Chapter 4 Time Stops for No One
He nimbly refolded the boat and sent it on its way. Calling his elder students and his former Elven spellcasters, he made his way to the center of the decks.
They gathered around the center, the solemn look in his eyes enough to keep them silent until he talked.
"I have just received word that in the short period of our travels, our sea faring enemies have taken the entirety of Belatona. Our allies, our people have been pushed back to Ilirea, and are in a stalemate."
A burly dwarf Rider piped up. "The Beor Mountains are right next to them, we should sent word to them, they will fight!"
"Dorsun, the positioning of the Beor Mountains would give ample time and the perfect opportunity to strike, but our knowledge is that not one of the Alagaesian races are having success in defeating our enemy. They have taken the entirety of Surda in less than a week, their strength and speed are unlike anything we have ever heard of. Tronjheim will hold, of that we are assured of. Right now, we need to keep as many warriors alive as possible."
Dorsun had his heart in the right place, but his stubbornness could have given a rock a run for it.
"Dwarves will not fall in battle, no matter the enemy. King Orik will not fall in battle."
A hint of a smile remained on the Rider's lips as he remembered his foster brother, another wave of nostalgia came through. Nari had a wry smile on his face, no doubt reliving his first encounter with the dwarf.
"I am not willing to take that chance. We have a better chance at winning when all of the races fight together."
Whurhig, Dorsun's dragon had hatched for him quite late. Even though he did not look it, Dorsun was nearly as old as Eragon himself, born a few years after the elder Rider had left. Whurhig, on the other hand, was barely fifteen years old. Dorsun knew the most about the most recent of happenings in Alagaesia.
"Ebirthil," a sing song voice piped up from next to him, "what will be the plan to get there in time? It seems we will be thrown into battle as soon as we arrive."
"You are correct in your assessment, Amatria, we shall have to fight as soon as we arrive. Once we reach the edge of the Hadarac Desert, we will fly over to Ilirea, using height to mask our movements. They cannot know we are coming, else they will increase the speed of their attacks. We are fifty strong, full-fledged Riders, and we have enough power for a hundred armies combined with our friends who have chosen to accompany us. We cannot stop our flight, prepare the dragons for their upcoming journey. They are strong, but even this will be trying on their endurance."
Amatria was of another Rider of pure Elven blood, but she possessed neither the softness of Ishmael or the balance of Kyra. She was, through and through, one of the coldest, iciest women Eragon had ever met, if not the most, for that matter. That being said, she had impeccable morals, perhaps not so much as feeling it was the right thing to do, but knowing it was, even if she had no opinion on the matter. Her perspective gave her the unique ability to remove her emotions, if she had any, and assess the situation with a cold and calculating eye. Lacking her own emotions, Amatria was able to perfectly read another person, as she had none of her own feelings to distort her perspective.
Amatria remained the only one who passed the situational tests and field exams without failing one. She was proficient in the sword, and carried her Rider's sword with pride, but she preferred attacking from the behind, a stealthier approach, the approach of an assassin. And she was the perfect build as well. A small, powerful lithe body, cold black eyes and midnight black hair. It was so dark, it shone purple in the bright light. She preferred tight fitting Elven garments, ones that clung to her body, leaving no curve to the imagination, but noiseless when she moved. She was uniquely masked as well, whether on purpose or not, she left no scent behind.
Even now, she stood, her hands crossed over her chest and her eyes utterly blank. The knife she preferred lay strapped to her shoulder, its length nearly as long as her forearm itself. Her dragon, Ladrimme, was a perfect fit for her. She was small and fast, rapid turns, and dexterous movements. Not many could outfly her, but she was not the strongest. Ru'ali, or Hjarta, or even Arhel could have killed her within seconds, but they would have to catch her first, and to catch her was nearly impossible. To catch her without getting burned was completely impossible. Her name matched as well, Ladrimme, Night Flyer. They were the complete stealth package.
But even that was not their entire story, or her entire story. Amatria was just that, a beautiful dancer as her name indicated, and according to Ishmael, she was one of the best dancers in the world. One day she stopped dancing altogether and took the forests. She showed up in Ceris, miles away from her home in Kirtan, and Ladrimme hatched for her, an onyx dragon with diamond black eyes.
Eragon tore his eyes away from the beautiful elf maiden, he wished so desperately that she would find a reason to smile again.
"As Riders, we will be expected to change the tide of the war, and I have full belief that we will be able to. The reports hinted as beasts being the main reason of the trouble our people face, and I believe with the right technique, we can make this their weak point. Unfortunately, I am unsure of how we will be received in Alagaesia…"
"We are Riders, ebirthil! We will be respected!"
He sighed, "That may be the case, Thane. However, the people there are either too young to remember the pact or too old to forget the Fall. The Riders no longer have the reputation they once had. We will fight as Riders, however, until the time comes where we are trusted with soldiers and warriors to command. We will designate ourselves in groups of threes. Thane, Kyra, Marcus, Ishmael, Amatria, and Dorsun will definitely lead their own groups as per their exceptional work as leaders, and warriors. I shall decide upon the rest at a later time, but for the time being, allow me to explain how these will work. In each three membered team, there shall be a leader, this position has nothing to do with the function of each group. Fighting is just as important as protecting ourselves, and for that purpose, these groups have been decided. Your job, within your team, will be decided by your leader, but in essence, you all will fight, but someone will be designated to protect and heal, right on the battlefield, and another to spot for dangerous circumstances. Amatria, you will be in charge of a stealth team. These armies can move quickly, changing the battle in a instant, I will need someone in charge of targeting and taking out key players in the battle, say a general or a captain that seems to do quite a bit of damage to Alagaesia. On your team, you will have a spotter, someone who will watch and lookout; a distractor, one who will draw attention away from the third person; and lastly, the assassin, the one who will finish the job. Am I making myself clear?"
"Yes, ebirthil." The chorus was sound around the room.
"Good, I have no doubt of your ability to take care of yourselves in battle, that does not change that I care deeply for all of you and wish only the best. I cannot be everywhere at once, and if I could, I would protect all of you. The battle will be fierce, bloody, and life – changing. I never expected that I would leave and return to Alagaesia on the end and beginning of a war. You will have to take a life, and for that, I apologize. Know that when the time comes, and your morals are questioned by none other than yourselves, for only you have the right to question your morals, that I will be here to help you through a time I wished never to have come upon you."
The mood was somber, and his pupils eyes reflective.
You did well, little one. Preparing them for such a time.
I wish this were never the case.
You wish to never return?
Nay, never to return to battle is what I wish for.
Let it be heard, little one, our roar as we once again rise above our enemies.
Eragon watched as they slowly filed out, back underneath to the decks, or above sitting atop their dragons. Only Blodhgarm remained by his side as the others filed away.
"It pains me to admit, my narrow mindedness only basked in the feeling of returning home. But to battle, I had scarcely allowed myself to believe and now I hate for my naivety, my inability to see the true picture of where I am going to."
He nodded silently, "I think it was a mistake we all made, Blodhgarm. You are not alone in that. But perhaps, it was the mistake we needed to make. We are on this boat, and we are heading home, even if it is in battle. Perhaps, we would have never left, and then Alagaesia would have fallen, our friends and allies, relationships we worked hard to forge would have fallen, and then it would have been a matter of time till they headed east or north and we would have once again been in danger. It was our blindness to the horrors that prompted us to leave."
"You would have come back, even if you had thought of the horrors of war."
Flashes of her body post her rescue from Gil'ead, Varaug's death grip on them both, being chained underground with her hand completely removed of skin, the eyes of men he looked through just before running his sword in their necks, the explosion of the castle and the feeling of his heart in his chest as she sprinted off to find the green egg.
"I would have, if my duty was to return and fight."
Blodhgarm nodded slightly, his blue fur catching the sunlight.
"Do you believe in the afterlife, Shadeslayer?"
"I do not know."
"I like to think there is one."
"Why? I thought elves did not believe in the afterlife, or heaven."
"I believe in beauty, and as much as we may argue, battle is not beautiful. Those who die in battle, die in an aberration, a marring of beauty. I like to think that afterwards, they may see a beautiful place instead of battle."
"Is that your motivation to fight?"
"Nay, my motivation to keep on going to battle, even though I may surely lose my life."
"And what is your motivation to keep going to war?"
"The realization that I would rather fight in something I believe in than live with nothing to fight for."
"Wiser words have yet to be spoken."
Closing his yellow eyes, he let the fragrance of the atmosphere wash over him.
"We are nearing Shadeslayer, the land we left, we are nearing. I can smell the scent of Du Weldonvarden, the heat of Hadarac, and chill of the Beor. We are close…" his voice turned contemplative, "very close indeed."
Let it be heard, indeed.
Come, little one, lest we be plagued by the horrors our minds will think of. One last flight, before the many flights of battle.
And then after, Saphira. After this, after this war, true happiness just around the corner. One last obstacle, and we will become what we have always wanted.
He spoke her true name, causing a warm sense of peace rush through them both, amplified by her return of the gesture.
Jump, little one.
He went to bow of boat, high above any water surface, and slowly fell forward. A large mass of blue, her wings compacted, swept right underneath him, capturing him softly as he landed perfectly in his place.
His young Riders looked on him with envy, longing for that bond between Rider and dragon, longing for the moment when their movements become as coordinated and perfect as theirs, when their understanding reaches the level of their masters, and their flight as soothing and exhilarating.
Saphira disappears above the thick clouds, looping through and in between, the moisture clinging to his shirt until his entire body is plastered in water. The cold got to him, causing his body to shiver, but his mind was already too absorbed in their link to be bothered by it. All he could see were Saphira's eyes and what she saw.
Rest, little one, I shall watch over you tonight.
And she always did.
Chapter 5 The Return to Familiarity
They landed as expected on the Hadarac, and just as expected, there was no one to greet them. Eragon sighed, partly in relief, partly in disappointment. Duty must be attended to, but that did not mean he had to like it.
Dorsun sank to the ground, letting the sands flow through him as he shouted to the Beor, announcing he was home. Marcus stiffened slightly as Ru'ali curved his tail around where he stood and donned a more menacing face, daring anything to come from the desert to attack his Rider. The black haired man laid a gentle hand on his elongated neck, careful to avoid the spines. Kyra remained stoic, looking in the direction of Du Weldonvarden, before carefully locking gazes with Marcus. Her eyes revealed nothing, but her silence told him everything.
She was worried, anxious. He walked over to her, and laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. Ishmael watched their exchange with an amused expression, but went back Arhel, redoing the straps on her saddle. Amatria clenched her sword tightly, the only indication of her turmoil, and just as quickly, her increased pressure vanished. She jumped atop Ladrimme, waiting for her orders.
Thane looked nonchalantly towards the capital, only he had sights for their destination. Nari sank to his knees, letting the familiar water wash over him. It had been centuries since he felt the water of this river wash over him. Blodhgarm let his arms out, embracing the wind as it seemed to embrace him.
They were home, the Riders, the elves, and Eragon. They were home.
Eragon let himself breath in the air, filling his lungs to the brim as the wind slowly brought the sand up against his face. Saphira stood proudly beside him, her long neck stretched completely as she engulfed everyone else around them. Her wings outstretched, she let out an earth-shattering roar. All but Eragon covered their ears as she welcomed herself back.
A small white boat made their way up to the shore, lightly tapping his feet to alert him of its presence. Eragon picked it up, knowing who it was from. He signaled everyone to mount their dragons. Blodhgarm rode with him, his arms held the Rider lightly. He had not forgotten his sense of balance yet. The Rider opened up the letter, shaking to see what news it would bear, ill or not.
To the one I trust my life with-
There is nothing to forgive, although, I am disappointed in not being able to see you as I had strongly wished. We are holding the capital, as best we can. Their armies are marching, and quickly marching towards Melian, it is only a matter of time until it falls. The survivors are flocking to the capital, I fear famine and crime may run rampant through the town. We are doing all we can, but even so, I feel it is not enough. The only consolation I have is that those who arrive are willing to train and fight for Alagaesia. Our numbers are growing, but how long they can last I do not know. I fear Melian will be abandoned before it has a chance to even fight.
The King of Ilirea is doing as much as possible. He is Nasuada's descendent, and seems to possess her ruling ability, King Narhak. No doubt some of your more recent Riders have heard of him, however, as the Crown Prince, not the king.
On a brighter note, my emerald eyed companion is incessantly waiting for your sapphire eyed one. He almost left the capital out of his own volition to find her. As did I. You are right in your observation, the days, the hours, the seconds turn into years as I stretch each and every inch of the distance between us into a mile itself. I made a mistake, Shadeslayer, of letting you go once. I shall never do so again.
Never again, shall I put myself through this agony.
There was a hesitant mark, a smudge, an almost slight reluctance on the page. Intrigued, he read on.
-the one who loves you
He clutched the note to his chest, happiness bounding through him.
She loves me, Saphira!
He wanted to scream and shout, and jump for joy, his emotions getting the better of him.
Control yourself, little one. Blodhgarm might be alarmed.
I cannot help it, she loves me. Arya, Arya, my Arya loves me…
Saying her name in his mind broke those barriers he kept in place, he was free and soaring higher than Saphira was taking him, higher than light itself could take him. A smile broke over his face, and his heart exploded with love.
Little one, they are waiting for us.
They both are waiting for us.
He patted her long neck affectionately as they reached the altitude they wanted. Now it was to wait and fly.
Will you not reply to her?
My message to her will travel faster than if we flew with it than on a paper boat crossing the desert. And I must tell it to her in person. I must tell her everything in person.
She already knows how you feel for her, the depth of your feelings.
I know, but now, finally…
I know, little one, I know.
He opened his link up to his pupils, Riders, how fare the travels for you? We have crossed nearly a quarter of the desert. With this pace, we can cross in a day and a half.
His answers were of varied eloquence, but all stated they could handle the journey. The free dragons took breaks here and there, but they stayed out of sight, and promised they would arrive within the next day after them. When asked how they would know the way, they responded that the way to the capital was due west and they had an inherent sense of direction. So Eragon let them be.
"How does the journey fare for you, Blodhgarm? Are you comfortable?"
"Quite," was the elf's slightly louder than normal reply, "my fur is keeping me warm." He offered no further explanation.
The Rider had no time to further question him even if he wanted. He felt a presence brush up against his mind, recognizing the presence he let a brief window for entrance.
Ebirthil, it is I, Elbryn. I must ask you something.
Tell me, Elbryn. What is it?
Nalmalk and I strongly wish to lead our own team, if you will of Riders. I realize you may have chosen, but I merely wanted to let you know of my desire to lead. I want to show you my true potential as a Rider, and we will work hard to prove to you our capabilities. We know we are young, but we have the desire to truly showcase our abilities here.
It is true, Elbryn, Nalmalk. I have already chosen the 'leaders' if you will of the individual teams. Why do you believe you will make a good leader?
We understand the importance of experience, but also of a new approach. We care deeply about our fellow Riders, and we will not give up until our deaths, it is the way of the dwarves. I am eager to prove myself to my clan, to my people, and even to the Dwarven women that we can do more than sit on the sidelines as the men take charge. Nalmalk and I firmly believe that we can show the strength of Dwarven women, if given the chance.
Elbryn was the only female dwarf to be chosen to be a Rider. She had a short stature, but strong, burly muscles and a thick mass of bronze hair to match her sight. She wore a thick helm around her head, signifying her status as a member of the Dûrgrimst Vrenshrrgn. It was a natural belligerent clan, unlike the other thirteen. They produced the best warriors, and King Orik even had run into trouble with them because of their war like nature. Elbryn was the daughter of a prominent member of the clan, what her exact title was, Eragon did not know, and neither did he press the matter. But even so, he could tell her family was foremost in the battles against the dragons so long ago, and therefore, said some choice words of her acceptance as a Dragon Rider.
Nalmalk was a different case, she was a larger, buffer female. Burly on the flight, but still well coordinated. She would prove a force on the ground with her stature. Elbryn also preferred fighting on the ground, making her a force to be reckoned with when taking out large numbers of enemies. The combination of two fierce warriors effective on the ground and with the stature of such made a formidable combination, which was why he had no trouble make that decision…nearly three days ago.
Glancing over to the silver colored dragon, silver like the coat of Shrrg, he gave his reply.
You have given good points to your argument, but none are actually the reason as to why you should be a leader.
She protested, but Eragon patiently stopped her.
Whether or not you are a leader of a team will not diminish your role in that team. You will be able to prove your capabilities and your strength as a Dwarven women and to your clan, especially of your capability. However, it is your ability to fight on the ground and in air effectively that will make you both good candidates as leaders, and that is precisely why I chose you as one of these leaders nearly three days ago. On your team, you will have Victor and Taque, along with Maria and Hulon. The six of you will be able to take out a large number of opponents in a short amount of time, giving us ample to recuperate and gather our defenses, that is your task on the battlefield.
The gray, nearly white eyes fixed on the blue mass. And then a deep female voice resounded through them.
Thank you trusting us, ebirthil. We will not let you or Saphira-ebithil regret your belief in us.
I have no doubt, younglings.
Eragon was slightly surprised it was Saphira that answered, but then again, she was always privy to his thoughts.
Victor and Maria were two human siblings, twin brother and sister pair. They came from a good family, a blacksmith's family. Their father had mixed feelings about Taque and Hulon hatching for them both. Eragon could understand his sentiment: Victor was his only son and with him gone, he had no one else to inherit the business after he was gone. Maria was his only daughter as well, and the relationship between the father and daughter was a special one. But he parted with them on good terms, and his children had nothing but the utmost respect for their father. It would have been nearly twenty five years since they had come to train, and in this time, they had no idea what had happened to their father. He was in no danger of falling to enemy soldiers, they were from Therinsford, far too north past the border of the foreign insurgency.
Both of them had light brown hair, although Maria wore hers much longer than Victor, for obvious reasons. Dark, dark brown eyes accompanied their rather pale northern skin, and the leanness of their body would have rendered them unusually weak for humans, but their dragons gave them a unique strength. As far as anyone knew, Taque and Hulon did not get along with each other, but through time and affection for the family of their Riders, both dragons grew accustomed and even fond of the other. Both Taque and Hulon exhibited yellowish hues of varying degrees. Hulon was a pale yellow, nearly white unless one squinted, and Taque a more bright yellow. They were not inconspicuous by any means, and their bright colors would serve to confuse and blind their enemies, a good reason to put them on the ground. It would also be safer for them to attack the weaker, but multiple opponents with another watching their back.
Over the course of the journey, Eragon informed his Riders of their positions and tasks in the upcoming battles. His ideas were mainly uncontested, save for a few reassignments based on dragons whose egos clashed with one another. Saphira stressed the importance of working together despite differences in personality, citing the reasons if all the races of Alagaesia could do it, than so should individuals within the same race. Arguments were finally smoothed over and they finally were able to see Ilirea on the horizon.
Saphira let out an announcing roar, and to their immense delight, an answering roar reached their ears. The blue dragon sped forward into the city, immediately finding the source of that roar. She landed in the middle, her mouth nipping and nuzzling Firnen. He had grown bigger, nearly the same size as Saphira herself.
His deep booming voice could be heard through their link.
Firnen, how are you?
The green dragon touched his forehead, Too long, Rider Eragon. It has been too long since I have felt this good.
Saphira nuzzled him again and they both took off to the skies leaving Blodhgarm and Eragon in the dust. The rest of the Riders landed around them in grass surrounding the city. But Eragon only had eyes for the one leading the procession to their greeting. Men and women of lavish dressing started their way toward them, but the one leading the procession was the Elven Queen he had spent so long dreaming about. His knees nearly buckled beneath him, Blodhgam sensed him momentary lapse in coordination and caught him before he could hit the ground in relief or whatever overwhelmed him.
She rode to him, her raven black hair just as long and lush, the scent of pinecones sent his way specifically. Her emerald eyes locked on his, boring into his depths, and he had flashes of gazing into those beautiful gems thousands of times over. Dismounting, she came toward him, a fierce gaze in her eyes, a smile against her lips, as if she too was unable to take the sight before her.
Realizing everyone watched their encounter with trepidation, Eragon snapped out of his gaze.
"Atra esterní ono thelduin." He started the traditional greeting in his flawless voice, touching two fingers to his lips.
"Mor'ranr lífa unin hjarta onr." was her swift reply, and suddenly, her voice threatened to bring him to his knees even more. The velvet sound, the perfection of it all nearly made his forget his line. And she was smiling at him, as if she knew every intimate detail of how she affected him so.
"Un du evar..."
What was the last sentence again? He was so fixated on her he forgot the last portion. A chuckle came out from her, and whatever semblance of control he thought he had was gone. There was no way he could possibly remember that stupid line.
She stepped closer, her eyes only for him. Grasping his face lightly, she leaned up and kissed his forehead chastely, just like she had all those years ago when he left for Vroengard. Sliding her hands down, he grasped them in his own, and leaned closer, whispering so only she could hear, her true name, and felt that familiar peace and shiver run through her body. He responded in kind when she murmured his own name in his pointy ear.
"Arya Drottning." He stepped away, letting her hands go and bowing deeply, his eyes never losing contact with hers, lest he miss a second of this.
They stepped away from each other as their old companions greeted their Queen, and their once fellow warrior in the battle again the Empire. Blodhgarm, Nari, and the other elves had smiles on their faces, especially at seeing such a cared for and well respected face, and such emotion from their two friends.
"And these must be the Riders we have all deeply missed."
Eragon turned to the voice, unsure of who everyone was.
"King Larkin, allow me to present Master of the Dragon Riders and Kingkiller, Eragon. And this is King Narhak. They command Surda and Ilirea respectively."
"Commanded in my case, Surda is no longer in my control, and I cannot say how much I wish for her to be back in my control."
Eragon regarded with a knowing smile, "And we shall do all in our power to get her back and into Alagaesian power once again, King Larkin."
He nodded, but left his gaze at the sights of fifty fully fledged Dragon Riders in their midst.
"Come inside, no doubt you are all tired from your journey. Firnen has hunted for the past week in an effort to get food for all of you after your rapid journey here."
The dragons grunted or growled their approval, and took off towards the meat area.
"Quarters have been prepared for you, it is late and you must rest."
Eragon kept watching her, unsure if she was real or a fiction of his imagination.
"Come inside, Riders, elf friends of old, we have much to discuss."
Chapter 6 Doubts and Doubtless Things
They followed the Queen and Kings inside, all protests shot down at their tired bodies. Entering the capital was a sight to behold. Eragon had never seen it in its glory.
"Impressive, is it not?"
He looked to the voice, "Very." But he doubted he was talking of the city. She seemed to notice, for a look of amusement passed through her features.
"Firnen missed Saphira greatly."
"As did she. I had never realized how must he meant to her until very recently."
"They both did remarkable jobs of keeping such an intimate detail from us."
"They seemed so strong when they parted."
She locked gazes with him, "They were not the only ones with such a convincing ruse."
He nodded in agreement, "No, they were not."
Turning back, she signaled their quarters in the East Wing of the castle. The rooms were well furnished, more comfortable than they had expected, but very well received. As they were increasingly left more and more alone, the quieter and quieter they both remained, as if anticipating and dreading the upcoming conversation.
Her movements stopped in front of a particularly large room. Opening the door, she waited for him to enter, and closed the door, based on their impending conversation.
"Arya…" But she had already opened a bottle of faelnirv for them to share. He shared a large smile before taking his seat and a large swig of it and handing it back to her. Nostalgia crept strongly on them both, enough to let them sit and reminisce before starting an actual conversation. Their silence, however, was short lived.
