. Aware of the window of time presented to him to do away with Morzan, Eragon focused his gaze on Arya. Something was bothering her. From the stiffness in her voice to her tight expression, she looked distinctly annoyed.

"Do you not agree with the plan?"

"In a few aspects, particularly this thief Brom wishes to recruit. To trust a person who had lived their life without honor to the greatest of treasures to our people can be…difficult," she admitted without hesitation. Arya held his gaze, emerald eyes bright. "I asked that we postponed the meeting until your return, but with the details of your mission being sparse, there was not much I could do especially with Brom's insistence that we strike while we have the upper advantage."

"Their decision to deliberate without me is within reason. The Varden is more than one person, Arya," he replied, moved that she would do such for him.

"And I understand that. Rather…Brom may have founded the Varden, but you were the one to strengthen its foundations by organizing its armies, securing its funds, and training the members of the Du Gata Vrangr. Carrying out a decision of this scale without you," she struggled for the words. "It bothered me. Greatly."

"Then why not speak for me?" Eragon suggested. If there was one matter he regretted the most since living this life, it was how sheltered Arya had become beneath his and Evandar's protection. He wanted her to be more independent of her station and her relationships. "It will mean much to me to know that your voice will speak for mine while I am away."

"I shall try," she promised, then in a softer tone, one reserved for his ears only, "How have you been, Eragon? Living as long as we do, I know three weeks is inconsequential in our lifetime but, I could not help but worry."

"I have been well; my mission is proceeding more smoothly than I anticipated. A few hiccups here and there will not deter me. And you? Are Veric and Formora giving you trouble?"

"The former not so much as the latter. She has behaved and conducted herself well since your departure excepting a handful of arguments here and there. I also tend to be on the end of her antagonizing more often these days as well. Apart from that, Formora has been more or less how she usually is," she brushed a lock of her hair behind her ear.

"That is good to know," glad that Formora wasn't giving her a hard time, Eragon grasped at straws, knowing that the heart of the matter was dealt with but not wishing to see Arya off so soon. In the end, he settled for asking about the Varden in greater detail. She indulged him, telling him about his students in the Du Gata Vrangr, about the rising reputation of Ajihad, one of the Varden's soldiers, and other trivial matters. Eventually when there was nothing left for him to ask, the two of them were forced to recognize an end to their conversation as they both had tasks left for them to carry out.

"I shall not contact you again—" Arya was saying, her words signaling the end to their conversation.

"I missed you."

The words left him before he could stop them. Being around his family and still a stranger in their midst took a toll on him. Living as Gabranth was another draining matter. Being able to be himself, though not truly, before Arya was a breath of fresh air. It also brought back how much he missed her.

Arya smiled at him, red lips curving upwards, her gaze affectionate if not a little amused by his sudden outburst. "I missed you as well," she tilted her head to the side, regarding him warmly. "Finish what you have to do, Eragon. I will be waiting for you here."

He nodded, adamant. "I promise."

Regarding him with one last smile, Arya broke the spell. The image of his mate flickered on the water's surface before fading away. Staring at the water for a moment longer, Eragon stood, releasing the wards from the house. It had been an unexpected but pleasant surprise to hear and see from her. What she had to tell him was a different matter. Brom and Hefring would soon attempt to infiltrate Galbatorix's citadel from the secret passage Eragon already exploited. A passage Galbatorix was no doubt aware of now. There was also the matter of Brom. How would he react when he returned to Morzan's estate to see it in ruins?

Massaging his temples, Eragon glanced about the living room of Selena's home. He would think of it tomorrow. After all, his time spent with his mother was once more limited. Whatever was going to happen from now on, he had a feeling it was going to drastically alter the course of time. For now, he was content with the sense of peace Carvahall offered. He picked up his hammer, eyes darting to the kitchen window where he could see the night sky with its stars and moon.

Everything might change, it was a comfort to know that the sky won't change with it.


This was one of my longer chapters so there's that, but you've all finished! I hope you'd enjoyed it. Right now, I'm at a point in time where I'm trying to draw all the lines together in TMF, where those lines lead is a secret (you'll find out soon enough. I hope.) After another chapter or so, there will be chapters devoted to politicking in regards to the eggs and Eragon will have a tough time trying to appease everyone. But ehh, that's politics. His relationship with Arya will also grow and Formora will have to eventually come to terms with ExA and so will Faolin. Then there's Glenwing will also make several appearances followed by Eragon's servants. In short, A LOT is going to happen in the following chapters. I hope you all look forward to it! See you all soon!

P.S. Is anyone bummed out that FFXV was pushed back to November? I was so excited, too! Though I suppose two more months is nothing compared to ten years of waiting. I'm actually very excited about the upcoming games for 16-17. I've pre-ordered a bunch of games already: Ultimate Collectors Edition of FFXV and Take Your Heart Edition for Persona 5. Then there's also Mass Effect Andromeda and a whole plethora of games upcoming. It's good year for video gaming.

P.P.S. I was thinking over all the female characters that I admire/respect and came to see that they have generally the same personality. A few to list, Arya (Inheritance Cycle), Miranda (Mass Effect), Morrigan (Dragon Age), Cornelia (Code Gess), Olivier (FMA), Yennefer (Witcher), Mitsuru (Persona 3), and Lightning (I'm her all time fan-girl from FFXIII). I guess I admire the strong-willed, independent type a lot. XD. It was funny when I realized that. I know some people dislike their characters because they come off too strong, but it's always so refreshing. In any ways, that was a fun thought about me.

P.P.S. I'm absolutely struggling to get the horizontal bar to appear between the chapter end and the A/N. Any suggestions? Also, Eragon has the eggs. The Varden just doesn't know he does.