Eragon grasped her hand, "It was right here," he looked at her questioningly, "where you can no longer feel anything."
Arya nodded, and twisted her hand around his, holding him firmly. Pressing the bottle to her forehead, she breathed deeply, and snapped her eyes to his, softening ever so slightly. Seeming to quell under his gaze, she let his hand limp in hers, letting him go, but he caught hers, not letting her go.
"Eragon…" And her grip tightened on his.
He pulled out her letter with his other hand, reading over her ending greeting.
"Did you mean it?"
She stared at the letter, knowing fully well what he was speaking about.
"Of course I did. How could you doubt that?"
He closed his eyes, "It is still hard to believe, even after two hundred years, that you would ever be able to feel that way towards me."
She tilted her head to one side, "How so?"
"A Queen, beautiful beyond belief, courageous, kind, perfect, ambitious, strong, focused, yet mischievous, falling for a mere Rider."
"Not a mere Rider, the savior of Alagaesia himself."
He stood up, walking toward her, kneeling in front of her, his eyes locking with hers as his grip never relented.
"Arya, I love you."
She closed her eyes, "I know."
Leaning her forehead against his, she closed her eyes and let her hands be soothed by the circles he drew over her palm. She held his jaw, covering the aristocratic cheekbone all the way up to his ears. He had cut his hair shorter, opting for more manageable, shorter locks than the curly unkempt hair he sported during the war.
"I love you, Eragon."
He chuckled as he mimicked her response, "I know."
Amusement passed over her features, but only briefly. He leaned in closer, and soon all she could feel was her heart beating far too fast, and the sound of his own heart pounding against his chest. A feral desire erupted in him, forcing him to act rashly, and so he leaned in even closer, only a hair's breadth away from her.
Her patience wearing thin, she closed the miniscule distance between them, her lips grazing his, pressing softly against him. He was left in shock, his eyes closed as he felt her lips against his, but she was not keeping still. Wearing off quickly, his shock turned into something far more heated. Eragon responded in kind, his hands resting on each side of her face, framing its delicate, perfect features, all the while never breaking contact. And at once, he felt an entirely different sensation, her smile against his lips, her ragged breath beating on his mouth. Arya pulled away, ever so slightly, letting a finger run down the side of his face.
"I am sorry for leaving, Arya."
She shook her head, her forehead still pressed against his.
"Never, it was why I fell in love with you in the first place. You knew, always, the right thing to do."
Eragon was not certain if the effects of faelnirv caused her to be more open that usual, but he doubted she would be this open later on.
"I cannot be here without being with you, Arya. Without being together."
She smiled again, the faint touch of it sending his heart racing.
"And you will not have to. We are together, Eragon, finally. Finally, upon your return, we have finally become what we should have become years ago."
He kissed her softly, unsure of how else to express himself. It seemed faelnirv rendered her more open and able to express herself, and him rendered plain stupid. Chuckling at his observation, he caused her to pull away, that faint smile never leaving her features.
"I should go, Eragon. It is late, and you need your rest. We have much to do in the morning."
"Saphira and Firnen?"
"They will return in the morning, he expressed her desire to tell you, Saphira being otherwise occupied."
"They never take long, do they?"
Arya laughed, clearly remembering their first encounter with each other, "Nay, they never did."
The Rider smiled at her, "You have had a long few months, you need to sleep."
"Always looking out for me, are you not?"
Grazing her cheeks with the back of his knuckles, he murmured, "I would have you stay the entire night, if I could, but now is not the time. I suspect everyone will have their own perceptions to our greeting earlier today."
Arya held his hand against her cheek, "I have waited three hundred years to do something for myself, let them speak. I have given my heart and soul to protect my people and this land, it is time I also look to protecting myself."
The Rider smiled at her, soaring with the knowledge that she looked to him as her protector, or at least, he was part of her protection.
"Let me walk you to your room."
"I am quite capable of walking there myself."
He closed his eyes as a chuckle escaped, "Think of it as a selfish need of mine. I am not so eager to part with you, and this is my way to keeping you by my side for as long as possible."
Lifting herself up with the grace and fluidity he knew only she possessed, the Queen of Elves made her regal way to the door, her hand carefully placed inside the arm of her dear Rider, as he escorted her to her quarters.
They walked for a while, basking in the peaceful silence, in the knowledge of the relief the acknowledgement of their relationship gave to them both. Sooner than either wanted, her quarters came, and she turned towards, enveloping him in a hug far longer than one considered to be chaste. But he took no notice of any detail past the fragrance of pinecones sweeping over him, and her soft, silky hair he ran his hands through before settling his arms around the middle of back, like two bands of steel promising never to let her go. Arya turned her face into his neck, placing a chaste kiss on the taut skin underneath his jaw.
"Good night, Eragon."
Pulling out of their embrace, she quickly turned around, hiding her expression. He caught her hand though, forcing her to look at him, wondering if she regretted it at all. The effects of the faelnirv were fading quickly.
"Arya, do you…" He left the question unfinished, caught in his throat, fear of her rejection after such happiness.
She looked at him encouragingly, his hesitance confusing to her.
"Do you regret anything? I will understa…" he choked on his words, "I will understand if the effects of the faelnirv caused you to do anything you now regret."
Waiting for the worst, he let her hand go and stared at the ground, amazed at how this woman could reduce him, a Rider of over two hundred years to a naughty boy who pushed too hard for too long. To his immense surprise, she began to laugh softly at him. His gaze snapped to hers, unsure of what he was going to see.
She stepped closer, placing her hand on his chiseled jaw, and a soft kiss on his lips.
"I am not so young that less than half a bottle of faelnirv will render me drunk or void of any ability of judgment."
Her gaze turned more serious as she struggled to get through the last words. It must be hard for her, he realized, to express herself with ease. "I turned melancholy at the realization that even when we are together, I must still fall asleep and wake up alone."
He moved to say something, to offer to stay for the night. But she caught him, knowing the expression in his eyes was one he donned when he was ready to do anything he could for her.
"It would not be proper, and we are not out of public eye. The Elves will not take kindly to the implications if you were found in my chambers late at night and early in the morning on your first night back, regardless of our feelings to each other."
She placed another kiss on his jaw, working her way slowly to his lips, pressing softly against them. He responded in kind, growing accustomed to her displays of affection. Perhaps, once, long ago, had they pursued a relationship, she would not have been so open with him.
"I see many questions and speculations running through your eyes, do not dwell on the past and the what ifs. Focus on now, and what we are."
The Rider smiled down at her, holding her tightly in his arms, "Do you not fear our foreign opponents?"
"Nay, you are here, the dragons are here, the Riders are here. And Alagaesia shall be in full strength once again, powerful over her enemies. It will take time, and patience, we are together, in every way possible."
His smile broadened, causing those facial muscles he had not used in years to strain at their sudden frequent demand to flex. One last chaste kiss and they parted for the night, her emerald gems watching him as she closed the door, prolonging the separation of the barrier between them.
"Goodnight, Eragon." She whispered as the door finally closed.
The slightly over two hundred year old man did a little jig on the way back to his quarters, Oh if only his students could see him now.
Reaching out to Saphira, he saw her curled up and safe in the dragonhold, her heart and mind content at having her mate back at her side. In all his years, he had never made a decision that made him this ecstatic before, and there was always some part of him doubting if it was the right one, but somehow, somewhere along the lines, he misinterpreted the feelings for simple butterflies.
Chapter 7 Commotions and Battles
The next morning came with a cold vengeance. While he was eager to let the cool breeze wake him, as he often did in his island home hundreds of miles off, the sharp chill of the winter was nothing like his normal breezy greeting. Sighing…and shivering, he lifted himself off the soft sheets and closed the window. Looking in the mirror, he saw his disheveled, windblown, and completely out of sync appearance. In all honesty, he did not want to believe he presented his love with his appearance so unruly. Sighing, he moved to the wash basin and cleaned the moisture and grime from his body. He donned black wool clothes, thicker than normal, but still allowed the flexibility of his Rider's clothes, and the warmth of a cloak. A knock on his door resounded ever so loudly, only to be followed by a rapid, "Ebirthil! Ebirthil!"
It was a miracle he got any peace and quiet at all.
Eragon opened the door, "What is it, Ishmael?"
Every time this particular Rider of his was in a panic, it was for a very serious reason. To ignore his pleas would be to ignore the threat of a Shade, completely and utterly stupid.
"There is a commotion on the sparring grounds."
A prolonged and deep sigh escaped the Rider. Pure frustration. He knew the egos of the dragons and their Riders would clash with a land that has had two hundred years without Riders at all, save for Arya, but she was in the forests, not among the people.
"Walk with me, and explain."
Ishmael nodded, easily keeping up the pace.
"Kyra was in the sparring grounds, sparring with elves. One particular one watched from the sides and goaded her. Kyra remained calm, but the other Riders are now completely at arms at the obvious insult to her and his comments on the Rider order."
"Let me guess, he had blonde hair, light green eyes, and looked exactly like Kyra with shorter hair, and a larger build."
"That is her older brother, Kyrian. He is purposely making trouble with her."
The shouts could be heard from wherever they were running to, almost instigating Eragon himself to break into a full sprint. And then he heard his Rider's voice.
The commotion was reduced to murmurs as Eragon neared. No one noticed him and when Ishmael went to make his presence known, he laid a gentle hand on his, making him watch how they handled themselves.
"Kyrian, your problem is with me, not with the order of the Riders."
A sneer broke across the elf's face. "You are mistaken. My problem is with the order of the Riders. How could then let one such as you, the second best at everything, become a Rider? That is what I have a problem with."
Hjarta reared on his hind legs as his voice boomed throughout.
You dare insult my Rider! Or my choice!
Eragon raised his eyebrows, never had he seen Hjarta lose his temper and to the point with his teeth bared and his eyes narrowly glinted. Dragons, no matter of what creed, personality, or doctrine, had their pride. He bared his fangs, daring Kyrian to say another word. The boy had good sense to step back, but he held his sister's gaze.
"You expect me to believe that we, as Elven warriors, trained, are unable to defeat our foreigners, yet these Riders, trained in ways we have never seen are, simply because they have dragons. We should implore the free dragons to help us, not these Riders."
Are you claiming me as weak?
Hjarta growled at him.
"No, only her."
He pointed to Kyra, and finally Eragon turned his gaze on his pupil. Her eyes were oddly calm, her stance assertive, but not aggressive by any means. Her hands were crossed over her chest, and her face was impassive. Kyrian's words were not getting to her. And then she spoke.
"I have never claimed that I had a right to become a Rider, or that Hjarta was correct in choosing me. There are many others more worthy, I understand that, but I have come to believe in him and his decisions as he has come to believe in mine."
"You are not the strongest."
"I never was, and most likely, I never will be."
"Then you are not worthy."
"Strength may have been the characteristic of our family, Elven men and women bred for the purpose of developing strength, but strength is not what makes a Rider worthy of being called one."
"The ability to learn, and I know I have demonstrated that to my ebirthil."
Pride showed through her said master's eyes. But he remained in the background.
"Then show me how much you have learned!"
Kyrian stepped in the ring, his teeth bared and hissing at her. He was an elf, a bloodthirsty, battle hungry elf that reveled in the ability to take a life as was the creed of his house.
Kyra shook her head, "If the only way to prove to you that I am worthy of a Rider is to beat you in a game of strength, and I take that opportunity, then I have not learned as much as I claim to have. I will not fight you."
"Then you are weak! Find your master, tell him to fight! Surely he knows the importance of strength."
"He is here." Ishmael announced.
The crowd parted, revealing him privy to their conversation. He walked over to his pupil.
"You have handled yourself well, Kyra. And you are more worthy today than you ever will be."
He raised his voice a little louder, "I am quite afraid I have a sore back today. I am getting quite old, and frankly, I do not care to start my mornings off with the clanging of metal. However, Kyrian, you shall not go without an opponent today."
Eragon stepped to the side, allowing Kyra straight entrance to the rink. Leaning towards her, he raised his arms towards the rink.
"You are fighting for my honor, surely you have more confidence in defending me."
"It is not your confidence in me that I worry about."
"Then do it for yours, Kyra."
She let her face slide into a sardonic smile and raised her sword. Stepping into the rink, she glanced around, looking for someone. Marcus slid into the front, wordlessly nodding at her, humorlessly smiling at her. And her gaze snapped back to the sight of her hissing brother.
Kyrian jumped at her first, she sidestepped him easily, his movements were easy to see. He was slow, she realized, slower than ever before. She caught his blade, eager to see how strong he was…he was weaker too. Was he playing with her? Or was this just a testament of a Rider's strength?
Her brother noticed her lack of enthusiasm, and misinterpreted it as fear of him instead of observation. He left himself open is his whirlwind of movements, perfectly executed, but just not fast enough.
Kyra landed three blows to his ribs in quick succession, the last sending him flying backwards barely inside the ring. He was breathing hard, and her, not at all. Growling, his green eyes filled with red blood as he grew angrier and angrier, he rushed at her again. Kyra raised her blade, blocking with success, the formation that her family had perfected over their years. It was the most comprehensive combination of attack and defense, and only could the fastest switch from one to another, but she was faster than the fastest. Changing rapidly between her left and right hand, she ducked and swung at different levels successfully parrying and repelling each defense and attack tactic.
In a rush with her body, Kyra grasped her brother's sword hilt, burying hers in the ground she lithely jumped onto the pommel and with a balance a dancer would be envious of, kicked her opponent straight across the rink. He went flying out of it, successfully ending the match. Staring at her brother's sword in her hand, she threw it to him, and watched it sail and land right next to his hand. Pulling her sword out of the ground, she began to walk away.
A howl of agony erupted from far too near her. She turned, shocked by the scene in front of her.
At some point, Kyrian had gotten off from the ground, and rushed toward her in a silent frenzy. He was poised in mid air, his sword ready to bring it down upon her head, but it was not him she was staring at. Rather, it was Marcus in front of her, Kyrian's sword in his hand, caught by the blade, the blood dripping through the deep cut the force of it made against him from his palm. A certain crackle of energy radiated off of him and without a word, Marcus pulled the blade from her brother's grasp and watched his body with a malicious look as he raised him by the throat choking him. Kyrian was, at least, six feet in the air, the haunting now, nearly black purple eyes of Marcus turned on him as he gasped in his struggle to breath.
"Marcus, let him go." Kyra's voice was soft, pleading, comforting.
The black haired Rider shook his head, and whispered in a voice so low even Ishmael flinched, "He attacked you."
"Marcus, please." Kyra's voice was growing more desperate.
"Anyone who attacks you…" He let the sentence trail off, the threat evident in his tone.
Kyra laid a gentle hand on his face, forcing him to turn to her, his cheek cupped in her warm hand, "Let him go." She implored again, and finally, Kyrian was let down.
The color returned to his face, the gagging subsided, and soon he was on the ground, gasping for air.
"What power…wh-what power lets you hold me so?"
Marcus's eyes narrowed, his face still half covered by the blonde elf's hand, and replied, "The power of a Rider."
And it was true. Eragon was weak, the beginning of his journey as a Rider, he was weak. Riders were not made in year, as he and Saphira had to be, Riders, full fledged Riders took ten to fifteen years to complete their training. These Riders were not of the same caliber as he was before he left, these Riders were decades old fully fledged Riders with the power and knowledge of the eldunari. These were the Riders who rivaled the Riders of the old Order, who rivaled the strength of Vrael, the wisdom of Anurin, and the knowledge of Oromis. These were the Riders of New Order, and their strength was unmatched by any that had ever roamed Alagaesia.
Marcus was easily able to overpower Kyrian, he was, of course, a fully-fledged Rider with all the power of the old Order. But his thoughts were pushed aside as Kyra stepped closer to him, grasping his bloody hand. Without another word, she muttered "Waise heill." And watched closely as the skin began to close together.
Eragon knew Marcus was entirely capable of healing it himself. A smile brushed across his face as he remembered his own Arya…ah it felt good saying that, his Arya healing his hand even when he was perfectly capable of doing so. As if on cue, she walked down the side stairs of the castle, just familiarizing herself with the commotion, smiling faintly, as if she too, was remembering those events.
She caught his eye, and Eragon knew she remembered.
But the end result was a little different between them as to these two.
Kyra stepped back, her green eyes suddenly angry.
"There was absolutely no need for such actions. I am not so weak, and I require no such considerations. Understand?"
Marcus was so taken aback that all he did was stare after in shock, an utterly confused look on his face, his hand still outstretched from where she let it go.
He called after her. She shot him a glare and continued walking. The black haired Rider shook his head, incessantly muttering, "She hates me, I know she does." And took off on Ru'ali to calm himself.
Ishmael pursed his lips together in a signal that the daily entertainment was over and found a nearby tree to sit under and read this new book of poetry he found in the library of the castle. Thane began to whistle as he walked over to Eragon.
"Quite a day, is it not? Tell me, can I expect a daily drama from now on? I must say, it is quite entertaining."
Before he could prevent himself, the elder man let a ghost of a smile through, and then Nari smacked redhead on the back of his head.
"I must say, the nerve you have…" and dragged him off promptly.
Arya watched in soft amusement, "I had often heard the Order of the Riders were more lax than elves, more friendly and open. I am glad I am privy to witness such history."
"You are a Rider as well, iet Drottning. You cannot forget that."
Her eyes snapped back to his, "'Iet Drottning,'" she mused, "…it sounds nice, it has been a long time since I have been called any sort of endearment."
"Iet naunen, iet feon, iet lif, iet solus, iet hjarta, iet garjzla, iet evarinya, iet Arya." He stepped closer and closer, iterating each and every endearment he could think of.
A faint color rushed to her cheeks, how she could be so forward, yet so shy was a mystery to him, an enigma.
"As are you." His smile broadened.
The sound of someone clearing her throat caught his attention. Immediately, he turned, looking on their intruders.
"Amatria, what is it?"
The dark-haired elven maiden looked at him, and bowed deeply to her Queen. Upon completion of the custom greeting, she turned her attention back on to her master.
"While I hate to intrude upon this special moment of yours, albeit well hidden, I have come to inform you that Ladrimme and I have come across interesting news on our morning flight."
"And that would be?" he implored.
"Our enemies are on the move, with great beasts of burden as their mounts. They move quickly, and will be here in a day and a half."
"That is preposterous, they cannot possibly hope to capture the capital so soon."
Amatria nodded, signaling her astute assessment.
"They are growing arrogant with their successes, and I cannot say I blame them. There army looks no worse for wear, and Dras-Leona and Marna will surrender if Ilirea is captured."
Eragon nodded, "I sense a but in there, what are you thinking?"
Ladrimme landed beside them, her calm and controlled voice filling the air.
Take three Riders, Amatria and I, Ishmael and Arhel, Kyra and Hjarta, and we shall attack them first.
"You cannot hope to take out their entire army."
"We do not want to, only to take out their leaders. They will be disoriented if we assassinate them early. It will buy us time, and in the mean while, the other Riders can set themselves up in different posts, and we shall have their army surrounded by formidable forces on either side. We can outflank and then close in on them."
"And their beasts of burden?"
I am dragon, ebirthil. They are not so big and most definitely not so intelligent. Just clumsy and scary looking. We can roast one in a minute if we would like to. "
"Do not take Kyra and Hjarta, or Ishmael and Arhel."
"Then who? I would take my team that you assigned. I trust them."
"I shall come with you. I need to get an assessment of their situation and this seems like the appropriate time to do so."
"And the third?"
"Me." Arya spoke finally.
"Drottning, I cannot…"
"It has been a long, long time since I have roamed the skies with Firnen, and we are all eager to get this over with. Three Riders going will not cause the elves to trust your judgment, and if things go wrong, they will blame you. However, if I accompany you, you have the added luxury of a third Rider, and the elves' consent to my decision and growing favor."
She nodded, "It seems the ways of the Rider are not always in consent with the ways of politics." Turning away, she muttered understandingly, "There is much I have to learn about politics of the races."
"I do not think I still understand."
Arya let a soft sound of amusement slip through, "No one ever does."
She moved to say something else, but the shadow of a purple hued dragon descended upon them. Marcus lithely jumped off, and unbeknownst to the intrusion between the Rider and Queen, he scrambled, "I need to talk to you, ebirthil."
Eragon looked sorrowfully at her, but she nodded, chastely kissed his cheek, "Come and find me when you have more time on your hands."
Looking between him and her retreating form, "Oh sorry." was the dark haired Marcus' only response.
"Let me guess, trouble with Kyra?"
"I do not understand her. I was only trying to protect her."
Eragon sighed, "You are more hopeless with women than even I was."
Marcus stood, dumbstruck at the distinction.
"She was touched, and she cared for you, and she let it show. It scared her, how much you care for her, and how much, she, in turn cares for you. Placing her barriers up, she pretended to get angry at you and walked away. In reality, she is, utterly and completely, scared of falling in love so quickly."
Marcus thought on his words for a bit longer, "That cannot be it." And walked away, feeling more dejected than before.
Is he alright, Ru'ali?
Just being difficult, ebirthil. Sometimes he is assured of himself, other times he is not. The key is Kyra. Of that I am certain.
The dragon snorted in amusement.
Who are we kidding? Of that, the entire of Alagaesia, but my dear Rider is certain.
Will he speak with her?
And risk making a greater fool of himself?
He did not make a fool of himself. On the contrary, it was quite good.
Seventy years of age, and when it comes to love, it is like trying to convince a child that you cannot eat a crystal even though it looks like a piece of rock candy.
When…" His question trailed off.
This morning in the market, it was most annoying. And with that the sarcastic, morose, yet oddly entertaining dragon took off into the air in an effort to find his equally morose and oddly entertaining Rider.
Chapter 8 In the Event of Failure
The tawny skinned elven male looked up from his newly obtained history book, courtesy of King Narhak upon the Rider's request. The slightly melting snow rustled around him as he sat perched on top, no evidence at even sinking beneath the ground. Eragon glanced at his own feet, shuffling unknowingly. He nearly winched at the sound of the crunch of his boots.
"Has Amatria informed you of where she went?"
Ishmael shook his head and went back to his book.
"Although," he looked up quickly, "I wish she had." He turned his eyes back to his book, but they possessed neither the hunger or the drive to learn as Ishmael often demonstrated when reading. Instead they were blank, contemplative.
"Why do you wish so?"
"Her life is a lonely one, I only wish she could see how much she means to all of us."
"All of us? Or to you?"
Ishmael regarded him with a certain wave of recognition, "All of us, ebirthil. We, Riders of the New Order, had to pick up our lives, sacrificing our homes, no matter how dismal for unfamiliarity with strangers in an even stranger land. We are a family, no matter how unconventional. Misery loves company, and we out grew our misery together. We only wish the best for one another. And we care about Amatria. She is special."
"But especially to you."
A small smirk flitted across his features, "I know where you lead me, ebirthil. I cannot say what I feel, not well. I do not understand what I feel half the time. My interests lie in words and history, but never the motivations or intentions. I believed myself to be in love, and when rejected, I was hurt. But Arhel, and the depths of those feelings, of that bond made me realize what was hurt was my ego, not my heart. That is not love, but infatuation."
"And for Amatria?"
"I cannot express what I do not clearly know myself."
"Are you usually this open with everyone? I never remember you to be close to anyone in particular."
Ishmael nodded his head in agreement, "When one sees an open book, he often not inspired to read it. It is the closed ones, ones one cannot see, cannot hold, and must work for that enrapture one's focus. And those who see an open book and begin to read it, realize how relatable those experiences are to themselves, and are frightened by it, and by the uncanny self awareness it brings about."
He paused in his mini speech, only to further collect his thoughts.
"We are all not so different. Dwarves, humans, elves, dragons, and Urgals. In fact, we all fight and live for the same things. Some longer than others, and some more violently than others."
"And what is that purpose?"
"It is simple, ebirthil. That purpose is to find a purpose, whether it be in the death of a king, or death by enemy hands, the becoming of a mother, a Queen, a Rider. And once that purpose is found, to find another one, perhaps to teach, or cook, or paint, or write, or study. And once that purpose is found, to find another and another until the very last breath comes to us, or time itself stops us in our tracks."
"And your purpose now?"
"To see Amatria smile. Too long as she took to the shadows to hide her emotions. I only wish she would smile to let the world know that she is stronger than her fate, as strong as the woman I know her to be."
Eragon nodded, keeping his thoughts on the matter to himself. There were many definitions of love, but he was fairly certain to see someone smile as a sole purpose was one of them. His memories shifted as he recalled a time when that was his sole purpose, and to the woman he loved.
A faint brush of her mind caressed his and his face became blank in that sensation. Too long had he been without the faint violin emanating through her mind into his.
Where are you?
Have you completed your tasks?
Must you be so duty bound?
But his voice held a nuance of humor, they both knew Eragon would not like her half as much without her unwavering sense of duty and strength.
My very breath catches when I think of you.
Where are you?
The throne room. Come quickly, you are needed here. We cannot start our meeting without the Master Rider.
His despair was rampant through their link, almost to the point of physical pain so strong it shot through to her before he could stop it.
Are you injured? I did not realize it last night, I apologize. Must you see a healer, or perhaps I can take a look once you arrive?
Nay, iet naunen, I am injured, but only from the pain that I cannot kiss you the moment I see you, and that I must keep my expression guarded when I gaze upon you properly. And I must hide behind our titles when I feel as if I have the right to fall to your feet as your slave, simply because of my love for you.
It was a while before she replied, Come quickly.
"Ishmael, please find Amatria and tell her to come to my quarters in two hours time." He turned away quickly, but stopped, "And get her a flower, perhaps it will make her day seem a bit brighter."
A wry smile appeared on his face, as he softly began to sing a black Bacarra rose from the cold of the ground. It would take a surprising amount of energy, but the elf was more than capable of supplying the rose with the energy it would need.
The elder Rider left the premises quickly, moving with swift feet past the familiar roads. A few Riders greeted their master on his way, but most were preoccupied with their new surroundings. If they were from the capital, they had been gone far too long, and if they were not, they had never set foot upon the Ilirea.
Where are you?
Coming soon, I shall be there in a few moments.
Do not, meet me in the corridor to the entrance to the chambers next to the throne room. I have 'stepped out' for a bit.
As you wish.
His sure footing landing him silently in the specified corridor, and before he could ask, she came around the corner. Making as much sound as a cat on the ledge of wall, she padded towards him, a strange glint in her eyes. But he could not so much as muster a protest, no matter how half hearted it would have been as she fisted the soft tendrils of his elven cotton shirt and pulled him down to meet her lips.
She pulled away moments later, their breaths turned to pants as they worked hard to control their heart rates. Eragon kissed her again, only because he could honestly not think of anything else at that moment, but more softly lest he be rendered catatonic from pure physical exhaustion.
"Was my need to see you as great as yours to see me? As great as that must have been."
She smiled, laying her head on his chest, marveling at the warmth such a small space in such a large universe could provide her. His arms came around her, his closed, savoring the feel of her body against his.
"Never forget that my need to see you is great. In any case, you came from land far away because I asked. The least I could do is greet you with a kiss away from prying eyes the first time we meet in a day."
His smiled widened as she buried herself in his arms. This Arya was as strong as she was loving, something he had been lucky enough to only see. His heart clenched at the thought of leaving her as he did, how stupid had he been. How many people had he hurt by leaving? Had not he hurt enough during the war? Even in peace he managed to cause the people he loved such intense pain.
"Hush, such thoughts do not become you. It takes strength to walk away from happiness for the better of the world. Not many people have it."
"But I did hurt you, did I not?" His voice was barely above a whisper, if it could be even called that. But Arya heard, as she always would.
"I expect nothing but the truth when I ask you something, and I will expect nothing less of myself when you ask." She hesitated, turning her head away from him, looking to the wall, knowing she looked far weaker in his eyes.
"I..." she started, "I had tears in my eyes for days, only wiped away for duty. It took years for me to smile again. I was as I once was, before I met you, after my exile...absolutely and utterly devoted to work and devoid of any life. Firnen taught me to live again, how half heartedly that might have been. And it took him years and years to make me smile again, but true happiness was still far away. Too far for me to see, and so I took one day at a time, waiting, watching, listening for a sign."
"A sign?" He quirked his eyebrows. "A sign for what?"
"For you to come back."
"Arya? After all this time, you still had hope that I would return?"
His voice held poorly concealed wonder as her longing. He resigned himself from the beginning that he would never see her again, and shut the doors to his heart, silenced his emotional mind, and existed as if there was never a life before this. He could not take that pain.
"I had to, Eragon. I had to. I lost everyone, mother, father, Faolin. The only one left was Firnen, and we are one, we cannot share our losses when our hearts and minds are one. I had no one to live for, nothing to live for."
"Strangers to an elf exiled for nigh over seventy years. They chose me for my deeds and I accepted out of grief. They certainly did not choose me out of respect for who I am, but rather what I did. And I was asked in the wake of my mother's funeral, a time when I doubted my honor and would have done anything to make her proud, not fully understanding what I did would have no effect on our relationship, late as it was."
"Do you regret it? I never want you to regret anything."
Her grin was infectious, "I have a feeling you would never want any emotional distress on my part, even if it meant I would not pine for you."
"And you would be correct."
She kissed his jaw, lips lingering longer than they should to be considered chaste. But they were not chaste, nor should they be. They were every bit as passionate and charged as any other couple, only with two hundred years to ferment their love.
If it was possible, his arms tightened around her body even more.
"I do not know if I regret it. Truthfully...only Fate knows if we would have been together had I never accepted the throne. Or if you had stayed, perhaps it is because you left my feelings for you arose. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but I grew colder. I suppose the heart only grows fonder with the definite knowledge of a return, not this hopeful desire that died every day it never saw their beloved face."
Eragon chuckled, "Perhaps because the saying is 'distance makes the heart grow fonder.'"
His deep throated laugh caused her to pull away, "You humans and your sayings, had it been in the Ancient Language there would have been no way to say the wrong words correctly."
All humor erasing from his face, the Lord Rider leaned closer, his nose gently nudging hers as he bent down for a kiss, capturing her lips deeply, and slowly. Willing her to understand how she set his heart ablaze, willing her to see his heart thawing out from years to sealing himself in a snow cave, freezing himself in order to survive far past a normal lifetime.
"We should head inside, we have one day to prepare for war, and we leave tonight if we are to follow your prodigal student's advice."
Eragon smiled, "Amatria is one of my best." he said walking into the throne room.
King Larkin and King Narhak stood stoically to a side, clearly uninterested in the king's seat set high above them all, a gross difference from the last time he had arrived with everyone shooting longing glances at that chair, some with wonder and others with desire. The loud aspiration of the late King Orrin was not lost on him, but the Rider was pleased to see King Larkin seemed to possess none of the desire of his ancestor. The man barely looked at the chair, choosing rather, to wallow in the sorrows of his lost kingdom and people.
His advisor, Mark of the House of Barthon, laid a comforting hand on his king's shoulder. From what he had heard, Mark and the king had grown up together and were good friends as well as sharing a good professional rapport.
Eragon did not know how he felt about that. Advisors should not be friends, they need to be honest, and he knew of the sacrifice of honesty one made for a friend.
"Ebirthil, we have arrived."
Ishmael made his announcement to him in particular, but served to purpose of announcing it to everyone without declaring their presence as if they were some superiors in the lineage. A wise move.
Amatria trailed close behind, a black rose in her hand, her face expressionless. But her hand held the flower gently, as if savoring the feel of it against her palm.
The council of King Narhak gathered around, seeing the gathering.
"Arya Drottning, Kyrian of the House of Blodraya has arrived for your judgment."
She replied without a hint of their earlier escapade, as composed and put together as if she had never met him at all. He smiled at that, knowing full well her desire to be with him was purely because of her desire, not her need or dependence on someone that he happened to be lucky enough to be.
"Send him in."
She stood at the edge of a circular table in front of the throne, a hard look in her eyes as the blonde haired elf walked in. His head was held high, arrogant, obstinate, not what his queen wanted to see.
He bowed low, the traditional Elven greeting on his lips. She replied in kind, her voice cold and distant, not unlike her mother's voice when dealing with...well, anyone.
"Your behavior to the Riders this morning was absolutely unacceptable. If you had a problem with their return, you should have come to me in private. As far as I am concerned, the public humiliation you suffered was well deserved."
Kyrian remained defiant, "But an elf was still humiliated by a Rider. And a human no less."
"Humans have proved themselves to be wise and powerful, equals to all other creatures in Alagaesia. Or do you forget that human Rider was the one who humiliated you so publicly?"
"He is street scum! Born, I heard, around this town to some lowlife."
"That is enough!"
Eragon raised his eyebrows, he had not heard raised voices in years. But what surprised him most was that the outburst had not come from the Queen, but from Kyra who had come in to see her brother's judgment.
Eragon's Rider did not look or even heed him for confirmation that what she was doing was right. A sign of becoming a Rider on her own, with her own mind, and the ability to grow by herself, without an ebirthil as her guide.
"I came, Kyrian, to perhaps lessen your disciplinary sentence if required. I came to make sure that you would be fine, that you would still fight in our common cause. But here I am, instead, appalled at your notions of nonexistent superiority and your ego hurt more than your body. However, that I can overlook."
She hesitated, her voice growing as cold as Marcus's eyes.
"The insult to Marcus, however, is one I can never overlook. He was born to some lowlife, I can attest to that. And he is a prince among men, elves, dwarves, Urgals, and dragons. He is a hundred times the warrior and man you will ever be. If I ever hear you insult him again, your end will be at my blade, brother or not."
And she walked out, her head held straight, her gait powerful, and her strides purposeful.
Kyrian swallowed deeply, perhaps a lesser man would perspire in his shoes, but he opted to show only fear in his eyes.
"Kyrian, for your lack of discipline and humiliation of the Elven race in this war, you are suspended for two months and required to return back to Du Weldonvarden with the next ship. Your duty will be to tend to the ships and maintenance of the weapons until your sentence is over. If I hear of your resistance in the slightest, you will be suspended...permanently."
He bowed his head, knowing his was a losing battle and walked out, not sparing a second glance to the Lord Rider as he left.
"I thought you said the elves were happy we have returned."
Arya looked at him, contemplating her answer.
"Most are extraordinarily happy, others are just happy. Truthfully, I had not even known Kyrian felt the way he did."
"It is not toward the Riders." Amatria stated nonchalantly from behind him.
"What do you mean, Shur'tugal?" The Queen addressed her directly.
"Kyrian had a personal reason not to like Kyra, not the Riders. His emotions stem from jealousy and a hurt ego, not from his opposition to our return. He has no opposition to the Riders, only that he never became one as his sister did."
Eragon nodded in agreement with Amatria's assessment.
"Well, that settles the case then. We have exactly a day to prepare for battle." King Narhak looked around for help with defending his city.
Ishmael carefully laid out his detailed maps, made by his own creation with an astoundingly accurate measurement of distance. Retrieving a bunch of pins and an aristocratic quill, he began his dissection of the progress.
"Drottning, Your Majesties, if I may?"
They nodded their assent to hear his words while his ebirthil stood next to him, watching him intently.
"From their pace, they are a day's ride. They will be here midday at the latest. From Amatria's information, if we strike their leaders, they will be in complete disarray for a few weeks. We must do this tonight if we are to keep the city."
"And then what? Leave them a day away from the city?"
"Once the leaders have been assassinated, it will be easy to burn down the encampment. They will not have moved from the area. As long as they are surrounded, they will have no place to go. Within days, the Riders will come in from Dras-Leona, and the outpost to the south of their encampment, it will take a day or so to burn their army."
"And the rest of them?" King Larkin asked eagerly, daring to hope their plan would work.
"Will be dealt with another time." Amatria replied swiftly, "We must save the capital first. And then we shall look to reclaiming Surda."
"How many did you see, Amatria?"
"Of their men, nearly ten thousand. But I do not think ten thousand men were enough to rampage through Surda. There will be more coming, and until then, we have time to prepare."
"Amatria, Arya Drottning, and I will leave as soon as the sun falls in order to assassinate their battalion leaders."
Ishmael looked up in surprise, "Ebirthil? May I be permitted to join?"
"It is a three person job, Ishmael."
"I can be your eyes, ebirthil, all of yours from above. My bow is fast and accurate, I can make sure you face no problems during your mission without actually being on the ground."
"A spotter would be helpful." Arya agreed, "And I am eager to see the skills of our new Riders."
"Very well, Ishmael, meet us at the outskirts of the city when the sun falls."
He bowed deeply and waited for Amatria finished her goodbye before leaving the room together.
"Should you fail, Lord Rider?"
Eragon looked at King Narhak, he had the most to lose in this battle, "Prepare our men for battle, Your Majesty, to be prepared for our failure."
He looked back down at the map, remembering the countless hours and arguments spent in front of one during his time with the Varden. Nasuada stood where King Narhak stood now, her black hair kept upright, her dark skin darkening the map itself. He glanced up, around at the people around him now. Larkin and Mark to the left, Narhak and his council to the right, only Arya stood where she always was, directly in front. Everything had changed, yet somehow...nothing had. Pushing his thoughts away he pulled the map toward him, deftly rolling up Ishmael's incredible work and excused himself to prepare for battle.
Hearing the call for dismissal from council, he went to find his Riders.
Riders, meet me by the courtyard.
His message was sent around easily, and within five minutes, he was surrounded by his students.
"Tonight, two of your own, I, and the Queen herself will head towards the enemy camp in the dead of night in hopes of sending them into disarray. Should we fail, their armies will be here by midday tomorrow, and I expect you all to be battle ready in a moment's notice. Prepare yourselves however you wish."
They dispersed, some to rest, some to meditate, some to clear their heads, some to flight, and some more to their sparring.
Only Amatria and Ishmael remained, and only Ishmael spoke.
"What of us, ebirthil, what should we do in the event of failure?"
The elder Rider gave him a hard look, wanting him to know what he volunteered himself for, "Should we fail, Ishmael, I expect you to be dead."
Those warm, amber eyes snapped to his master's half in alarm, half in fear at the bluntness. But he guarded himself, remembering the words and oaths of a Rider.
"Very well, ebirthil."
He left, his body somewhat straightened in gruesome acceptance at what he was about to do.
"He is a strong man." Amatria muttered contemplatively.
"Will he be able to kill another? Sometimes strength means the ability to kill a person, and let someone live." Eragon posed the question at her.
"No, ebirthil, strength is the ability to do whatever is necessary, good or bad, when the time comes. It does not matter if the person we kill is an innocent or a serial killer. Their faces still haunt that bit of humanity in us, whether we consider ourselves responsible or not. The character of those we kill does not matter on our conscience."
And she left, leaving him to wonder what hell she faced before she became a Rider. He liked to think he knew his Riders well, but more often than he liked, Amatria's perception told him he knew nothing of her, only what she displayed. Who she was, what she was, was unknown to everyone.
Chapter 9 A Taste of Blood
Where are you, Eragon? I must speak with you.
Saphira, it is good to hear your voice. I am in the courtyard.
Come to the dragonhold, Firnen and Arya are here.
He set off, his legs enjoying the feeling of the run up the stairs. Walking in, he saw his beloved dragon curled up quietly against the wall, her thoughts somber and her mood melancholy. Firnen stood, bending his long neck beside her, His face dangerously close to hers.
Eragon greeted Arya first, a chaste kiss on her lips, and an arm slipped around her waist before kneeling in front of Saphira.
What is it, Saphira?
I never realized how happy a life without war was. And now to come back to it. I almost wish...
...that you never came back at all.
Firnen looked around in despair, his Rider immediately coming to lay a gentle hand.
It is not that I do not love you, Firnen. You do not know the horrors of war, of what we lost, you do not know the fear of nearly losing one another. And you are lucky for it.
War is a dismal part of life. But we must remember that war is only a part of life. To dwell on the few years we had, we cannot forget the good moments as well. And we will fight again, fight again for our people, not against our people as we once had.
Am I being childish, Eragon?
Had you not been dismal about returning to battle, I would have been quite distressed that my dragon is a bloodlusting monster.
Indeed, and you? Should I feel worried that you feel no worry about returning to war?
Had it been foremost in my mind, I would be worried. He glanced at Arya, the soft smile on her features giving his heart peace. But it is not. And perhaps that is my fault, my mistake, but it is one I would happily make again and again.
The Queen of Elves looked up, locking eyes with her new beau, and sent him a small smile. She looked back to Firnen, only a smile as her display of affection. But that small smile was enough to send his heart soaring, enough to let him live for the next centuries, until he required another smile.
But I have fought, Saphira, we have fought, and I am content with it. The happiness of seeing you does not compare.
Nay, Firnen, my dear emerald, you have not. Arya answered him quickly. And I suppose that is my fault. Those memories I blocked from you, those memories I locked away.
Tonight, Saphira replied, you will see what war is. And how dishonorable one must act for the sake of survival.
"Night is falling, Eragon, we have to move quickly. Armor, you need your armor."
He chuckled, "I left my armor and weapons here, save Brisingr."
She furrowed her eyebrows, "You are able to say your sword's name."
He laughed even harder, "Two hundred years of meditation and I am finally able to silence the flow of magic towards it."
Laying a gentle hand on his cheek, she whispered, "It is a much bigger feat than you realize."
She pulled her hand away, and looked away contemplatively, "I have your armor with me. You left it in the castle armory for someone else to use. I confess, I took it with me to our forest, hoping no one would ask. No one did."
"And you have it with you now?"
"I sent for it when I received your first letter."
He kissed her quickly. "Thank you, I must say, I dreaded looking for it in the armory."
Her eyes filled with amusement, "One of the few reasons you love me?" she started.
"Nay," her eyebrows furrowed in confusion, "one of the many reasons I love you, iet nuanen."
She played with the curls around his ear, folding them over, savoring the soft feel of the chocolate brown locks as she ran her hands through. Ponderingly, she glanced away for a moment, stepping back to gaze more intently at him.
Furrowing her eyebrows in thought, she mused out loud, "Perhaps I should have armor made for you."
"Why? It may not have been the grandest of the sorts, not nearly as grand as the golden armor of the Queen of the Elves," he smiled a little, a little crooked twitch to his left, sufficiently melting her heart, "but it did the job. And it was quite comfortable."
"You may not find it so comfortable now, dear Rider." She came back into his arms, glided more like, or maybe even slid up to him, and ran her hands suggestively down his chest, "You are no longer a man in a boy's body as you once were. You no longer carry the delicate features of innocence around you, graceful solely because of your age."
Arya looked back into his eyes, the deep hue of blue faintly emitting from their depths, but for the life of her, she could not tell if it was his eyes she was seeing, or his soul he was baring to her, plainly to see.
I am bare to you, iet Arya, utterly and completely stripped of defense. If it is my soul you wish to see, take it.
A faint blush colored her cheeks, "And I need not even ask?"
Her attempt to diffuse the weight of his words with humor was short lived, if it ever had life in it at all. She knew the conviction he had given his declaration, and the underlying promise of eternity beneath it. There were men who would do anything for her, and grumble about it later, complain about it later. Such a man had been her first lover, Faolin. Not a bad man, just a man who would give everything he had, and hate every second of it. And then there was this man she fell for, this man who, it seemed, would gladly travel the world and find every bit of soul he left behind, every bit of soul that resided in every place he traveled to, every kind deed, and every life changed, collect it, and place it in her hands just to see her smile. Just for her to know that every part of him was hers, utterly and completely. And neither would he grumble, resent her, or even think ill of her for even a second.
What madness was this?
"Why doubt such a trivial matter?"
She bit her lip, afraid to answer, "Sometimes, Eragon, I wish you could see how great your love is, I wish you could see that you, and only you would be enough for me. I wish you would stop these declarations and promises, so that I may feel as if our love is equal."
"I do not understand."
"I fear one day you will realize that I cannot love as you do, and then understand that I am not the one for you."
He laughed at her insecurity, her words foreign to his ears, "Silly Arya," she scoffed at him, "I do not need grand declarations from you. And to your claim of incapability of love is baseless. Arya," he gently held her face in his hands, framing it, cherishing her, "you waited two hundred years for me, in a silent depression, with the only hope that one day I might return. You sent for my armor without my asking. How can I ever need anything grander when you have already let me in your waking thought?"
Seeing her insecurity, he kissed her softly, wanting her to feel just as cherished as he truly did.
Suddenly, she pulled away, "Your armor! I nearly forgot. Eragon, you are not nearly as thin as were before, you have...for a lack of a better term, filled out. I doubt it will be large enough to cover your entire frame. It will not, at least, be as comfortable."
He shrugged, "I shall take my chances."
The sound of footsteps caused them to draw apart.
The two Riders came swiftly in, their footsteps falling silent as they approached the dragonhold. Arhel and Ladrimme landed quickly after. They were wearing some armor, just a leather cover to protect their soft underbelly, and a thicker one around their chest. Their wings were left bare, neck and tail as well for maximum speed and flexibility.
They bowed deeply, "Ebirthil, Drottning."
A curious thought popped into his head, "Neither of you used to bow at every turn of the hat before, and now you do. Why?"
A wry smile appeared on Ishmael's face, "We were actually bowing to our Queen."
The soft melodious laugh filled the chamber, startling all three others around the source.
"Will you not reprimand him?" she asked with a laughter filling her face.
For gracing me with your laughter, never.
She stilled for a moment, the understanding on her face, but she smiled again when he stated more publicly, "There is no reprimand for the truth."
Arya let the brief smile stay for a little longer, knowing their arrival meant the inevitable. She turned more fully to the Riders.
"You should know, the horrors of the old world are not lost on us, but these enemies are more vicious than those we have encountered, and while I know Riders are sworn to protect, I implore you not to hesitate to take a life. They will not hesitate to take yours."
They nodded their understanding, but Arya, Saphira, and Eragon all knew true understanding would come after the battle, if they survived. The first battles were the most worrisome, inexperience was more fatal than one could realize.
Arya excused herself after that, placing his old armor in his hands, before giving herself the privacy to change into her armor. Ishmael and Amatria were ready, weapons equipped, and their slim fitting armor already made. Riders had armor, a different sort of them, according to the eldunari, and with the help of former children of blacksmiths and the knowledge from the elder dragons, they were able to forge the correct armor and the correct fit. Eragon never thought to make some for himself, there was no need for it when there was no war. But when the time came, he had not a second to waste on himself, and so he decided to wear his usual garb.
The Queen came back, the Rider's blade at her side, and her black leather shaping her body. At once, images of the last he saw her in those clothes came to him, and she was just as stunning, if not more. He smiled inconspicuously, so that only she would notice.
"I was under the impression that the Queen of the Elves wore golden armor."
"My mother did, and the Queen before that. But I prefer this." And she offered no more explanation.
Ishmael fixed his bow on his back, making sure he would run into no trouble when the time came to shoot. He carried plenty of extra arrows, some on a quiver around his back, and others with easier access on his saddle.
Fixing the place of her knife, and her face emotionless as ever, Amatria mounted Ladrimme and took to the skies, flying around and getting used to the feel of the cold night air of winter in Alagaesia against her body.
Mounting their dragons, the rest of the Riders took to the skies, their battle just begun.
Where is the camp, Amatria?
We are nearly there, ebirthil. They are strategically placed just below the line of the visibility because of the hill. They would have taken us by surprise had we not scouted for them.
There! Eragon, just underneath the ridge!
Saphira's eyes picked up the flicker of a fire, a bold move to leave it unattended and out in the open during a war, especially when they relied on stealth to attack and defeat.
Good. Ladrimme, Amatria, Saphira, and I will attack nearer to the ground. Amatria, when I tell you to, we will jump off, and leave Ladrimme and Saphira to attack with their fire. We will target the leaders from the ground, and attack. This way, we can gain a better understanding of their fighting style.
To take on the entire army is suicide, Eragon!
Arya's protest was well heard.
We will not be alone, you and Firnen will attack from the top and join us when you can. The four of us will stay together. Arhel and Ishmael, you two will stay in the skies, watching for any unusual movement and firing arrows when you can. Arhel, do not come near the encampment, even to set fire, unless you deem it necessary to save us. We must have a lookout to make a quick escape if necessary and if you are not in the skies, our retreat will have failed.
Eragon waited for a few minutes, watching the flame come closer and closer.
The jolt of air around him told him Saphira had dove down, to his left, so had Ladrimme. Glancing up, Firnen and Arhel grew tinier and tinier as they went closer and closer. Barely skimming the flat ground, the two dragons went up the hill, inches away from the grass, and set the air ablaze.
Screams around them and Saphira's eyes allowed Eragon to see the destruction around him. They were yelling in some foreign language, not nearly like anything he had heard before. But even with the language barrier, he could sense their distress. Ladrimme artistically somersaulted in the air, avoiding some arrows, and shot her black fire through. Her weapon was in stark contrast to the blue flames lighting up the world of Saphira's. Ladrimme's fire could barely be seen, not that it mattered. It was the last thing to char her enemies anyway.
The two Riders jumped off the backs of their dragons, and paved their way to each other. Eragon hacked at his enemies, surprised at their swiftness and strength. With no one to spar with proficiently, he had become utterly rusty. A blade came crashing down on him, and red exploded above his vision, a small cut above his eye.
Dammit. Injuries to the head looked worse than they really were, but the blood was everywhere, masking his sight. He flipped in the air, giving him time to wipe his eye away, and continued his onslaught. Brisingr glowed dangerously around him, the blue flames burning holes through the foreigner's skin.
A small break allowed him to see how his charge was faring. She had her knife poised around her enemy's throat, but she made no move to kill him. Instead, her sword blocked another, and she merely turned to another enemy, only to serve the same purpose.
Amatria, the coldest one, somehow had not found the ability to kill another. And soon, she was surrounded by very alive enemies, all of which who should have died a thousand times, and this time, she was trapped.
Ladrimme's despair raced through him as she tried to reach her Rider, but to no avail. She was too far away.
A gust of wind came, and in it, six perfectly aimed arrows, fired within milliseconds of one another, ran straight through the head of each pale skinned, painted enemy. Amatria looked up at Ishmael, knowing he had sent them as soon as she was in trouble. His amber eyes locked with hers, and then quickly moved to another target as he fired another in perfect aim.
Eragon was pleased with Ishmael, but Amatria needed to get out of there before she got herself killed.
Arhel, get Amatria out of here! Ladrimme stay here, Ishmael, fight from the ground.
His commands were followed instantaneously and Ladrimme seemed even more determined to finish the job knowing her Rider was out of danger. Arhel and Ishmael headed straight for them, her golden flames burning tens of tents and men around her. Ishmael jumped off, drawing his sword and running it through his next enemy, seeing the life leave the body, but his eyes remained determined. He raced to Amatria, covering for her, creating the space for Arhel to extract the black eyed elf while he rid himself of her threats. Amatria watched, using magic to send her enemies away, but her sword remained unstained with blood, and she could not, would not bring herself to run her sword through another person.
And Ishmael seemed to understand her hesitance, for he never let another within attacking distance of her. Arhel picked her up with her talons, and went to the skies, leaving her golden eyed Rider in the midst of the enemy camp, with the sword in his hand, and glow of his palm as his comfort. Arya and Firnen immediately saw the separation, and closed in the middle, drawing both Eragon and Ishmael to them as they fought in the center, their backs protected by the blue fire of Saphira.
Swiftly jumping down, the three Riders locked eyes with each other, and continued their onslaught.
Ebirthil, Amatria's voice became solemn, the leader of the encampment is coming towards you. I am going towards him.
No! Do not! Arhel must stay in the skies!
Ladrimme's voice was swift, I shall take care of him.
And so the small black dragon maneuvered around the large beasts of burden, her talons ripping through their flesh, and her wings tucked in to give her superior strength and speed. And soon the horse carrying the target came into view, a burst of speed supernatural to even dragons erupted, and her mouth opened wide as she picked the man and horse clean off into her teeth. The bodies ripped apart, pieces falling around the encampment. She came around in the same direction, and set fire to them, letting them burn will his soldiers howled in despair.
The camp was in chaos now, and within seconds, soldiers knew their leader was dead, and began to turn their animals around. Saphira chased down a few, ripping some beasts to shreds, and others with their heads in her mouth, and more still, burned to the ground.
The war was far from over, but they had more time to prepare.
More time to prepare Amatria for killing.
Firnen grabbed both Eragon and Ishmael by his talons, letting one last breath of fire stop his enemies hot in their tracks. He seemed to flinch at the site of the destruction, but took off with Arya on his saddle anyway. He let Eragon go, midair, and he landed on Saphira.
Ishmael, on the other hand, jumped down and landed on Arhel's back, Amatria grabbed him in order to steady him in his saddle. Once he had his bearings about, Ladrimme joined them, and they made their way off with one last look towards the hell they created just minutes ago.
"Are you alright, Amatria?" He whispered into her ears, knowing she would hear. She shook her head no. It was incredibly difficult for her to admit that, but she did, and her hands, it seemed, shook under the cold. But Ishmael knew it was more than that. He took off his cloak, and wrapped it around her, an excuse, perhaps, to hold her tighter, but she did not protest, instead, it seemed, huddled closer to him, the pictures of a lost child and ex lover filling her broken mind.
Eragon watched them. He would talk to Amatria, but not tonight. Later, when the horrors in her mind were at ease.
Ladrimme seemed to be solemn, far too solemn, and almost dejected. But not from her Rider's failure to carry out her duty, but from a weight that lay heavily on her shoulders.
Little one, she will get herself killed if she does not kill her enemies.
What will you do?
Amatria is my pupil as well as yours. She has succeeded far too much to fail now, there is something bothering her, and Ishmael will take care of her tonight. We will talk to her in the morning.
Saphira nodded her agreement, How is Arya?
He glanced over to them, Firnen seemed to hang his head, his wings slow and methodical. Something in him broke today, and whatever that something was made sure Arya and he were deep in conversation until they arrived home.
They landed in the dragonhold, late at night. King Larkin and King Narhak stood waiting for their news, along with Nari and Blodhgarm. They stood, equipped for battle, but the return of the Riders made them more relaxed, and Nari even started to take his off.
"It was a success, they have dispersed, and they are scattered around. Tomorrow, we shall discuss the next steps."
Nari and Blodhgarm turned their gazes to Amatria, eyes questioning and worried. They had never seen such despair from her before, and they did not like it. They were both fond of this particular student, but never showed it.
Carefully peeling the cloak off, Amatria left the room, Ladrimme stared after her, knowing the horrors of her mind. Ishmael turned to the black dragon, "May I go after her?"
Her onyx eyes fixed on his, Do what you wish. Hurt her, and I will kill you.
Arhel bared her teeth, I will overlook your threat this once, only for your distress, but think twice before you utter such words again.
Ladrimme had no answer, and her onyx eyes no conviction. Ishmael laid a gentle hand on Arhel, They are in pain, Arhel. Please do your best to ease hers.
The golden dragon backed down, her demeanor changing with the mild words of her Rider. The rest dispersed, knowing what had happened tonight was more traumatic than anyone wanted to admit.
Is it always like this, Saphira?
I wish I could have protected your from the truth, Firnen. I wish, but alas, I cannot. And so I shall not. It is far, far worse than what we did today.
And he let a roar of despair before settling down, a soothing lick from his mate his only comfort.
Watching her dragon in despair left Arya strangely vulnerable. So vulnerable that Eragon could not tell if it was her despair at the war, or her dragon's that caused her to turn in his arms, her head burrowed deeply underneath his chin.
"How can you be so calm? Two hundred years and you return to this! How can you be so calm?"
A tear leaked down her cheek, she was weak, she could no longer fight her enemies. No longer be the warrior she needed to be.
"Hush, Arya. Silence your mind. There is nothing good for you coming from thinking like this. You are a warrior, just not a heartless one. We fight to survive, we are our own strength. I have not known Alagaesia in peace, and perhaps, that is why I am fine. But you have, and it will take some getting used to again. These sneak attacks, and fire, and horrendous battles will take some getting used to. But never forget that I am always here, you know this. I will never leave again."
"How could I have become so weak?"
"You cannot possibly think you are weak for hating war, Arya. We fought and lost in our times, now to do this again. I hate it, every second of it. We know peace, we have felt it, experienced it, and the majority of the population has been born in the past two hundred years. They have no idea how it was, they do not know the gift of peace as we do. And to have that taken away from us, ripped away like bark from a tree, of course it breaks us."
"You are not breaking."
"I cannot, Arya. My pupils are here for the first time, I cannot let them know my hatred for war. They must understand that I am here for them, in every waking moment."
She buried her head back underneath his chin, content to simply let herself be held. Too long had she kept a broken dragon and a broken heart as her only companions, too long since she felt cared for by someone other than themselves. Far too long.
Go, Little one, and I shall look after Firnen.
The Lord Rider gently led his Queen away, into the familiarity of her room. She undressed, forcing his eyes away from her. It was too much of a temptation. And now was not the time. A flowing dress greeted him, and so he kissed her, softly, holding her in his arms one last time, muttering his words of love and strength, and swiftly left the premises.
He heard two voices, soft mutterings, and he knew it was Ishmael and Amatria. The cold of the night forced them into a room, which one Eragon knew not. He would ask in the morning, ask after the welfare of his student.
Chapter 10 A Battle Breaks More than Bones
Ishmael had caught up to Amatria afterwards, his arm still shook at the memory of holding her.
"Amatria!" He called after her, but she did not turn around. "Amatria!" He tried his luck once more. But she did not acknowledge him.
Running faster down the stairs, he reached her and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. And like a snake, she pounced on him. His elbow and shoulder were near dislocation, and a knife pressed against his neck causing his very body to be afraid to breath, lest the air move his skin a hairline further.
And the recognition came over her instantaneously, and she let him go, her face impassive once more.
"I apologize, Ishmael, and I thank you for saving my life."
His heart broke for her, perhaps even more than it was. He took many lives for her today, and then took some more, bearing her weight for her. But he would gladly do it again and again. He wished so desperately, that he bore her pain.
"Amatria, you told me you were not alright."
"I was not, and I am not. I will be."
Ishmael gently took her hand in his, the knife still grasped tightly. He drew circles on the wrist, slowly making her palm open up, and the knife slipped into his hand. Carefully, he put the blade back, and looked into her eyes again.
"You can tell me anything, Amatria."
"Not this." Her swift reply.
"What makes you think that?"
"What do you see me as? What did you say this morning with the rose? That I was the most honorable, beautiful, courageous woman you had ever met. And the most intelligent. I am none of those, Ishmael, I am broken, corrupted, incredibly stupid, and ugly. That is my soul, not my face or whatever you perceive me as."
"You cannot believe so." His voice was soft, daring to think of the horrors she faced.
"You wish to hear my past. Perhaps then you will understand, perhaps then you will see the truth behind me."
She grasped his hand, pulling him into her quarters, and untying her armor. She was left in only her black underclothes. Form fitting, leaving little to the imagination as it covered her entire frame. He followed suit, untying his armor, sitting on the edge of the bed, waiting for her to continue. Crawling in, she glanced at him, looking years younger than he had ever seen her before.
Could it be? That this strong woman, Amatria, his hero, could be more than just a little broken.
"I used to dance, Ishmael. But you knew this. Those history books you are fond of, I know once labeled me as the best dancer in the Du Weldonvarden forests." She looked at him, "I was afraid, Ishmael, that when you read one of those more recent books, you would come and ask about my past. And you never did, and so, perhaps from then on, I had been grateful to you."
"I did read that, but I had heard about you long before, Amatria. There was not one who did not know your name. Some forgot, but I never did."
A hint of a smile threatened to grace her lips, and he became even more captivated with her.
"I was performing in Ellesmera, or at least about to when I met him. Yasel." The name made her shudder. "And I foolishly fell in love with him. He courted me for no more than a few days when I became enthralled with him, and it did not take long for us to consummate our love. I was foolish, so utterly naïve with him. I should have seen the signs, he wanted to protect his mind from me, wanted to keep me away, and 'practice' his common tongue so he may trade. He did not come from a well do to family. A simple elf from humble backgrounds. I was stupid not to see it, I was far too trusting. I hung on to his every word. It continued for a while, and I realized I was pregnant. I was ecstatically happy, and so was he, until he realized I wanted to stop dancing for it. Dancing made us money, and I told him it was not safe to dance during an Elven pregnancy, and to continue after would mean to travel from place to place, never giving our child a proper home, never settling down to grow up. And he hated the idea. He became enraged, he had no money saved up, and no intention of ever settling down. No intention of ever making his own way, only to follow mine. He then began to talk in the Ancient Language, and I realized he lusted after my success, not me. And he was angry. I left, determined to raise the child on my own, but that never happened."
She paused in the story, tears flowing more freely now. Her pain coming through, her internal hell coming through.
She huddled closer together, the chill of a breeze from a draft in the ceiling causing her to shudder, and instantly he was there. Ishmael came next to her, gently persuading her to lean against him. She pulled the comforter closer, over both of them, as she let an arm of his keep her warm.
"You do not have to continue if you do not wish to, Amatria. I will not force you into anything."
She shook her head, "Nay, you should know, know why you had to save my life today, know why you risked yours. I have killed before, Ishmael, and you should know why it is so hard for me to do so again."
Taking a deep breath, her soft voice filled the chamber again.
"I was in my second trimester of pregnancy. I was doing well for myself. Instead of dancing, I began to compose music, choreograph, be behind the scenes, but Yasel was not through with me. I was in the mountain bluffs that day, and after arguments and arguments, he found me to argue again. Claiming the right to be a part of my success because of my child…our child. I wanted nothing to do with him, and I turned my back on him. A mistake, a foolish, foolish mistake. He came at me with a knife, and stabbed me, stabbed our child, and I felt the life in me drain away. I felt my baby die, Ishmael, and I have never forgiven myself for it. Enraged, I took the knife out of me, the pain and the blood falling everywhere, and I thrust it in his heart, I looked into his eyes, and I killed him, I watched the realization that he would die just as my child did, and I watched him die. He fell off the cliff, and I made no move to stop him. I fell to the ground, unable to move. And then I heard some shouts and screams, a black stone came hurtling down my way, to the cliffs, towards me. I threw out a hand, unsure as to why, and stopped it. A crack appeared, then another, and the entire egg shell came apart. Bursting in hundreds of pieces. A small furry animal came into my eyes, and I touched it. The pain was excruciating, but I touched it. A light seemed to surround me, and I woke up, a few days later, the knife wound gone with no mark, as well as my child. A memory of Yasel, and Ladrimme in my lap. It was then I heard the story of children playing a trick on the dragon egg courier, and running away with an egg. Fate made Ladrimme come to me. I was not going to waste another minute in a land I hated, a land with a man capable of taking my child away from me. On the next ship, I left to train."
Ishmael was humbled by her story, and unsure of what to say, he apologized over and over again.
"Hush, Ishmael. It was not you."
"I feel responsible for even bringing up such a painful memory."
Amatria was quiet for a while, "I hated taking Yasel's life, and today, when I had him by the throat, I could not do it. I kept thinking of that day, and how I was less of a person than whoever was in front of me. And I could not kill him, I could not save myself, just as I could not save my child."
New tears flooded her eyes, and Ishmael tried his best to keep them away, but to no avail. Instead, he just held her, tighter and tighter, mourning her lost innocence in a world that should have cherished her, and cursing Yasel's name. But he could not stop her tears, only hold her, and finally sing to her, as if he were singing a black Baracca rose, until she fell asleep, a death grip on him.
He could not leave, and he would not dare leave her ever again. Almost, he almost wished he would have pushed Yasel off that cliff, almost wished he protected her, and he found her. But then he knew, she would have gone as far away from him as possible, far away from her morbid past, and he would never have had another chance with her.
Ishmael looked down on her, the tears had dried, and she swayed softly into his chest, and soon even that movement stopped. Amatria had fallen asleep, the cold hearted Elven Rider had fallen asleep in his arms, And he was glad for once, that she chose to share her secret with him, glad that walls of stone finally made a gate for him.
The horn resounded faintly in the distance, and before he fell asleep, he registered that battle preparations had been ceased for the night. Their mission was successful, the leader had been assassinated, they came with no substantial injuries, and the dragons had proven to be a highly effective method against them.
The large wail of the horn pulled Thane out of his slumber. He was prepared with his armor and sword at his side, resting just before the storm with Solusar behind him. His orange dragon seemed annoyingly calm, as if he knew that they would not head to battle that day.
Sleep more Thane, but not here, go back to the room.
Solusar's words moved him to gain his bearings, but a final yawn wiped the last traces of tiredness. One hundred and some odd years and Thane was still just as childlike as the days before, he did not mind. He had grown up an orphan, and now that he was not, he would not dare miss out on any day he remained alive.
Nari's voice rang out through the crowd, or to him, Nari-ebirthil.
"Ebirthil!" he answered back dutifully, "I am here!"
The elder elf came striding towards him, "Thank Fate I found you. I had half a mind to think you had disappeared somewhere, possibly in the direction of the enemy camp."
Thane chuckled, "I would say you were worrying about me."
The usually reserved elf gave him a glare, before solemnly responding, "I have lost many friends in this war. Part of the reason I left was because I had no one left. I dare not lose my students as well."
"I would not have gone, ebirthil. For some reason, I dread going to war."
Nari looked on approvingly, "Then I have taught you all I know." And abruptly left the red headed man to ponder the words of his master.
Come Thane, you need more rest. Battle is not for tonight.
Do you fear this war, Sol?
Must you even ask?
This fear, I have never felt before. I do not think I am fit for leadership.
I am not fearless, should not a leader be fearless?
There can be no courage, without fear. Those who fear nothing, have no courage either.
The orange dragon pondered his Rider some more, Do not worry so much, Thane. I shall not let harm become you.
And what of killing? Can you kill?
I am not a human, I kill often to eat. This bears no meaning to me.
But another person?
The only person I would have a moral objection to killing would be one of our own, and you, I would defend with my life. Everything else is the same to me. I am a dragon, not a human.
When the time comes, will I be able to?
When the time came, Thane…you already did.
His words brought up a sharp pain through his body and he nearly buckled under his own weight.
But he could not stand up anymore, he felt faint, he felt sick. And he saw…black.
A/N I apologize for the very late update, I've been out of the country for the past six weeks.
Chapter 11 The Past is Meant to be Forgotten
His eyes opened in the sunlight.
"Here's to the only man I know who fainted when he heard we would not be fighting."
Thane knew the speaker well, "Shut up, Marcus."
The black haired man cocked his eyebrow. It seemed, his edges only softened when Kyra was in the vicinity, otherwise, he was as caustic as ever. Memories of the other night flooded in front of him and he immediately felt sick again.
Solusar's voice came through pounding against his head. He took a bucket from the side, and vomited up whatever acidic contents lay in his stomach.
Forgive me, Thane, I did not think this would be the effect.
Do not worry, I was either going to faint and be sick then or in the battlefield, and I am glad it was then.
"How long have I been here?"
"Seven hours, you have been sleeping through the night."
"Did I sleep well?"
"How do I know? You fainted, I suppose that is a good of a sleep as any."
The door opened to his chamber, and Eragon walked in.
"Are you alright, Thane?"
"Fine, ebirthil." was his swift reply. The elder Rider took in the bucket which contained the contents of last night's diet and he shrugged in response.
"Nari is here to see you. He said it was urgent and that he be sent the moment you awoke."
"He is the last person I talked to before I hit the ground."
Eragon furrowed his eyebrows, "Is there anything you wanted to talk about, Thane?"
He shook his head, and Eragon did not pry. The door opened once again and the silver haired elf walked through.
"Thane!" The silver haired elf looked at the ghastly image of this student. The usual pale skin was chalk white with little blood drained from his entire face and neck. The contrast of his ginger hair to his ghost skin and sunken cheeks made the red head look like he was dying.
"Ebirthil. How are you?"
Nari exasperatedly threw his arms up, and turned to Eragon, "He faints, and then asks me how I am?" But the amusement ran dry from his voice, only the remnants of a worried man.
Eragon bowed his head, leaving the student and master behind.
"You are sick from the travels, Thane?"
"Nay, ebirthil. Perhaps something I ate did not agree with me."
"Lying does not become you."
"I cannot ebirthil. Not now."
The red headed Rider picked himself up from the bed and stalked out the door, muttering thanks for his consideration and concern. He promptly mounted Solusar and flew to the only place he knew in the capital.
A large tree some kilometers out in the forest came into view. They landed, seeking a particular marking, and there it was.
To Thane and Sam, may you always find success. – Your father
"I thought you said you were from Aroughs."
Eragon's voice startled him from his thoughts. "I understand keeping secrets, but lying is never proper in any circumstance."
Thane ran his hands over the bark, feeling inion, it had surprisingly withstood the years, at the same height, and the same depth.
"I feared you would not let a criminal in your midst, but an orphan you would."
Solusar nudged his Rider, the orange body gently blowing his hair with the heat from his nostrils.
"I killed them, ebirthil. I killed my family."
Eragon's eyes narrowed, "How?"
"And tell you to be condemned? No. Why I killed them should not matter. I killed them, and I deserve to be punished. Punish me, ebirthil."
"I deem that you provide the truth and nothing but the truth as testimony to your crimes."
A wry smile touched the Rider's lips. "And they say you stay out of people's lives."
"You told me, Thane. I am charged with your safety, whether or not you like it."
He nodded and began.
"My younger brother, Sam, was three when we came to the capital. My parents were visiting relatives, and he and I went into the forest one day. Our father found us, and instead of scolding us, he took us tree climbing, and that day he wrote this."
He took a deep shuddering breath. "The next day, I left Sam and my parents to look for this tree again. I had forgotten something…insignificant, I cannot remember. When I came back to my family, I found them on the floor. They were writhing in pain, vomiting blood, the force of it violently jerking their bodies around. They were given rat poison, why I do not know, and it was slow to take their lives. Father somehow handed me a knife and told me to end it, to end their suffering. They had not a chance to live. They begged and pleaded with me, and so I took their lives. Sam first, mother, and then my father. I was so scared about what was to happen that I fled the capital back to Aroughs. I was so dirty that no one recognized me back home. I stayed away from where I lived, and instead took to the streets, all while knowing I was the one who killed my family. I was the guilty one, and I deserved the nightmares in my head. But slowly, I stopped thinking about it, I began to forget more and more. And when Solusar hatched for me, he worked hard to keep any notion of my atrocious act out of my head, and so I ran even farther away."
"I thought about taking a life, and I remembered. And I fainted."
Silence ran through the field, and Thane picked up his sword and handed it to his master, when Eragon made no motion to take it, he laid it down at his feet.
"My due punishment, ebirthil, as promised."
"You killed your family when you were not under my jurisdiction, therefore I cannot punish you. You are now a part of my jurisdiction, and you committed a crime under the jurisdiction of the law of the human realm, but they cannot prosecute you. You have no punishment to be served."
"I killed my family! I committed parricide!"
"You ended lives in mercy, so your family would no longer feel the pain of the inevitable. And a man with the strength to take a life for cause greater than his glory, but for the service of others, is one of the few warriors fit to their position. You know the price of taking a life, and you have the strength to kill those you care about for their benefit. As a Rider, you will rise to occasion, and you will fight and kill for the innocent people you protect, as is your duty as a Rider, as was your duty as a son. There is no shame in what you did, but rather pride that when it was asked of you, you put your conscience aside to end the suffering of innocent people."
"I killed my family, ebirthil. How can you accept that?"
"Your incredulousness at what my actions are stemming from your own inability to forgive yourself, not your amazement at my acceptance from it."
Thane looked ponderingly at him, "Then what would you have me do?"
"I cannot help you forgive yourself, Thane. When the time comes, you will have to take a life again, and I cannot help you chose then either."
"It is not fair, ebirthil."
"I will not tell you life is not fair, because it is. Life will not throw a hurdle you cannot overcome. If you are facing this trouble, then you have the strength to overcome it."
"But I am weak, ebirthil. I am not strong when it comes to this."
Eragon shook his head, and sighed deeply before answering him. "Anyone can be strong at their strongest. Only the truly strong, are strong even at their weakest."
"What if I fail?"
"Then you will fail, and no one will think lesser of you. Should you fail to attempt to overcome this hurdle, then you have shown exactly how weak you are. Courage is not fearlessness, courage is power to overcome fear."
The light layer of snow crunched under the Lord Rider's boots, his mind was wandering elsewhere. Thane needed to overcome this, the battle could not afford to lose him as a leader.
Kyra saw the commotion around the morning, her master was sitting down, a bottle of faelnirv in front of him.
"Nari-ebirthil? Is anything the matter?"
The silvery elf turned away, "I fear for my pupil, Kyra. Thane is not doing well."
Her eyebrows furrowed as he offered no other explanation. She sought out Victor, and quickly found him near the weaponry.
"Victor!" Kyra called him. The brown haired Rider looked up at her, flashed her a small smile and came out after washing his hands of the dirt acquired in forging blades.
"What is it, Kyra?" He had kind eyes, and a steady gaze. Victor was kind, easy to make friends with, and easier to laugh with. He never seemed to show interest in her as a woman, and perhaps that is why she did befriend him ever so more than the others.
"What happened with Thane?"
His eyes grew solemn, "I do not know the details, nor do I fear I want to. However, he fainted last night, quite unexpectedly, and became incredibly sick. Marcus was there with him when he awoke though. Curious, is it not?"
She frowned, "What is curious about Marcus being there?"
Victor shrugged, "Marcus is not very close with anyone. He does not smile, or even make an attempt to reach out as he did with Thane. He is a cold personality."
Kyra shook her head, "Nay, I cannot believe that. Marcus is anything but cold."
He raised his eyebrows, "To you, maybe." He chuckled a bit at her pointed look and handed her a quiver of arrows.
"Are you going near the castle?"
"Good, can you give this to Ishmael? He used quite a few last night, and apparently, there was no way he could really recover them."
"He had to…"
"I do not see how he could have escaped it. And Ishmael never misses."
Kyra was humbled by what her fellow Rider had to go through, death was a sore word in their world, and killing, even sorer.
"Victor!" Maria's voice called out, but her words died suddenly when she saw Kyra there.
"Sorry, Kyra, I had not the inclination you would be here."
The elf shook her head, "No worries."
Maria let an easy smile through, "I got word from Therinsford, Father and Mother are coming with the recruitment soldiers. Apparently, they got wind the Riders were here."
Victor smiled broadly, and hugged his sister, "I never thought…"
Elves knew when they were needed, and when they were not. And she was not needed on this brother-sister moment.
Alas, had Kyrian been a Rider, would they have been this close?
"It does not do you any good to watch them out the corner of your eye. You are not them."
She closed her eyes, letting the deep voice wash over her. Marcus, she muttered silently to herself. And resolving her face, she turned to face him.
"Their parents are coming from Therinsford."
And the handsome face that haunted her dreams broke into a little smile, how could anyone think him cold with such emotion?
"Good for them."
Kyra watched him intently. "Victor told me you do not smile often." And just as quickly as it came, it was lost…a shame really.
Deliberately walking towards him with painstaking slowness, she watched as he remained rooted to the spot. She came close to him, standing perhaps a foot away, in front as if having a private conversation.
"I do not smile often." But he seemed uncomfortable with that admission.
"So I have observed, why the inconsistency?"
He turned away, "You should get that to Ishmael." But before he could leave her, she caught his arm, forcing him place.
"Marcus…please answer me." His hesitance took over his body for naught a second, and then he relaxed, or rather gave up his desire to protect himself.
"I am different around you because you mean more to me than them." And he gently pulled out of her grasp.
"What does that mean, Marcus?" But it was too low for him to hear, and she did not want her confusion to be shown so blatantly.
It means I love you, Kyra. Marcus heard her words perfectly clear, he was a human, but a Rider. He always made sure he 'seemed' to be out of ear shot, and he pretended not to see or hear things, especially considering the nature of some of them. But what he did not understand is why he pretended not to hear her words. And why he continued to walk away. Was his fear that strong?
The quiver slipped from her grasp and the arrows went sprawling on the ground.
"Damn." She lithely bent and picked them, before throwing one last glance into the shadows Marcus disappeared through. She could be mistaken, but he always seemed to avoid the sun, opting instead, for the shade of the tents or buildings, giant shadows to the light sun.
She found Ishmael's room, and knocked a few times to no avail. Just as she was about to reach out to him from her mind, a door opened behind her.
"Kyra? Is there something you need?"
She turned gracefully at the sound of that familiar voice. Handing him the quiver, she stated, "Victor made these for you, saying you used a lot of arrows last night."
Her voice was even, but even she wondered what he was doing, looking like he just awoke in Amatria's room. Everyone had their secrets, and she knew not to pry into unwanted affairs.
"Thank you, Kyra, and thank Victor for me if you get the chance."
"Ishmael, I…" his head drooped a little, waiting for the inevitable, "I know when you lose an arrow, it means you have hit your target. And it is a war, and you have lost many arrows."
Her implication ran true.
"And we are friends, and for the sake of our friendship, I hope you are alright."
His eyes seemed to sparkle at her, golden hued eyes.
"Honestly, Kyra, I did not have the time to think about it. Circumstances are what changed. At that time, I would have done anything to make sure…anything, Kyra, I would have done anything."
She knew what he was trying to say.
"If you ever need me, come find me. And I am glad you are there for Amatria. We elves who treasure life so much, and we Riders who treasure it even more so are scarred in wars."
"Thank you, Kyra."
She nodded and turned away.
"Thank you, Kyra." He repeated. She turned confusedly, "I am not hard of hearing."
He chuckled softly, "Thank for not asking about…this." Referring to his presence and clearly night spent in Amatria's room.
"Of course." And she continued her walk past him to her room.
Marcus wandered about flittingly, muttering to himself and his stupidity. Thank fate he wore gloves, had anyone seen the gedwey ignasia on his hand, and him muttering to himself, they would have considered him a crazy Rider.
Ru'ali was off hunting, leaving him to ponder his thoughts alone. Though he was of a more morbid nature, he did not like the excessively bloody way Ru'ali hunted. He had heard from many others that his dragon was slightly sadistic in his eating ways.
But he had hatched for a child forced to watch as his father beat his mother to death, and then endure beatings for the next six years. What did people expect his personality to be? Kind, gentle, inoffensive…it was not possible.
Without realizing it, he found himself walking on a familiar pathway, and when he realized it, he could not stop his feet. Rather he started to run, faster and faster until he reached his destination. Whether he was sadistic as well, or whether he wanted closure, Marcus had to see, he had to remember.
Glancing around, he watched as the streets in front of him became bloodier and bloodier, he had memories coming back to him. Only he was closer to the ground, shorter.
His head hurt, badly, and blood trickled from it. He kept running. People were screaming at him, others were laughing. He from the slums, it was common sight to see someone like him. Hoarse cries behind him, and he turned momentarily, and tripped over a crack in the street. His father came over him, like a large shadow, and he was on the ground. He took his belt off, and slowly, excruciatingly brought it down upon the child.
Insults were not new to him, but the street was…he was never beaten in this particular street before. The belt cracked down on him again, the metal part…
Screams of protest were heard, but no one came to his rescue. A crowd gathered.
"Fucking little prick!"
His father spat at his writhing body. He did not remember, but he must have been screaming, how else would he have lost his voice.
When he had left, the crowd dispersed, sparing a glance at the miserable, wretched boy on the streets.
Marcus fell to his knees, he glanced around. This was the market, and that was the place he was beaten. Again, no one spared him a second glance. Only the thieves, but they were easily dissuaded with the large sword by his side.
A child tapped his shoulder and he turned. He must have looked a fright, he felt his eyes redden with sadness or anger he could not tell, and his body be stoic and shaking.
"You broke it!"
He was taken aback, and looked down. He had fell on top of a wooden toy of some sorts, a bird or something.
"Did it even fly before I broke it?"
The child grew angry. "I make it fly!"
He broke down in laughter, amazed at his own reaction.
"Here." He took the toy from the child, put the pieces back together and made it grow.
"Make it fly once again." And the child, now with a smile, took the toy and went around spouting some ridiculous noise.
His strength renewed, he trudged forward.
Left, right, third left again. Straight for six blocks, and a right, and the first house on the left. The directions were still in his mind. Perhaps, even then, he looked to his place as a home. He stared at the building in front of him. It was…different, slightly. There was a fence, where there was previously mud. The fence was a sorry excuse for a fence, but one never the less.
A tear trickled down his cheek.
There were noises coming inside, someone else lived here. And when it stopped, and became inquisitive, he was greeted by some stranger.
"Hello? Can I help you?"
Marcus shook his head, "No, no. I apologize, I merely…" he did not what he wanted by coming here. "I used to live here, and I wanted to see if there was anything I remembered by coming back."
It was the truth, just not the complete truth.
"You are welcome to come in if you would like. My great grandfather bought this house from solitary man, some sixty years ago."
He smiled, "Let me guess, from a tall, muscular, black haired with a drinking problem?"
"Yes…how did you…"
"He was my father." Marcus simply stated.
"But that is not possible, you do not look a day older than five and twenty at the most."
He pulled off his glove, and let his palm glow a bit, "I am a Rider."
The man's eyes widened, and turned solemn. "Your father hung himself two days later."
Marcus' eyes snapped to his, of all the things he thought could have befallen that monster, suicide was not one of them.
"Did he say why?"
"No." A pause, "I am sorry for your loss."
"It was over sixty years ago, I did not expect him to be alive."
"But surely, the loss of family is devastating."
"I have my own family now." And he turned and walked away.
Was it possible, that however much his father had tortured him, that his father was more tortured himself? Was it possible that even with his hatred and rage, there lay a depression so deep it made him take his own life?
Marcus made his way back to the training facility, took off his cloak in the darkness, took off his Rider's clothes, until all that remained were a pair of loose cotton pants, a sleeveless black undershirt, and the breath in front of his eyes. A metal bar came above him, and he found what he was looking for…a large sack of sand, nearly as tall as him, and magically fortified not to break under Elven strength. It was for hand to hand combat training. He tied his hands with shreds of cotton, and began punching the bag with ferocity.
So engrossed in his training, he scarcely noticed Kyra sneak in behind him, and watch him silently.
A right hook.
"Why would your mother ever have ever stayed to protect you? She died because she was asking for it!"
A left jab.
"I will kill you, you little fucker!"
Two punches in quick succession.
"You're worthless, just like your stupid little bitch of a mother."
A roundhouse kick and the bag broke under his strength.
He sighed, closed his eyes, and slid down against the wall.
"Would you like a better sparring partner?"
His eyes snapped open. How long had she been there?
Why had he not known?
He sniffed the air, his own sweat and musky scent hit him. Kyra's was masked under it all, he could only have known had he been looking for her.
Marcus glanced at her figure, she was leaning against the wall, her arms crossed over her chest. Thick elven cotton pants wove around her legs, magically enchanted to keep her warm. She wore the traditional clothes of a Rider, a long sleeve shirt and a vest. Gloves covered her hands, but just barely, and only the palms. Her green sword hung to her side, and a boots rose up to just below her knees. She had a thin figure, just like all other elven woman, a beautiful figure, lush, yet not extravagant. Put simply, she was stunning. But what captivated Marcus were her eyes, they shone like neon beacons in the darkness. They never needed light to shine, just themselves would do. And her long blonde hair fell far past her shoulders, the kind of hair he dreamed of running his hands through.
He glanced at his own hands, and turned away in disgust. He caught a glimpse of himself in a mirror. The scar across his head flashed in his eyes, and turned away again.
How could he even think to compare to her in beauty? He did not deserve her, she should be with someone perfect, someone…unscarred. Someone that matched her in looks and in beauty, not him.
He shook his head."No, I was just about to leave anyway."
She furrowed her eyebrows, "But you are still tense."
"I think I will be fine, I just need time."
"You grew up here, did you not?"
Fear clutched through him, he knew he was not worthy of her – broken. But she did not have to realize it herself, perhaps, she could keep the same opinion of him and never know.
"A long time ago, yes." His voice as curt.
"Marcus…" His name escaped her lips, nearly breathy, rather a plea than an actual call.
His closed his eyes shut, how did she expect him to do stay where he was? To do nothing?
"Marcus." She stated again, but more firmly. He slowly raised his eyes to meet her, and was at once transfixed.
He stood up, thankful for the cold, turned around and began undoing the cotton straps on his hands.
"Are you sure you do not want a better sparring partner?"
His hands stilled on the table, gripping it with a force. He turned around in anger, frustrated at their circumstances.
"What makes you think I could raise my hands against you, Kyra?"
His conversation on love with Eragon-ebirthil flashed before him, indeed he was handing her a knife to his heart. His breath caught in his throat as she stalked over to him.
Kyra took off her belt, and placed her sword and scabbard on the table, and moved even closer. Placing her hands on his abdomen, she ran them up his chest chastely, savoring the feel of the hard muscles. She did not stop until her hands were around his neck and jaw.
"Marcus…" and her voice fell even deeper, huskier.
On their own volition, his hands came up to her arms, sliding down the softness of the cotton, dreaming about the silken skin underneath. She shivered under his touch, and he continued to her hair. He gripped the thick locks just above the back of her neck, marveling at how soft it was, and brought her closer.
They were a hairbreadth apart, their forehead touching, and both breathing heavily. He looked at her, opening his eyes, and in her eyes, he saw himself, his reflection. And in his reflection…the scar on his face.
He jumped back, releasing her from any physical bonds between them.
"I apologize for my behavior, Kyra." He struggled with the words as he fought to catch his breath, his entire body protesting the separation. And abruptly left her.
Kyra remained, her face filled with confusion, disappointment, but mostly shame. Her hands fell to her sides, and she did something she never did in her one hundred fifty years.
(A/N) Many of you have expressed concerns regarding Murtagh. He makes an appearance and will play a substantial role in Chapter 20 or so. Thanks to all who enjoyed the story so far, I hope you all continue to enjoy it!
Chapter 12 Love and Fear and to all those in debate
Marcus paced his room, back and forth, back and forth. Ru'ali had not returned from hunting and he was getting restless without him.
The voice was a familiar one, and one he let inside easily.
Hjarta? What is it?
And the dragon receded from his mind.
Marcus took the stairs down, grateful to get his mind off of what had transpired moments before. She was so close, so incredibly close, yet so astronomically far away. They were but stars in the sky. Two looked so close together when looked at from far away, but only when looked at closely, did one realize exactly how far away they were.
But she had responded, and for a moment, he scarcely allowed himself to believe for that one beautiful second…one perfect occurrence, that she would reciprocate his feelings.
He was a broken man, a man scarred, quick to anger with a bloody history. Or did he scarcely think to forget that abuse ran in the family, he knew of the mental imbalance his father had, and most likely his father before him. He knew, and he could never sentence someone to being his partner.
He would not be able to leave her if she ever consented, and if he hurt her…some lax in judgment, some horrible mistake, some…urge to inflict pain that took over, he would never forgive himself. And the thought of ever hurting Kyra, of ever being the reason she was in danger…never, he would never do such a thing.
She would fall in love with someone better than him, someone more gentle, someone perfect for her, not the the morose, beaten, broken, angry child that lived in a Rider's body.
The biting cold hit him, damn, he had forgotten his cloak, but the cold was welcome. He felt numb under the cold, and numb meant feeling no pain either.
A forest green mass was just outside the gate.
Hjarta? I am here.
I know, Amaranth-eyed one.
He often referred to the Rider by his eye color because it was so strikingly different.
"What is it, then?"
You know what this is about.
"Is it Kyra? Is she okay?"
No, she is in tears.
His stomach jolted, and he scarcely allowed himself to think why.
Because of you.
"I never want to hurt her, and in trying to protect her from me, I seem to have caused her pain."
"It runs in the family, abuse…physical abuse. In the off chance that something set me off, it is almost like a coiled snake, waiting to strike when baited too much. I fear I cannot control my rage. Most humans are not like this."
You have hurt Kyra, and I cannot bear to see her hurt.
"Will you hurt me then? In some form of retribution?"
I am not a violent dragon. I do not believe that more harm with set the previous harm right.
"Then why have you called me outside?"
To reason with you.
"Does Kyra know?"
That I speak with you? No.
"Then why are you?"
Because I wish to see her happy. Incandescently happy, and that can only happen with you.
"She deserves someone more than me."
But you are the one she is in love with.
"I am not worthy of her."
No one is.
Marcus looked away from those piercing green eyes, "What would you have me do, Hjarta? I will not sentence her to a life with a monster! I am not so naïve to think I will not enjoy inflicting pain upon another person, it is in my blood, my legacy as a human!"
You are not a human, you are a Rider. It is time you present yourself as one.
"Are you saying I am not worthy of being a Rider?"
I cannot determine your worth as a Rider. Only you can. It would be a mistake, though, to never try to reach beyond what you think you can do. To never challenge what you believe is your fate simply because you are afraid. And you, Amaranth-eyes, you believe yourself a monster, yet you cannot merge your mind with Ru'ali's when he hunts. You are no killer, and you fear…fear so much that you will become one. You do not fear becoming a monster, you fear yourself. You are ashamed of yourself, and you fear once she gets too close she will reject you, so you make it okay for you to never pursue at all.
"Alright, you have analyzed me through and through!" His voice was raising, exasperated, "Can you just stop! Stop telling me how I feel! Stop it! Just stop it!"
His voice became frantic.
You are becoming afraid again, Amaranth-eyes, afraid of the ghosts in your head. You have yet to understand that ghosts can be around you, go through you, but they can never become you.
The calm voice of the forest green dragon seemed to cool him down a bit.
"Why are you helping me, Hjarta? I hurt Kyra, unintentionally, I admit, should you not want to keep me from ever being happy."
I was given a gift of the prudence, Amaranth-eyes. The gift of seeing the consequences of my actions. I know that Kyra will be much happier with the broken shell of a man you perceive yourself to me, than with any perfect man you deem perfect for her.
A gust of cold wind split his face as Hjarta took the skies. And Marcus stood there, an unusual cold on his cheeks. Had it been summer, it would be salty, but alas the cold had frozen his tears.
Ebirthil was right. Love is painful, more painful that I ever imagined it.
What was he badgering about? It was Kyra he rejected. She had not rejected him. It was the other way around. What had he done?
He turned determinedly towards the sparring rink, racing against time, racing against the growing apprehension in his body.
"Kyra!" He yelled, "Kyra!" And no answer.
He stumbled into the room, finding her near the mirror, her eyes…surprisingly void of any emotion, her stare blank. Never had he seen her like this.
"Marcus," her voice was so cold he flinched at the sound it. It felt as if a hundred pins pricked his skin, "I am sorry for my previous behavior. I am at a precarious moment, and I am not in my right mind." She turned to leave.
She halted, "You were right in your actions, Marcus." His heartbeat stilled, "We are not meant to be this way."
And his heart shattered into a million pieces.
This was what love felt like. Cold, dry, some frozen barren land.
Ru'ali's voice penetrated through the haziness in his mind.
What is it, Ru'ali?
The purple dragon searched his mind, I will kill them, Marcus, mark my words, I shall kill them.
No, Ru'ali! Do not, please do not.
Blood his hunt seeped around the dragon's mouth, the red and purple making some evil contrast in the light of the moon.
They hurt you, Marcus. That is unacceptable.
No, Ru'ali. My father hurt me, I did this to myself.
The dragon's features softened for him, nearly seeming loving for a brief moment. He grabbed his Rider by his coat jacket, and placed him against his warm belly. A huff of fire, and the snow cleared away, leaving a hot patch on the ground, perfectly toasted. He covered a wing over his Rider, and promptly pushed him to sleep.
The morose dragon stayed awake the entire night, sometimes heating up the ground more, other times pushing the nightmares and bad memories from his Rider's mind. He would pretend to sleep when his Rider woke up, hoping that Marcus would never know exactly how much he cared for him.
It truly was Marcus and him against the rest of the world.
And he would make sure no one would ever hurt him again.
Chapter 13 Safety to the highest degree
Amatria flitted about in the city. She, during her dancing days, never ventured outside of Du Weldonvarden. This human city was fascinating. It held remnants of Elven architecture, but yet…not.
A young girl startled her by falling at her feet.
"Oh…" She stood still, not sure whether she should help her, or what? She looked around for her parents, but the Rider could find no one coming to her aid. Instead the little girl looked at her with wide eyes, and a wonder like expression.
"Are you alright?" She ventured hesitantly. The girl cocked her head to the side, studying her, breaking her barriers. Perhaps she should leave, the scrutiny was nearly too much to take.
Were there rumors around the place? Had people known of her failure the night before?
"I can see your discomfort from here, Amatria. Relax, she will not hurt you."
A hand came to rest gently on her back, and for once, in a long time, she allowed herself to be comforted.
"Ishmael, I looked for you…" She knew he had stayed the entire night. "Thank you."
The golden eyed elf smiled at her in return, his hand never leaving her body. He turned his eyes away at the girl sprawled on the ground, her knees buckled underneath her, ragged clothes draped over her body, and bright eyes staring at them both. Ishmael went to the child, his hand leaving her back, and Amatria stifled a protest. The girl stared again at her, and at once, she felt strangely vulnerable.
Ishmael reached out a hand, but the girl tried to scamper away.
"I do not think she likes me very much, Amatria. She is not comfortable. Perhaps she will be more so with you."
She scoffed at him, "What makes you think she will be more comfortable with me? I hardly look very comforting."
He raised his eyebrows at her, "Smile, Amatria, smile and you will be a symbol of hope for everyone."
A faint blush rose out of her cheeks, oddly coloring her pale elven skin. He reached out a hand for her, waiting for her to grasp it, and she found herself wanting to more and more.
So she did.
Gently tugging her towards them more and more, she found herself kneeling, an odd sense of peace overcoming her.
Amatria reached her other hand, and lifted the girl to her feet. She was lighter than she expected, but lucky the Rider knew her strength well enough not to hurl her a few feet with brute force.
The child stood on her own, dirt mucking her face.
Clearing her throat, she ventured, "Where are your parents?"
The girl squirmed under the question, swaying, moving side to side, without words, trying to avoid the subject.
"The girl is mute, she won't say nothing."
They both looked up to the voice, a heavy woman came out to them. A large bust and a plump figure, the epitome of a hen pecking human mother.
The voice became unusually soft though, "She wasn' always like this, mind you. Poor thing saw the dead bodies of her parents, and never said a word since."
Ishmael looked back at the child, looking down and away.
"How long ago?"
"Nearly four months now."
Amatria kept looking at the child, it seemed their places were switched, and the child was shamed at herself for something that was not her fault.
She pulled her water skin out, pouring a little, and heating it. The girl's eyes widened even more when her palm glowed bright, and that split second allowed the Rider to wash her face, and smooth out her hair.
"Where does she live?"
"With all the other orphans in town. You're Riders."
The incredulousness swept into her voice.
The girl looked down once again, this time at the hand of Amatria's on her shoulder. With little prompting, she ran away into city again.
"Oh dear me! There she goes again. Lyanna! Lyanna!" And the lady ran after her.
She stared at the scene before her, Ishmael's voice the only thing able to bring her out of a trance.
"Amatria." He nudged her gently.
"She is a beautiful child."
He nodded, a smile on his face.
She leaned into him, allowing herself to be held in the outskirts of the city. She felt a gentle kiss on her forehead. There was nothing about him that was not gentle, but the way he saved her, jumped in and killed without hesitation was…inconsistent with what she knew about him. The way he held her, the way he listened, the way he gave her space, and the way he would just look at her was in stark contrast to what he would do…for her.
It seemed she found someone, the only one capable of destroying the world for her…and she felt more frightened than ever. But somehow, with his arms around her, that fear was pushed down far back into the ugly recesses of her mind it came from.
"You said you were looking for me?"
But she did not reply, content it seemed, to stay walking with him, their hands clasped together, the wind, the grass, the trees their few companions.
"Has Eragon-ebirthil spoken with you?" Ishmael ventured hesitantly, he knew it was a touchy subject, and the last thing he wanted was to push her away. He was…extraordinarily fine with these little gestures.
Amatria thought back to her encounter with her master.
"Amatria? Has Ishmael left for a few minutes?"
She opened the door and nodded, a wordless expression on her face.
"May I come in?"
The black haired Rider stood aside for her master.
"What happened yesterday, Amatria, I doubt is uncommon among many people, the hesitance to kill, however I doubt it stemmed from an aversion to killing, but a developed aversion to killing."
She remained silent as the insight into her world emerged from her master.
And nearly as briefly as it came, she nodded.
"I am sorry, ebrithil. It will not happen again."
"I doubt that, Amatria." He threw his hands up in surrender when she pinned him with a look. "Things like this do not disappear after a failed attempt. Those doubts are easy to dissuade when no enemy is standing before you. But should the time come again, you will feel the same hesitance, and I cannot put you back into a battle where you unable to finish the task you are set out to do. You are my assassin, without you targeting the heads of the soldiers and commanders, we have no choice but rely on strategically out maneuvering an enemy far more powerful than we can hope to gauge."
"What would you have me do then, ebirthil? Kill animals to prepare myself for it."
Eragon shook his head, knowing her sarcasm regarding the manner.
"That will not help you."
He regarded her intently for a second.
"Ishmael was able to kill."
She looked away, "Yes, he was. I need not be reminded of my shortcomings."
"My intention is not that."
He fell silent for a moment.
"Why was Ishmael able to kill?"
"Why do you think, Amatria? Why did he kill?"
She glanced around at the bed, contemplatively regarding his quiver of arrows, now filled with Victor's gift to him.
"He was protecting me, he fought for me."
"So fight for him, protect him and I guarantee you will find the ability to overcome any aversion to the deed."
"Is it that simple?"
"It can be Amatria, problems can always be simpler than what we think. Problems are only as complicated as we want them to be. In the end, there are always many choices, the best one and the ones that are not so great. In the end we know what we the right thing to do is."
"Is killing correct, ebirthil? Do you support killing?"
"Never, Amatria, I will never support killing, there is no honor in that. No honor at all. The Rider's creed will never allow such a thing. But, my dear girl, there is no profession more noble than defending those who cannot defend themselves. There is no higher honor than placing the burdens and fears and wars of the common man on your shoulders and carrying them through. That is the Rider's creed, to fight in service. And fight we shall."
She was humbled by those words. Yes, her background was…tragic to say the least, but this was not about her, or about Ishmael, or about Ladrimme or even about her lost child. Whatever happened had happened, this war was for something much grander than her, much more than just her individual war. Who was she to deny the people a warrior because of her own shortcomings? Who was she to place her problems above those of the people she swore to protect?
No, she was stronger with this, and she would not let personal feelings encumber her duty. This time, she was prepared for what life threw her.
Amatria snapped her attention back to Ishmael. He was looking worriedly at her, softly caressing her hand in an effort to bring her back to the present.
A few moments longer to savor the feeling would not hurt.
And so she stood there, letting the pleasurable sensation overtake her. If only it was her in his embrace, and those same caresses down her arms, or her legs as he towered over her, or even her hair or face as he leaned in closer and closer.
She snapped out of it and shook her head. Chastising herself for such fantasies, she reluctantly moved her consciousness out of her hand undergoing such pleasurable sensations and into her head, so perhaps she could actually form a coherent sentence without Ishmael thinking she truly had lost her mind.
"He did speak with me, Ishmael. And I am at peace with it, and I am determined more so than before."
He stopped her, standing in front of her, the sun behind him clouding her vision and projecting some halo on the edges of his body. His unusually warm and inviting golden eyes sparkled at her, as if some type of topaz gem glittering with specks of gold.
Such beautiful eyes, such beauty.
His hair was shorter than most human men, forget about elven men, they were cropped, justified, almost a statement against status quo. But it was thick, and short as it was, somehow long enough to run her hands through.
Stop with the fantasizing.
"Amatria, I can speak with Eragon-ebirthil. If he does not relent on your involvement, than perhaps we could refuse the Rider order, go back and…"
He trailed off, not entirely sure what they would do.
But tears were already brimming her eyes, it seemed this man had the ability to do that. How considerate a man, that he would give up everything for her, the Rider order, what they lived for, forget the bonds of friendship and duty for her.
And that would be enough.
"No, Ishmael. Never, I will not be dissuaded, I will be fine. The war is bigger than you or me, and I chose to fight it. Not for myself, but because it is the right thing to do, to fight for those who cannot."
He hung his head at her resolve. And she questioned him.
"I am determined Ishmael, are you not pleased with my decision?"
Her voice held a lace of disappointment, and he quickly moved to change her opinion.
"No, Amatria, never. I would never be displeased with you. It is not possible."
He shook his head, looking away, around them, above them, anywhere but at her.
He sighed…how could he be so weak with someone?
"I would keep you away from anything displeasing, anything troublesome, any hardship at all…I would…protect you from anything. I want to."
Her eyes flitted between his, unsure if those were the words she wanted to hear, unsure if the sincerity was true, unsure if she could trust someone so blindly again. But it was seductive, that edge until she was falling in love again. The small hint of happiness was like a drug, the anticipation, and the sweet satisfaction, the lowering of inhibitions. Flashes of laughter, kissing, sweet nothings whispered, naked bodies, and her hands running through his thick hair.
It was futile, her battle…why did she even attempt to stay away from this?
A quick second and she smashed her lips to his, coaxing him into kissing her back, and for a moment he froze, the cold seeming to be the cause, and he was cold, stunned…immobile. But slowly, he began to thaw out, and he reciprocated her kisses, reciprocated her passion, and suddenly it seemed she was soaring, a feeling so familiar, so frightening, yet so encompassing, so powerful, and oh so consuming. Who was she kidding? Love was addictive.
Ishmael broke his resolve to stay reserved, a split second and his hands were in her hair, pulling her towards him. So many nights he spent dreaming about this, dreaming about her. There were days and he would sit in the trees and stare to his heart's content at her, carefully masking himself so he could simply observe, and wish so desperately that his imagination made him feel as if he was right next to her. Feel her movements, feel the touch of her hands, the feel of her body against his…and now he did not have to, now his imagination was shamed, and he realized he had no artistic ability at all. No imagination of his could ever have compared to the actual feeling of her there in his arms, kissing him with such a ferocity it burned right through him.
But even elves had to breathe, and so they broke apart, their eyes closed, labored breathing, the air around them charged with electricity, seeming to arch between them and somehow dissipate in the atmosphere.
He swallowed deeply, Amatria.
And she smiled at him, a beautiful smile took over her face, her pearly white teeth in sharp contrast to her black hair, and it lifted the world from her shoulders. She was the shy, beautiful woman with the confidence of a queen. She was regal in every way shape or form, and only vulnerable to those select few lucky enough to be hers, and to call her theirs.
He felt her trace his jaw, lining it.
"Amatria…" She kissed him again, not letting him speak, never letting him speak, he found he did not mind so much.
Just as they resumed their most enjoyable pastime, their elven ears picked up some noise.
"Look at their kind, indecent in every which way possible. Never do that, Julia. Do you hear me? Most unladylike."
They turned, their eyes still glazed over from their kissing at the speaker and saw a buxom lady, with a girl, clearly her daughter, in a coach. They were from some noble family or perhaps rich merchants. But they found the comments…insipid to the happiness. Amatria leaned in to him, resting her cheek just below his neck, tucking herself in.
She stilled as his arms wrapped around her, suddenly shaking with…fear, it seemed.
Ishmael felt the change in her demeanor, "Amatria? What is it?"
She shook her head, "Never let me go, Ishmael, promise me."
And he did, in the binding words of the Ancient Language, he promised he would never leave her, abandon her, and silently to himself, promised he would always protect her from any harm.
Chapter 14 Hurdles in a Long Journey
"Yes, we understand that. My question was what do we do next?"
King Larkin was getting quite irate with King Narhak's advisor. He was the most impatient of the monarchs, but then again…he just lost his kingdom. His people were dejected, and their stories of war and loss depressed the entire rest of Alagaesia that seemed to congregate at the capital.
Even in his days in the Varden, Eragon had never seen so many people in one city. So populated, and so saturated with people. Most men tried to enlist, but the meager rations they had were barely enough to buy food, let alone have a place to stay…if there were any left.
His Riders had begun the laborious task of weaving and building tents to sleep in. It may not have been an inn, but something over their heads, a place to stay was appreciated by many survivors. Eragon was proud of them, they had taken up the initiative on their own. The mark of true Riders.
Prowess in battle was only one aspect. Riders were servants of the people, the power they had was withheld with the moral conscience they develop. Thane, Dorsan, and Victor took to training some of the new recruits. The elves were less quick to warm up to the Riders. For the longest time…two centuries to be exact, the elves were warriors without equal. Urgals too bulky to be a threat, humans too weak, dwarves too short. And now, with the Riders, they found themselves bested, often not easily, but still bested by dwarves, humans, and elves alike.
Two hundred years after the war, Eragon mused, and the camaraderie we felt as Alagaesians fighting in a war was disintegrated.
You cannot have expected it to last.
I wanted it to last more than two hundred years.
Little one, we had a common enemy to unite us, and now we do so again. We shall be united once more.
But how to keep it?
That is a question that must be pondered.
Your wisdom is overwhelming.
She huffed through her nostrils, sending her annoyance at him.
Oh Saphira, what do we do?
Pay attention, for a start.
"Lord Eragon? Lord Eragon!"
He snapped out of his haze.
"Sorry, I was talking with Saphira."
King Narhak seemed to still be annoyed.
How long had the man wanted to get his attention?
"What did you say, Your Majesty?"
He sighed exasperatedly, "Your plan to fight against these foreigners? Do you have one?"
Eragon scanned the room ruefully, only Arya's eyes offered him some semblance of familiarity. Everyone else was different, they had no clue as to what he went through in the past. Was this why interactions between the immortals and mortals were so tedious? The memories of immortals ran farther than the lives of mortals. The greatness and sacrifices they made were lost on short memories, and perhaps that is why the camaraderie was reduced to nothing…no one cared to remember.
"Do we have the position of their military camps or main base?"
The monarchs collectively shook their heads.
"We are running blind then."
"We have no other choice." King Larkin replied haughtily, but Eragon made no acknowledgement.
He pulled out Ishmael's carefully drawn map, it would well used during this war.
Sticking a pin with a red painted paper flag on the end, he stuck in the encampment they had just recently demolished.
"We know there were nearly 10,000 men sitting there. Now, they are all scattered with their leader dead. Perhaps they will band together, or find their way to a previous encampment. My thinking is the latter, they are in a foreign land, they do not know how to find each other. Their only option remaining is how to get back to where they trekked so far."
"What do you say we do?"
He sighed, "It is a risky idea, but I think the benefits will outweigh the harm."
Arya looked at him, knowing full well what happened when he took that tone.
"We send scouts, no more than three a party, or one Rider who will be completely concealed to the world, they cannot be detected."
"Track them down to their encampments. Chances are in our favor that they all will not retreat to the same place, judging by the various ensigns we burned through, as they all gathered from different places. If we send tracking teams down, we can pin point the location of camps and find their military base."
"What is so dangerous about this?" Mark, the king's advisor asked not so subtlety.
The man was tedious.
"If they are caught, Mark, then the scouts will be tortured until they speak, and our position, numbers, advantages, and disadvantages, strategies, everything, they will know. And then, we have lost the war. Our only option is to trick and hide every secret and strategy we have to win this war. We are grossly outnumbered by an enemy who knows our exact position, and is waiting to strike."
Mark shrunk back in the shadows, his advising mouth sewn shut by some invisible thread. King Narhak took this to heart and bitingly said with a hint of approval from Mark's eyes, "Then what do you propose?"
Eragon looked at him with wide eyes, was every leader plain incompetent, or was this some special treatment reserved for him? Arya looked at the blank expression on his face, and chose to insert her two-sense.
"The scouts and the Riders being sent to track and pinpoint locations of camps, I believe is what Lord Eragon proposed, and I believe the same. However, the Riders no doubt, will be fine on their own, the scouts however, I believe should be elves. Our numbers have not been lost as the men, and they are quicker on their feet, and easier to mask."
Narhak nodded, "Very well, begin your preparations, Queen Arya, Lord Eragon." And he swiftly left the room, Mark in tow.
Larkin stared after their retreating figure, and sighed deeply.
"Should you need any help with the preparations, please let me know." He turned back to them, "I am more eager for this war to be over, and I need to know how my kingdom is doing."
"King Larkin, we will do all we can to save your kingdom. Do not worry so much about what you cannot control."
He spared another glance at Eragon, and switched his eyes between the two of them. He graciously nodded and left.
Arya walked over to him, resting a hand on his muscular forearm, kissing his cheek quickly when they were isolated.
"Gather your Riders, Eragon. I shall do the same with my scouts."
"Arya…" He grasped her hand, locking it in place on his forearm when she moved to leave. Her eyes furrowed in worry.
"What is it, Eragon?"
"Iet Drottning, I fear for my Riders."
She kissed him, slowly, letting his worries cease and pulled back. His eyes were still closed, the lines of worry disappearing from his face, a sign escaping his lips.
"If only you would kiss me every second of the day, I would feel no worry for the rest of my life."
Running her hands through his soft locks, after a chuckle from his statement, she moved into his embrace, "You are a good teacher, Eragon. Your Riders are powerful and intelligent. They will be fine."
She glanced away, her eyes clouded by her long, thick eyelashes. Murmuring to herself, she buried her head underneath his chin. Not quite catching what she said, he asked her to repeat it.
A sigh and she pulled herself out of his embrace, her voice muffled by his skin no longer.
"You were less trained than them, and you survived the war."
He gave a sad smirk, a half smile, before imploring with his arms for her to return to his embrace. She followed blindly, his arms too much of a temptation. He stroked her hair, letting the his hands bury themselves in her raven, silk tresses.
"I was lucky, Arya, lucky to have my comrades think I was worth dying for."
She tightened her grip around him in a silent protest.
"It is true, Arya. Brom died to save me, Murtagh risked his life to get me to the Varden, you trekked across Alagaesia to find me. Who knows if I would have made it through without all of you by my side." He shook his head, "Nay, Arya, I would have never survived."
"Never say that!" A harsh whisper against his statement. "Never doubt that." A plea, an unrestrained plea to never speak of such an atrocity.
But she shook her head to silence him, and he remained silent.
"Your pupils will be fine, they are trained well, they are strong and intelligent, and they have you, their teachers, and each other to look after them, as we have undoubtedly seen two nights ago."
Eragon nodded, "Yes, I suppose that is the case."
"Let us be off, there is quite a bit of work to do."
He agreed, and reluctantly let her leave his embrace. To his delight, however, she kept her mind merged fully in his, and her hand grasped around his until the last possible moment of detection.
"Who will you send?"
"The majority of the elves excellent at masking their trail left with you. Most never had a chance to be exposed to a real situation, mere drills and theory over actual practice."
Eragon nodded, "And war is the hardest teacher of them all."
"I will send Blodhgarm after the most difficult route, and Nari after another difficult route. The rest of the elves that left with you should stay behind and familiarize themselves and their student Riders. They are the best at keeping this uneasy truce between the Riders and the elves."
"Have there been many skirmishes as we have witnessed with Kyra and Kyrian?"
Arya shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly, "Absolutely nothing major. However, Kyrian and Kyra came from a very well respected lineage, and many elves admire their fighting prowess. The elves picking fights are only harping on minor issues that, as of now, are resolved over quite quickly."
"How come my Riders never came to me with these problems?"
"Do you really wish to be plagued by those minor problems? We both have much better things to do. I asked Vanir to keep a close tab on the encounters."
She gave him a pointed look, "Your Riders did not ask your permission to start building temporary shelters for the displaced Alagaesians. They will not trouble you with these small incidents, none of which have escalated into actual swords being drawn, mind you. Regardless, it should be the case. Riders are a law unto themselves, they are independent of the institution, independent of you."
"I know that." He sighed exasperatedly, "It is just…" He trailed off, unbelieving of his own words.
"Just what, Eragon?"
"I never expected them to stop relying on me so quickly, that is all."
Arya laughed in their isolated corridor, "I can scarcely bring myself to believe how you will be as a father to our children, if you have so much trouble letting go of your students."
Eragon stopped in his tracks, pulling her to a stop. She whirled around, raven black hair falling serenely on her body.
"Do you think about children often?"
She looked away, "It has been over three hundred years since I was born, Eragon. Of course I think of children."
"What would you have done if I had never returned?"
Arya came closer, understanding what he was asking, would she have taken another mate, someone instead of him to bear her children with, instead of waiting when he had no intention of returning.
"I would have come to you, Eragon. After relinquishing the hold for the throne, I would have come to you."
Kissing him gently, languidly, she stepped away.
"Arya, I am sorry for…" But he was stopped with a finger on his lips.
"Hush, Eragon. I was not without my doubts, that maybe you would fall for some Rider or former student, or even one of the elves I had sent with you." She pulled herself closer in his arms, sighing contentedly as his engulfed her in his warm embrace. "I know you can fathom how much I love you, yet I know the doubts that plague your mind. I know of your insecurity when it comes to me."
"How can you stand to love someone who continually doubts himself when it comes to you?"
She stepped back from his embrace, just barely enough to skim his lips with her own, and then soundly kissing him back.
"I suffer from those same insecurities, Eragon. You see a Rider, one hundred years younger, barely understanding the power he controls, and I…I see a woman aged by her experiences, untrusting, hateful, brazen…sometimes in her ways, unable to see why anyone would fall for her. Yet we did, did we not? Fall for each other. It is only natural that I, lost to my father, banished by my mother have insecurities regarding myself. As do you, as a child you had such a responsibility placed on your shoulders, such horrors in your mind. Our shortcomings are easy to see by ourselves."
He hesitantly smiled, "You have no shortcomings, Arya Drottning."
She chuckled slightly, tucking her head underneath his chin, resting her cheek against his strong heart beat.
"And that is perhaps I fell for you. You do not wish to change me."
"You are perfect."
She kissed his jawline, "Only to you."
"I would not have, you know."
Arya pulled away from him, confused as to what he was speaking about.
"I would not have resented you if you had chosen someone else as your mate. I would have supported your decision."
The elf queen took his hand and started walking again, pulling him along with her.
"I know you would not have." She hesitated, collecting her thoughts, "They say, lovers and poets and writers, that true love means letting go when necessary. I know you would have let me go, Eragon, had I truly fallen for someone else, but that is why I love you. Only you love me enough to let me go, if that is what I wanted. But I do not."
Muttering under her breath, she caught herself in her thoughts when Eragon prompted her to speak again.
"I said my love is not as great as yours, Eragon."
The Rider stopped her, pulling her to face him, "Why do you say that? It is not true."
"I would have resented you, Eragon. I would never have had the strength to let you go, I would never let you go. You have to understand that each time I sent beautiful female Riders to you, or more teachers, each more eager and more skilled than the last, I thought I was sending away my chance with you. How could you desire someone so far away, when better women, more loving women, more complete women, not broken as the past and the war have done to me, were willing to fall in love with you? I did not think you would wait for me, I hoped, but I could not fathom as to why."
He framed her face with his hands, warm to touch, heated by his desire to show to her exactly how much she meant to him. Caressing her cheeks, he kissed her deeply, slowly willing to show her how or why, or that she was not at all what she pictured herself as. That she was more a woman than any one else in the world, that she was complete and loving, and not at all broken.
"Arya, iet nuanen Arya, my name has my love for you. My love was so strong it had the power to change my name, that part will never change, you must know this. You changed me, Arya. Only you."
Reaching her hands to hold his in place, she nodded as he brushed the few fallen tears from her eyes.
"We should go, Eragon. Enough of this talk, what we thought would happen did not, and we are here, together, for the rest of eternity or however long we last."
"I will not lose you." He replied determinedly. "Never again, will I lose you."
She kissed him, "And neither shall I lose you."
A gust of wind blew against the windows, making an abnormal amount of noise for the quiet hallway. Arya sighed against him, after jumping slightly at the sounds.
"We should be more careful." Eragon whispered, "Who knows who is watching the shadows?"
"I doubt your Riders know nothing of us, and the elves are quick to find out."
"I am more worried about the humans, Arya. They do not know of our relationship, what we went through together. They know nothing of our experiences, and they are not quick to trust us. If they realize we are in a relationship, they will think I am giving preferential treatment to your decisions, even when your decisions are the right ones or the best ones available."
"It could be problem, yes. But do not fret over it. As you said, they know nothing still. Not even a hint of us."
He nodded and stepped away. "I must go and speak to a few of my Riders. I shall send about ten in opposing directions."
"In a team? Or?"
"Two Riders, I think, together will be must stronger than one…obviously. In terms of scouting or keeping each other safe, I think two will be better."
"Will you pair Ishmael and Amatria?"
Eragon shook his head, "No. They are in love, whether or not they realize it yet. I do not want them in danger because of the distraction they pose each other. I would rather they be motivated to come back quickly."
"Then who shall you send together?"
"Kyra and Amatria will go together. I trust their judgment and skills together. Marcus and Thane are good friends, they will fare well. Ishmael and Isaac will scout the eastern side, Maria and Elbryn will take the western most side. Victor and Fenrir will take the direct south." Eragon thought for a moment, "Kyra and Amatria, as well as Marcus and Thane will take the in between sides."
"Directions from our encampment?"
"Hmmm?" Eragon was lost in thought, forcing him to think back to her statement.
"Oh no. Not directions from our encampment. From their campsite we destroyed."
"And the elves?"
Eragon turned to face her, "They have more knowledge of the tracks our enemies make. I think they would best suited to follow the tracks from the ground, see if anyone escaped, they will also be better able to mask themselves should there be a need to do so."
"Do you think they would have fled north?"
"To Illirea? I doubt it. If they had, our lookouts would have seen them, the dragons, when they hunt they would definitely have seen them. Their vision far exceeds ours, and they are quite vigilant when it comes to hunting."
Arya stepped away from him reluctant, it seemed, to do so. But even they knew the importance of duty, moments like these were short lived at best.
Chapter 15 The First Monumental Task
Eragon left the castle walls in the direction of the new shelter area currently being built by his fifty strong Riders. He spotted Thane with his red ginger hair almost immediately, and charged him with finding the rest. While most of the tents were occupied with generals discussing battle preparations and training with their captains and platoon leaders, he found one shabby piece of work on the outskirts of the area with no one in sight with the intention to use it. Carefully warding the area around him from listeners, the Master Rider took a chair pulled out one of Ishmael's beautifully drawn maps and began marking the known positions and approximate number of their enemies.
Battle movements were hard to follow, especially from an enemy so well hidden. It was like they blended into their environment, marking their territory only in the utmost necessary circumstances. Almost like a chameleon. But even then, to the trained eye, chameleons could be spotted with keen accuracy.
Marcus was the first to enter the tent, but he moved so silently Eragon had to almost strain to hear his movements. Ru'ali had swung around overhead, landing with growl and snapping his jaws. He was usually in a foul mood, yet today, he seemed particularly peeved.
"Ebirthil." Marcus announced his presence softly, as if the drive or conviction or whatever it was that he had was simply lost in the void.
"What is wrong, Marcus?"
He shook his head. "I made a mistake, ebirthil. And I am paying my due price." And he fell silent as Isaac filed in after him.
Isaac was the typical genuine nice guy. He had shaggy brown hair, falling well over his forehead that could barely be tamed. He had a smile that stretched across his face. He did not have a grin or a smirk or a small smile. If he smiled, he threatened to break his own face into half. He was not the best dancer or the best fighter or best strategist, and it even would be difficult to see him not trip over himself everyday when he first started as a Rider, but he had shown considerable improvement over his ten years as a Rider, perhaps learning the quickest.
While lacking the typical silent temperament accompanied with his rather troubled past, he was still very well respected and well liked among his peers. He had gained the respect of the other Riders far more quickly than any other Eragon had seen, but it had everything to do with his simple, kind personality, rather than his exceptional skill. Isaac truly cared for the people around him and would fight with just a stick in his hand and life in his body if need be.
His parents had left at an early age. His mother had disappeared, never to be found again, either her body or her. He and his sister had absolutely no idea whether she was dead or alive, but they did not seem any worse for it. Ever since their mother left, their father had become obsessed with finding her, leaving his two children to fend for themselves when it came to food and education. Not wanting to miss out on either, young Isaac and Isabel worked long and hard through the night in the fields of their neighbor to take home small wages every week to pay for food and school. When Isabel had become older, the son of their neighbor Stephen had taken an interest to her, and expressed his wishes to marry her. By that time, their father had been missing for more than five years. Isabel protested, saying there was no way she could afford a dowry or anything of the sort. When his father refused to accept the alliance, Stephen left home, married Isabel, took a loan, and from there, bought enough land to start a small farm. A year later, Celtor had hatched for Isaac during the annual Rider finding day that took place in the city.
Eragon had to personally write to the boy, then aged nine to ensure that his sister and brother in law would be taken care of though he would not be there to help in the fields at night. Stephen had initially refused to take any help, offered in the form of the elves buying produce specifically from his farms, but after seeing Isaac's reluctance to leave his family with no guarantee of their well being, Stephen had accepted. Now, ten years later, at age nineteen, Isaac was quietly sitting in the corner, occasionally gazing outside the tent in the direction of Petrovya, it was where his sister and brother in law lived, where he had once lived. After he had heard Petrovya had been run over, he fell silent, brooding to himself. He had incessantly walked around the camp, trying to locate his family from the survivors who fled to the capital, but he never could.
Celtor was an interesting dragon. For a boy so innocent and sweet, Isaac seemed to attract a gruff, blunt, and rather irate companion. Celtor did not communicate with words as much as with snorts and grunts, but Isaac always understood him, even up to mocking him slightly. The first time Isaac imitated his companion, he landed on his back laughing. The second time, in a river. But since then, it was met with more grunts, and that made him laugh even more. Celtor was a reddish dragon, though not quite the flaming red of Thorn, a rather maroonish color. Almost brown in the dark.
Isaac stayed silent in the corner, thinking to himself, each howl of the wolves and chirp of the crickets making him jumpy as he ran his hand over the pommel of his Rider's sword. He was nervous, and rightfully so. The only peace that seemed to cloud his eyes was when he closed them.
Eragon hoped he made the right choice in Isaac.
Ishmael and Amatria came through next. It seemed they spent the day in each other's company as shown by the rare look of peace etched on the black eyed beauty. Ishmael positively glowed in happiness. Thane came in next, a ragged look from nightmares past covering his face. Dragging a chair towards him, no thought for the quiet serenity that exuded from the temporary headquarters of the Rider order. He sat down with a huff, smoothing the skin around his forehead, pressing gently against his eyes. Taking a long swig from his water skin, he settled in his position.
Marcus seemed to understand his predicament, for he nodded lightly at him, a fine display of camaraderie. He turned to the flap abruptly when it opened, and immediately turned away from the piercing eyes of Kyra. She spared him no glance, or anyone a glance, only nodding to Ishmael and Thane before taking a seat next to the redhead. She was rigid, even more rigid than before, and everyone seemed to notice.
Victor and Maria came in together, laughing at some memory of a past. They were both in good moods, after finding out their parents were on their way, coming to see their twin children all grown up and as Riders. The two had spent the days reminiscing over their life. Elbryn was a female dwarf and capable warrior. While she had incredible skills in wielding an axe, she preferred her thick and short Rider's sword to it, saying it gave her more flexibility from her standpoint. She was fit to lead her own team, and quite incredible at magic as well. Surprisingly, she had expressed neither the longing to see her family, nor the desire to fly to the Beor Mountains and attack from their position.
Dorsun, the male dwarf, however, was not of the same school of thought. He had been adamant about leaving to the Beor Mountains and immediately attacking, saying it was the dwarven thing to do. He was only shut up when Elbryn had reminded him that they were no longer just dwarves, but Riders, and therefore responsible for a lot more than just their own people.
It was one of the reasons Elbryn was leading her own troupe, and Dorsun was not.
Fenrir was the last to walk in, he was a different sort of man. Surprisingly, he was half man and half elf. Mother was of Elven descent, and the father was a human man of Kuasta. He had some business in the capital, he was a rich man, a merchant and trader of spices and silks. Eragon did not know the full story, but his father became captivated by his mother and propositioned her in such a way that they both fallen deeply in love. Before either could be legally bound by either the Elven customs or the human customs, Fenrir's father was attacked by bandits on the road and killed for the money and silks in his custody. Upon hearing of her partner's gruesome death, she had fled to Ellesmera in a deep depression, only to realize she had become pregnant during her time in the capital.
Fenrir was raised by his mother completely, but he kept to himself. He could never quite fit in with the other Elven children. When his mother suggested they go to Kuasta to see if he would like the human world better, they had arrived a few weeks later, only to realize while the Elven children saw he was half human, the human children saw he was half Elven. Hating it even more with the reminders of his father and his mother's increased depression because of it, they had come back to Ellesmera, where he cared for his mother until her death due to illness, no doubt because of the toll severe his father's death took on her. At aged eighteen, Fenrir had buried his mother in the ground, singing a bed of tulips in her honor, and went from city to city till he found his calling in being a shipman of goods and trades. He had a good relationship with his crew, but only after he had hid his human markings. No one in Ceris had known of him, and he found the change welcome. But the egg couriers had come into town, and every child aged nine to eighteen was forced to touch the egg.
Pearly white Salazador had hatched for Fenrir, a pure white to accompany a dark haired, dark eyed, relatively tan skinned man like his father, his mother used to say. This was nearly thirty five years ago. Fenrir had told Eragon he had seen his father through his mother's eyes, and he was the spitting image of him. He fit the deion – tall, dark, and handsome – classically handsome, nonetheless. But it was his demeanor that set him apart, Fenrir never seemed to understand how attractive he really was, so he kept himself slouched, exhibiting none of the confidence his father seemed to exude.
"Students, I am quite glad you are all here, though my reason for calling you is of a gruesome nature."
They gathered around him as he pulled a map and pinned down battalions and known positions.
"This is us." He placed a white pin Illirea. "We are the last standing city that needs to be taken in order for the human realm of Alagaesia to completely fall to the sea faring foreigners."
Eragon pulled a black pin out and placed on the map, "This is where I, Amatria, Arya Drottning, and Ishmael destroyed an encampment of ten thousand men by taking out their key commanders. In no way, shape, or form were we able to take out the majority of combatants. Our enemies who were here, no longer have a commander to follow, and they are the furthest north they have ever been. They are vulnerable."
He started drawing lines and filling in the directions and shading in areas of interest that needed to be searched.
"The night of battle, we noticed that the banners our enemies were sporting differed from regiment to regiment. What does this mean?"
A few murmurs went through, but Marcus spoke.
"They were an assorted group of men, people that had been sent to join from their original force with a larger force. A sort of scout party that had escalated."
Thane raised his concerns, "Could they not just be family crests? Why would one regiment or platoon be sent in representation of an entire army behind several small commander? Why not just have one storm the city?"
"It is the most efficient way of doing things."
"How so, Amatria?"
She broke out of her stupor and moved towards the maps.
"They are in an unknown territory, but they are still one population, one army, one purpose for being here. If they are separated too much, they might lose contact with each other. The lands are foreign and the new beasts and people far too many for them. If they send one or two regiments from each 'larger' army, they will have enough soldiers to defend any oncoming attack and still retain the strength in their position. Not to mention, if they lose, they will not have lost any land, but still be able to attack. It is an ingenious plan."
"But it has a major flaw."
"And what would that be, Kyra?" Eragon had prompted her gently.
"If they lost, as they did a few nights ago, the men will not take to following one leader. What they gained in flexibility, they lost in unity. They will not follow someone they do not know, and they only know a few ways around, and since they all came from different encampments or strategic locations, they will head to their respective, original station."
"Which means they can be tracked."
Eragon nodded solemnly to Isaac's statement.
"Yes, they can be tracked. And you ten will do the tracking from the air. Queen Arya has designated elves and horses to start from the campsite and take the wayward paths. They will keep themselves invisible at all times in case of a surprise. You all will take the skies. You Riders have the unique ability along with your dragons to have their vision and to see long distances. Far longer than any elven eye can possibly see, or any eye this land has. You will make teams of two, no Rider will be alone, ever. Is that clear?"
He got a variety of nods, and acknowledgments.
"Ishmael, Isaac. You two will scout the western side. Be careful. Dras Leona has fallen, and if you are spotted, you could be killed or attacked, and we need to be as surreptitious as possible. If you need recluse, the Leona Lake is just in front of the Spine, many are wary, and rightfully so of the legends that come from there. I have no doubt in your skill, however, if you are spotted – kill those enemies who see you. You cannot be tracked, you cannot be seen, your skills, power, and assets can never be revealed to the enemy. They will strike as hard as they can on any weakness, and we cannot discount them. Isaac, you are the youngest here, only nineteen years of age. While you are a fully fledged Rider, capable of all the tasks asked of you, some things come with age and experience. Trust your judgment, never doubt that, but listen to Ishmael in a sticky situation as well. He has proven himself more than capable of handling a difficult situation."
"And Ishmael, look after him."
He nodded his head deeply, "Of course, ebirthil, as if he is my little brother." He clamped Isaac's back a bit, and the young Rider reveled in the comfort.
"Isaac, I know you want to see your sister. But I cannot afford any misjudgments here. I have fifty Riders with me, we are not as strong as we should be in numbers. We are skilled, Riders take time to hatch and with the population deficit because of the old wars, the eggs are not hatching with the same frequency. We cannot afford to lose each other."
"I understand, ebirthil. I will not go to Petrovya."
Eragon nodded, "I am sorry, Isaac."
He shook his head, and looked down, not trusting himself to catch anyone's eye.
"Maria, Elbryn, you will take the eastern side. Follow any stragglers of the army. We need to find the strategic locations, we are literally fighting a war blind. We need eyes in enemy territory, but it will be hard as we do not look, think, act or speak like them. We must resort to spying. And if you are in Petrovya…"
"We will search for your sister or at least try to get them out if they are still there or in the vicinity." Maria addressed Isaac with definitiveness.
Isaac's head snapped up, and warmth and happiness filled his eyes. "Thank you, Maria, Elbryn. I cannot thank you enough."
"Thank us when you see your sister again, eh?" And Elbryn took a friendly jab at his ribs.
"Fenrir and Victor, you two will take south, straight south. You might have the farthest to go before you find something or someone of value, but keep your eyes open. South is the most open field, the easiest travel, and the closest to food and water if they keep to the banks. With Taque and Salazador and your ability to merge your vision with theirs, you should be able to discern what is what from a fair distance."
"I know, Maria, Victor, that I am taking you away from your family reunion and for that, I apologize."
"There is no need, ebirthil. We will see mother and father when we get the chance. This is more important."
"Marcus, Thane, you two will travel southeast in the direction of Surda and other towns. I expect this area to be the most heavily riddled with our enemies. Dwarven reports from the tops of Beor have confirmed that they are in great numbers at the foot of the mountains. Most likely, there are several commanders in charge of large companies of men. You will have to travel fast to catch them, through the night and day, make sure you are all well fed, watered, and rested."
"And that leaves Kyra and Amatria. You two will travel southwest. There will be a heavy number of our sea-faring enemies in this direction. We know that Feinster and Melian have fallen. What we do not know is if Melian is the main base or an outpost or if it has been burned to the ground. Keep your eyes open in the plain for them, but do not hesitate to kill them if you do. Follow their tracks. The company of men that were perched on the ledge of this city could not have erased their tracks completely. But do not engage the entire army, pick off the groups of men. Any more than three or four, destroy them. We cannot have any planning or scheming going on. Groups of soldiers can be liable to do the unexpected, they might attack unsuspecting villagers or take their 'spoils of war' too seriously. Those that travel alone or in pairs, follow and track to the best of your ability."
He stopped delineating the positions of where he wanted his Riders to go. "You have to remember, the key to winning this part of the battle is not overt displays of power and attacking, but stealth and subtlety. Blend with sky, silence yourselves, your feet, your breath, your voice, even your thoughts. Kill with precision, not with a frenzy. Swordplay is not meant to have clanging of metals between blades. The true swordsman dances with his weapon, so lithely and carefully that his enemy will barely feel the blade as it drains the life out of him, and his friends will never hear the drops of blood that spilled on the ground, or the decisive strike that cut through him as if he was air. Stealth and subtlety, I cannot stress how important it is to emulate those characteristics."
There was decisive silence among his students. Perhaps the atmosphere of war grew heavy upon them, they would get their first taste of blood on these missions, or so he hoped. He also desperately hoped where his Riders had reservations about taking a life, their dragons could motivate them not to be so careful with their own morality. Eragon was not blind to the pains he had to go through, he left Saphira, trekked across Alagaesia alone until Arya had chased after him, just to save his morality. He just hoped his students would understand they did not always need to sacrifice their conscience when taking a life, that sacrifice is only made when they are responsible for a lost innocent life, not the enemies in a war that never should have taken place.
Chapter 16 The Past is Never as Bad as One Remembers
The eldest Rider watched as his students slowly filed out, morose looks on their faces, fear in their eyes. It was good, they should be afraid. It was not an easy task. Eragon was, however, doubting whether he should have burdened his students with such a daunting task.
They must learn somehow. And you cannot be everywhere at once. Neither can the soldiers spare their own lives.
I know, Saphira. But they are children!
No, Eragon. They are not. They are Riders, and Riders must always grow up faster than the rest. I assure you, even young Isaac is more of an adult than you were when faced with the killing of the demon tyrant.
Galbatorix had to be removed.
And you did just that. Isaac has a different task, young as he is. Though not younger than you, and he does not bear the weight of world alone.
Ay, I suppose so.
Rid your mind of these thoughts, little one. They will leave, and they will return.
Eragon watched the last of students leave the tent, before rolling up the map and following them out. He briefly lost sight of them, and somehow, in that short period, they were nowhere to be found.
Ishmael and Amatria, no doubt, looking to spend the last minutes of their departure together. Marcus and Kyra…they too, were nowhere to be found.
He erred some nights ago, ebirthil.
The calm, soothing voice of Hjarta entered in his mind, crystal clear, as if two feet behind him, not miles away in the sky.
Eragon glanced up at the dragon, his vision blurring from the sun shining directly in his eyes.
How so, Hjarta? Is this something I should know about?
The green dragon started towards him, Kyra was…is…she placed herself in a compromising position.
That does nothing for me, Hjarta. He said blandly.
She was going to kiss him, ebirthil. And Marcus refused her, only to return later after gentle prodding from my end, though he might not agree on the gentle part. But it was too late, Kyra had closed herself off and refuses to even speak to him.
Marcus is in love with her, why such a folly?
He visited his father's home, his old home. After discovering his father committed suicide just a little after he left with Ru'ali, Marcus came back and practiced his hand to hand training. During which he came to the conclusion that he is unworthy of love. Especially that of Kyra's and so, he thought he was doing her a favor by leaving.
And Kyra? After Marcus returned, why did she leave him there?
Kyra has just learned to stand on her own two feet, just learned to base her self worth by her own measure of herself. And love…makes her vulnerable, as she realized. She never wants to be vulnerable again. For when she did, Marcus did refuse her.
A growl, borderline roar echoed near and Ru'ali crashed into Hjarta, nearly sending Eragon spiraling. The green dragon did nothing to stop the biting and snapping.
Kill! Kill! Blood! Red! Blood! Kill! Fragments of shouts, echoes, and screams burst through the air.
Marcus' cries came within earshot. He tried in vain to get him to stop, crying out to him.
Seeing her dragon's distress, Kyra came hurtling through the forest, screaming at Ru'ali to leave Hjarta be. But the purple dragon was already in too much of a rage, breathing fire, shaking his head in a loss of control.
Marcus seemed to understand, and got dangerously close to the large reptile, watching as his companion's body writhed and seized, and convulsed while the air around them were set alight by purple flames.
"Marcus! Do not!" The fear in Kyra's heart momentarily melted her anger at him, but Marcus would not heed her calls.
Marcus, I can stop his movements.
No, ebirthil! Do not! I will take care of him. He is…different.
Carefully, Marcus slipped through the dragon's wrestling defenses, and laid a gentle hand on his neck, avoiding the thumping tail with perfection. A second either way and Marcus would have faced the brunt of the force of being knocked around. Ru'ali seemed to calm instantly, the fire immediately going out, the harsh, frantic movements stilled. The dragon breathed heavily, as if tired from this ordeal. With a solemn tone, one more emotionless than his sardonic one, he spoke to Hjarta.
I am sorry. And that was the end of it. The green dragon stood on his feet, as much as he could with effects of being trampled on and snapped at. Luckily, no bones were broken.
Perhaps Kyra would have been more apt to refuse the apology, but when Ru'ali's voice turned emotionless from sardonic, it was equivalent to a person who feels nothing but malice to feel nothing at all. A large step, a far cry from the apologetic tone that most adopt, but a large step nonetheless.
"I apologize as well."
Kyra's cold demeanor towards Marcus' had yet to return. It was as if she had forgotten their momentary odds and declared an unofficial truce.
"This was not your fault."
He looked at her, intently capturing her eyes. He was not sure how long he could hold her piercing gaze for, but he did so long enough to press a white lily in her palm.
"I was not referring to only now."
The purple eyed Rider removed his glove, letting his silvery palm shine before walking over to Hjarta and healing the wounds his partner may have caused. Aside from a few singe marks, and bloodied patches, he was in good condition, considering the bloodthirsty frenzy Ru'ali went through.
Calmly lifting himself on to the saddle, Marcus and Ru'ali took off into the sky, bidding farewell and meeting Thane halfway in the sky. They were enough offset from the campsite that this loss of control attracted minimal attention.
"Ebirthil?" Eragon's concentration was broken at the inquisitive tone of his other pupil. Her eyes were on the flower, fingers gliding smoothly over the edges, savoring the soft silkiness.
"I have never seen Ru'ali like that."
Eragon sighed and pinned her with a look, "Do not be afraid to ask your real question. Miscommunication is seventy five percent the reason for arguments and failed relationships."
Kyra nodded, seemingly understanding his double meaning, "What happened with Ru'ali?"
"Imagine, Kyra, you and Hjarta when you were young. You came at an…impressionable age to our training island far away from Alagaesia. You were barely able to form truly coherent thoughts, barely able to think with the sophistication and elegance required of an adult, much less a Rider. And Hjarta, at that time, was barely a few months old. Not able to speak, only to send feelings, receive them, and so on. Hjarta has those memories, still. But a dragon's mind is not like ours. They are wise beyond their years, even at a young age, they can think differently, their power of thinking and knowledge is born with them inherently, and known at a particular time. They can learn more, of course, but they will always have that basis of maturity far beyond their years."
Kyra nodded, "I understand, ebirthil. But what does that have to do with Ru'ali?"
"A dragon's mind is unable to have the same coping mechanisms of a human mind. Memories of a childhood best left forgotten are actually forgotten. We can do this," he paused to find the right words, "…repression technique, if you will. Dragons, with their superior thinking and processing ability are not privy to same boon. They do not forget, they only remember. Hjarta remembers a childhood filled with competition, but fun times as well, you agree?"
A smile touched on her lips as Kyra recalled the times her parents and brother ran around in the fields, playing a game of tag or hide and seek, smiles all around, "Yes, ebirthil."
"And so Hjarta grew up with the memories of a happy family, at the age where a dragon's mind is much like a human's mind. But think of Ru'ali. You know of Marcus' abusive father. You know what he did to him, what Marcus had to witness, and what he went through. You were there, that night he had his nightmare. For years, Kyra, years Ru'ali, as a young dragon saw those memories over and over and over again. For years, Marcus dreamed of them. You cannot grow impersonal to them. It was not someone else Ru'ali was seeing through, it was his beloved Rider. And when Ru'ali grew, he did not have the luxury of repression like Marcus had. And so, at times, those horrific memories of abuse and torture made a mark on his mind. He is both excited by blood and pain, and so he is more dangerous of a dragon than any of the others. He enjoys the hunt, enjoys the kill, he enjoys the pain he puts the others in. But even then, it gets to be too much. Ru'ali has had these episodes, where the horror and brutality of Marcus' past surfaced at inopportune times and Ru'ali felt like he needed to kill or harm something to be in control again. A traditional psychopathy. The psychological impact made by Marcus' father was suffered primarily by Ru'ali, not Marcus. That is how strong a bond between a Rider and a dragon is. Marcus went close because Ru'ali would never kill or harm him. The rest of us…not so much."
Eragon watched his Rider's face carefully, trying to make her understand why Marcus would have such reservations about love.
"It is what Ru'ali has become that Marcus fears will happen to him. That is why he distances himself from everyone."
A tear leaked down Kyra's cheek. "He must have been so alone…they must have been so alone."
A tear turned into two, and then more, and then a stream cascading down her face, until Kyra was downright sobbing. She looked like she was going to faint, and Eragon immediately came to her side. She nearly fell into his arms, throwing herself limp. She buried her face into his neck, sobbing uncontrollably.
"I never should have left him there, I never should have let him walk out. It was my fault."
"Hush, Kyra," he soothed, "What happened there was neither your fault or his. It was just a series of unfortunate events. He felt his abused past would somehow harm you. He fears his is more like his father, depressed and angry, and he is afraid that if he gets angry at you, he might hurt you, physically."
Kyra nearly snorted, "Please, he could never harm me."
Eragon chuckled softly, "If I were you, I would be flattered at the fact that he is thinking in terms of a long relationship."
"He thinks too much."
"Words you will never hear again from a woman about her man. Usually they say their men do not think enough. I am inclined to agree at times."
Kyra laughed, her tears subsiding.
"I need to tell him." She moved to get on Hjarta before realizing Marcus had left, and then her face fell into sadness again.
Eragon walked up, to her, patting her hand lightly, "He is long gone. It would not be the best choice to go after him, especially since Amatria is waiting for you. He will return. Ponder on your decision, ponder on his actions, but do not distract yourself or him. The mission you are about to embark on is dangerous."
He gently kissed her brow, and watched as she and Hjarta sailed off in their designated direction, meeting up with the black silhouette Ladrimme made up. He closed his eyes, and took in the fresh air. The day had turned into night, and became considerably cooler. Fresh breeze wafted through his senses, and with it a smell of murky rain, late winter blooming flowers, and…fresh pine? Snapping his eyes open, he turned to see the Queen of the Elves stride toward him, his breath caught in his throat.
"Iet naunen, though it may be just a few hours since I saw you last, I feel as if it has been too long, and that I am seeing you for the first time after decades, and I crave you, as a starving man craves water."
She stepped closer, a hand on his neck, not saying a word. Her reply being a gentle kiss on his lips, a caress on his neck, a stroke through his hair. She pulled away too soon, letting her forehead rest against his for a while.
"You do say the most beautiful things."
"They never compare with your beauty."
She smiled, her pearly white teeth briefly making an appearance, "I strongly beg to differ."
Embracing him, sharing a moment on the far end of the city, away from prying eyes, she rested her head on his shoulder and inhaled. Startled, she pulled back.
"You smell different. And your shoulder is wet."
Eragon frowned, before realization hit, "Kyra was crying, I had to comfort her."
"Relationship troubles with Marcus. That is his name, right? The Rider who made a mockery out of Kyrian?"
He nodded, and gave her a questioning look, about to ask how she knew. But she had already predicted his question and replied.
"What else can make a strong woman seem weak, if not for the understanding that perhaps she would be better off with someone, perhaps she does need to be dependent on another to be stronger? That perhaps love is worth the hassle."
He smiled at her, "Yes, it was that. I think, combined with sorrow for the man she loves."
"Marcus had a troubled past, I gather."
He was about to ask how, but she had already answered.
"Riders and elves do not scar easily, especially since we use magic to heal. The cut above his eyebrow, gruesome as it is, means that the damage was so bad even magic could not heal it, as is the scar on my hand. And it has been at least a hundred years since he received it. It would not heal, would it?"
He shook his head, "I tried everything, so did Blodhgarm. So did the eldunari. Nothing worked."
"That poor child." She rested her head against his shoulder again.
"Promise me, Eragon."
"Anything, Arya. Ask me anything." He swiftly replied.
"Promise me, that when we bring a child into the world, our child, promise me that nothing will happen to him or her, or to us. Promise me that our child will always be loved and cared for, and never threatened, and never harmed like that, never abused…never neglected."
She tightened her hands around him. Eragon wanted to say ask about her sudden fear for their child, wanted to know from what her fears stemmed from, but when she clung to him, looking so much like a child, so much like a little girl who needed comforting, all he wanted to do was gather her in his arms and take her some place far away where even the sun would not dare burn her.
He tightened his grip; the least he could was hold her closer.
"I promise you, Arya, that I will never let such a horrific fate to befall our child. Upon my word as a Rider, and as your mate, I promise you such a tragedy will never occur."
He kissed the top of her head, letting the silky raven strands engulf his senses. He ran a hand down through her hair, letting the soft tendrils curve around his fingers as he buried them deeper. He meant to be soothing, but he forgot who he was soothing, himself or her. It felt incredible to do such a thing.
"I love you, Arya."
"And I you, iet Shur'tugal."
A green silhouette landed gently next to them, Firnen shook off the evening dew from his body, successfully getting them both wet.
"And hello to you too, Firnen."
The large old dragon chuckled softly, his deep booming voice filling their minds.
Hello to you, little lord.
"I trust Saphira has not been bothering you much."
A gust of wind nearly knocked him off his feet.
Of course I have not been bothering him. You should learn from Arya, she does not ask if Firnen has been bothering me lately.
"My apologies, Saphira."
She gave him a long look, huffing smoke in his face.
You are no fun to tease anymore. Far too proper since you became a teacher.
Eragon laughed at her, "I cannot very well keep up the same pretenses." His eyes became solemn, "It has been far too long, and I feel too old."
"You are immortal, Eragon. You cannot feel old; perhaps you have come down with a simple sickness since your arrival. The journey is one you have not taken in a while."
He caressed her cheek, letting his thumb linger longer than necessary.
"Nay, Arya. It is not the journey. I feel old. My body does not age, yet my mind feels the sorrows of the long past. I am a human, and my human friends are no longer with me. I should have known this would be the case. I walk through the halls of the castle alone, sometimes, and I see expect to see Nasuada walking towards me. A small smile on her face, sometimes breaking into a rare unrestrained grin. But then I remember she has died. I dare not return to Palancar Valley. They sent word Roran was sick, but I could not return, I was too stubborn. And so he passed, my only family left. Katrina, my niece, all dead. All I have is you, Arya. All I have left in Alagaesia is you."
Saphira caressed his head softly, Forgive me, little one. I should have known this was to be a concern of yours. I forgot that not all in this land is happiness.
There is nothing to forgive, Saphira. I scarcely let myself remember. I would return again in a heartbeat, perhaps even less.
Arya shook her head, "That is not true, Eragon, you are not alone. And you know this. Angela still roams the land, Solembum at her side. She has not left, and neither will she. And Murtagh, your brother and Thorn still roam the skies, sometimes I get sight reports of your brother returning from his expeditions up north, past the boundaries of the Du Weldonvarden. He has not left."
A strained smile reached his face, "Perhaps, Arya. Perhaps." But what warmed his heart the most was the fact she had tried to pacify him, even if she did not fully believe the words she said.
He scrunched his eyebrows. "Where is Angela, now that you have mentioned her."
Arya smiled, "Elusive as ever, she turns up here and there, I would never know unless she makes a special effort to let me know."
"I do not comprehend the full extent of her abilities, Eragon."
"And Murtagh?" He inquired after his step-brother.
"He has never set foot in Alagaesia after you left as far as we know, though Firnen claims to see him roaming around the northern part of the forests, it is well beyond the reach of the Du Weldonvarden."
The Rider nodded, and fell silent. Squeezing his hand, she prodded him gently. "Will you not ask, at least, about your cousin?"
"What is there to know? He fell sick." He replied solemnly.
"Lord of Palancar Valley, Roran Garrowsson Stronghammer, oversaw an area nearly as productive as Surda, though incredibly smaller in nature. The best education, from primary all the way through higher scholarly studies for humans reside there. Nasuada had no qualms about Illirea being replaced. Roran led a great life, he and Katrina had two more children. Two sons, though the youngest had suffered a horrible accident while hunting with his older brother. Since then, Garrow has become somewhat of a recluse, minding only to his studies, taking an interest only in his younger brother's welfare."
"He was crippled."
"What was his name, my youngest nephew."
Arya smiled, "His name was Eragon. Roran named him after you, and when he notified me of his intentions, Firnen and I immediately flew back to assist with his birth."
Unknowingly, he smiled at her, the happiness showing through his matured face. Arya stopped, tilting her head curiously at him, watching his beautiful expression. How was such perfection possible in just a smile? His eyes became younger, the lines of worry on his face lost themselves. He was as if years younger, no longer the man hardened by experience, but the young boy thrust into a world where he rose to fulfill such an incredible feat. He was as he once was, the man with boyishly cute looks that set her heart racing. And now…well, now he simply set her on fire.
He brought her closer, enveloping his strong arms around her waist, pulling her deeper and deeper as he kissed her thoroughly.
"Thank you, Arya."
She frowned when he pulled away. She never knew kissing could be so thoroughly enjoyable. Staring at his lips, and back and front from his lips to his eyes, invoking all her self-control not to close those little wisps of air between them and kiss him again, she questioned why.
"I thought, when I left, I abandoned my family. I never thought that though I was leaving, you would be there for them as I never was."
She pondered his words. It was true. Her mother never went out of her way to reach to other rulers and extend Elven help, but Arya had left running…flying, really, to Roran and Katrina at the simple mention of the birth. She had not lingered for long, just coming to assist with the birth, bestow their blessings, and leave.
"You were, are, and always will be my closest friend, Eragon. Your family, however, unusual or different it may have been, was important to me, as you were. I…I had been an ambassador for decades before you were even born."
Pausing to catch her words, she hesitated. "And even though I was very much around the Varden, I was never treated with familiarity. There was always…always a hint of wariness around me. I could see it in their eyes, forget about how they spoke to me. They were afraid, judgmental. Brom was the only one not Elven who treated me like any other. And that had been the basis for tolerating me."
She clasped a hand on his face, her thumb resting coolly on his cheek, "It was only after you saved me, after you brought me to the Varden, befriended me, spent time with me, talked with me, that the rest of the people felt more comfortable around me. They accepted me, and for someone who was shunned by her own mother, feeling accepted was incredibly important, regardless of how childlike that may sound. And it was because of you. I may never know how or why, but of all the men and women, more amiable, more considerate…less broken than me, you chose to befriend me."
Eragon sighed, "I did not choose to befriend you, Arya."
She chuckled, "Fate is in our hands as well, Eragon. That was the choice you made."
He shook his head, "I chose to accept the Dwarven invitation to join their clan, I chose to come to Ellesmera, I chose to rescue you. But I did not choose to fall in love with you, Arya. Whatever that was, however it may have come to be, I never had a choice. There was no option."
She glanced away, a tear lightly tracing a path on her cheek.
"Why?" Her voice was barely above a whisper.
The Rider held his Queen's face gently in his hands, stroking the single tear away.
"Arya, iet Drottning, you were strong, kind, considerate, oh so empowering. Being with you made me want to be a better everything. I love you, Arya. Then and now. I fell in love with you. Oh, Arya, you were perfect, how could I not? How could anyone not?"
Fervently denying his claim, "You are an exceptional man, Eragon. No one wants someone as cold as I can be."
"The fire in your heart can only be seen in your eyes by those you chose to trust with such a gift. I am honored to be one of them."
He embraced her, shivering because of the warmth her body gave him.
"Cold, Arya? Nay, never. The fire in your heart has the power to reduce the very sun into ashes, that is part of your name. Deny it all you want, that is who you are."
She chuckled, "Did you ever stop to think, that maybe who I am is largely dependent on who you see me as?"
He smiled against her hair, the sensation sending jitters through her toes, "I only stopped to think of how perfect you are."
Burying her face in his neck, she whispered, "I invited your nephew to my forests after he was crippled, to study and exercise with the elves. They taught him the Rimgar, and though he never retained full functionality, with the healings and the therapy, he was able to walk, though with a limp."
"What of Ismira?"
"Well, Garrow had never wanted anything to do with the lordship, though he technically was first in line. Eragon was far too interested in paintings. That and he would never have military authority with his disability which took him out of the race, leaving Ismira."
Grabbing his hand, she continued on to their journey, pulling out of contact only briefly to link arms with him.
"Roran had no qualms about giving his daughter the entirety of the lordship. She proved a capable fighter and an excellent lord to her people."
"And her marriage? Would that have left someone else with Palancar Valley?"
Arya laughed, "She fell in love with a young man assigned to her protection at aged sixteen. He was only three years her senior, and when she turned eighteen, she expressed her desire to marry the young man, and your cousin being the pushover he was when it came to his oldest, gave his consent. Roran and Katrina ruled for nearly twenty five years after Ismira's marriage, during which they had found Garrow and Eragon suitable brides, though they never strayed far away from their sister. Roran gave up his throne nearly five years before he was to pass, and carefully guided Ismira through the more difficult of administration processes. He fell sick, Eragon, and I left immediately. He told me that one day, when you would return…apparently, he was so certain you would return a hundred times the man you had left as, he told me to tell you that he loved you till the very last days of his life. And regardless of who your father was, who your brother was, he said he was adamant about you being his brother. He said that even if there had never been a speck of similar blood between you two, you would always be his younger brother, and he would always look out for you, provided of course, you needed help."
Eragon chuckled as his cousin's addendum, and imagined an older face with the same strong eyes and empowering grip. He wished, just once more, he wished he could feel his brother's arms around him. Roran was his older brother, and try as he might, Eragon could never forget growing up with him.
"She passed just a few days later, after ensuring Ismira and Salon had their province under control. Katrina was buried in the same tomb as Roran, the same coffin. They had barely enough time to prepare for Roran's funeral before Katrina had joined him."
"Do you believe in the afterlife, Arya?"
Looking quizzically at him, she replied, "Elves do not believe in such things, we believe that death is final, and the energy contained in the body passes to the ground. Yet, you knew this. Why do you ask?"
He shrugged his shoulders, "I hope that somewhere, somehow Roran and Katrina were united in afterlife, dancing with each other, some melody only they can hear as their rhythm. That is how they should be."
Arya laughed at him, "If there was a love strong enough to create an afterlife, it would be theirs." She paused, glancing at her mate, "Though I firmly believe ours is just as great."
He caught a mischievous look on her face, one that he was very hard pressed not to respond to.
"I do so love you, Arya Drottning."
She winked at him again, very much looking like a minx, she was incredible. Only she can live through such hard times, and yet be so free with her emotions, so free with him. He was literally thunderstruck at the beauty of her soul.
Seeing him nearly broken at the sight of her playfulness threatened another round of laughter, instead she chose to return to his side, slip his hand into hers, all the while striking a different mode of conversation. She felt like she was riding the wind, at once overwhelmed to tears about his love for her, and then overwhelmed with happiness with the same thing. Arya found that if it was love that overwhelmed her, she did not mind at all.
"Have your students left?"
He nodded and she replied, "So have my cavalry scouts."
"We should hear from them soon, I suppose."
Gently pulling on his hand, Arya led him back up the steps to the castle after bidding Saphira and Firnen goodbye, hoping for a good night's rest. The two dragons tasked themselves with ensuring the young dragons were well prepared for the battle to come, including scenarios of being captured or having their Rider capture. Perhaps the biggest rule was never attempting anything alone. Dragons, as powerful as they were, had great limitations. While they had an extensive resource of magic, they could not voluntarily call upon it. While they may be fierce from the front and sides, their blind spot was behind them, and sadly that would be manipulated. Most importantly, though, the bond between Riders and dragons was so strong, if separated, the will to live would highly diminish the chances of being reunited. It seemed their greatest strength could also be their most vulnerable part.
Your younglings will fare well, Saphira. Do not worry for them.
The blue dragoness licked her mate's face, caressing his strong jaw.
I watched them grow, Firnen, I played with them, I raised them.
And you will protect them through your teachings as you have taught me.
Author (A/N) Thanks to all of you for sticking with the story so far. I know its moving slowly, but it's taking longer than I expected to develop characters and a legitimate plotline. Many of you have been wondering where Murtagh is, he's in Chapter 19, though he identifies himself in Chapter 20. I tried my best to give his history and what it was like under Galbatorix's regime for him. Also, with Eragon's late family in last chapter, his nephews and nieces are no longer alive. I just wanted to clarify that, the Palancar Valley line of Roran is still there, though only descendants of that first generation. Sorry for the confusion.
I hope you've enjoyed the story thus far.
Chapter 17 The First Taste of Happiness, The First Taste of Blood
Fenrir and Salazador were the first to be prepared for their journey. He had never taken the time to really unpack. He merely pulled out some unnecessary clothing, and strapped the sack to Salazador's side. His white Rider's blade had a different hilt than the others. While most had a gem that matched the color of the blade, his white blade was accompanied with a crystal clear diamond. He ran his hands underneath, marveling at the rainbows it cast as he walked. Stroking Salazador's neck gently, he murmured in his mind.
Do you think we are ready for this, dear dragon of mine?
His white neck stretched and curved as he straightened out. A few women looked at Fenrir, shamelessly staring after him, and Salazador pinned them with a disappointed look. One of the girls had pushed the other forward, clearly being too shy to go herself. She cleared her throat, warily glancing between him and Salazador.
When it was clear she was far too nervous to speak, Fenrir decided to ask.
"Is there something you wanted?"
The girl nodded, looking at the ground, the sky, anywhere but at him.
"My father…" She trailed off.
"…is missing? Is lost? Needs help?"
She shook her head, apparently alarmed that it was the first thing he thought of.
"No! Nothing of that serious nature."
Fenrir furrowed his brows, unsure as to why she would start a sentence the way she did or seek him out for anything else.
"Is something the matter?"
The girl tried to look brave, "It is…I mean…I have not…I have never been so close to a dragon before. I am rather frightened. I am sorry, my lord."
The dark haired Rider smiled politely, "His name is Salazador, and he would never hurt you."
He speaks the truth, little girl. I am not in the practice of harming innocent humans.
Her eyes widened, and she nearly fainted.
"You just spoke to me, did you not?"
Yes, little girl, I have spoken to you. Does this frighten you as well?
"Ha!" She laughed, "I knew it! My mother told me I was insane to think a dragon could speak in my mind, look who is right now? I knew I was not imagining things."
Fenrir gave her an amused look while his white companion cocked his head to a side confusedly. In her defense, she looked quite embarrassed about her outburst.
"Sorry my lord, I did not mean it."
He shook his head, and shrugged his shoulders.
"I am afraid whatever breach of etiquette you may have perceived is lost on me. I never knew the customs of human aristocracy."
She was the one with the confused look, "But you look human, how can you not?"
He shrugged again, "My father was human, my mother was elf. I took after my father."
"Surely he taught you the ways of aristocracy."
The Rider shook his head, "My father died before I was born, I grew up in the Elven forests."
"I am sorry, my lord. I never should have asked." She bowed her head in embarrassment.
"What?" She looked up at him.
"I do not have a status outside the Order of the Riders. My name is Fenrir, you can call me Fenrir, not my lord. I am no lord."
"Fenrir…" The girl mulled over his name a few more times.
"Forgive me, but what was it that you wanted? You said something about your father."
"Oh yes!" She slapped her hand against her head, and looked sheepish for doing so, "Forgive me. My father recently discovered his relatives from the south are alive, they arrived a few days ago, and he is throwing a party to celebrate. We would like to formally invite you to the celebrations."
"But I have not done anything."
She looked at him incredulously, "But you are a Rider."
"Still have not done anything."
She sighed, "Are you making this purposely difficult?"
Fenrir looked genuinely confused, and in all honesty, he did not look nearly as confused as he truly was, "I am sorry, I do not understand I am afraid."
"I am inviting you to the party because I saw you from a distance and I would like to get to know you better."
Her straightforwardness endeared her to him, he could never be so outright. But he was fairly certain that was the type of behavior her mother would look down upon.
"Oh, I am sorry, I did not realize."
She was blushing, embarrassment clouding her face.
"Will you come, Fenrir?"
"When, uh, when would it be?"
"In two nights time."
He looked away, "I am sorry, my lady. I am leaving for a considerable amount of time."
"Oh…I…should, I should go."
We would have attended, little girl.
She stopped in her tracks. "Then why will you not?"
We are leaving now, on a mission with one other Rider to assist in the war. We do not know when we will return. But when we do, we shall come visit you.
"We will?" Fenrir asked questioningly.
We most certainly will. Salazador pointedly replied.
"See, we most certainly will come visit you."
Her face seemed to fall into some sort of disappointment, or maybe just resignation. But she smiled and headed back the way she came.
"Wait! My lady!"
She turned, her eyes till resigned.
"Yes?" A reply in a most delicate voice.
"I do not know your name."
Eleanor…he liked it.
"Eleanor, you have my word that once we return, we will visit you. Upon my word as a Rider, we will visit you."
Give her a token of some sort.
Give her something to show that you are not lying, you dimwit. I am a dragon and I know the workings of a human girl more than you.
"Give me a moment, please." He held out a hand to stop her, signaling the known sign to give him a moment.
Eleanor's eyes remained confused after Fenrir hurriedly left and returned with some sort of trinket in his hands. He held in his hand a bracelet.
"It is beautiful."
"It was my mother's."
Her eyes snapped to his, "I cannot take this."
"Oh my god, I invite for dinner to get to know you, you do not give someone you just met a bracelet of your mother's. I mean…"
"You do not like it?"
"I just said it was beautiful." She muttered exasperatedly.
She raised her eyebrows, seemingly unsure as to how to take into account that this man had absolutely no idea as to the customs of human nobility. Of all the situations, she did not foresee this one.
"It is far too personal for someone you barely met."
Fenrir smiled, and he swore he heard her breath catch in her throat, "Then keep it safe for me, and return when I come visit you after my return."
"Good-bye Eleanor, and my best wishes for your celebration."
He locked his sword to his side and mounted Salazador. A gust of wind shook the girls, but they stared after him, joining Victor and Taque who were flying overhead.
When I meant give her something, I meant like a flower. Not your mother's bracelet.
Now you tell me.
How was I supposed to know my Rider is such an idiot around women?
I do not know, Fenrir started sarcastically, perhaps because the only women I was comfortable around was my mother!
Salazador chuckled lightly, She likes you.
Yes, I am not that stupid…she did tell me.
Ah, I had forgotten about that part.
No, you did not.
I suppose you are right. She is quite pretty, that one. Eleanor.
Pretty? You think she was merely pretty? Did you even see her properly? She is most breathtaking woman I have ever seen, and so straightforward, and uncanny, and nothing like I have ever seen before.
I thought you had not seen much of women before.
And nothing like I have ever heard of before. He grudgingly corrected himself.
They flew in silence for a while, just the occasional pointing towards the old battlefield.
You did not have any problems talking to her, not anymore than usual, anyway.
I was unaware there were more problems with speaking to women that I was not already afflicted with. How could I possibly be worse than I already am?
This is true.
Do you think she likes me?
We just established that she did.
Right…do you think she will keep on liking me the more she gets to know me?
Still no response.
I suppose that is a no.
No, as in she will not like me no, or no the response is a no.
Salazador snapped out of his stupor.
I have absolutely no idea as to what you are talking about now. However, we have arrived.
The Rider looked down, the battlefield scorched with trails of fire, mangled body parts, pieces of weapons broken and lying here and there, vultures picking at the dead bodies. They landed a bit away from the destruction site, and Victor threw up to his side.
"Never in my entire life…" He trailed off, continuing to gag.
His partner handed him a water skin to wash his mouth with.
"We must go inside. Are you alright now?"
Not trusting himself to speak, Victor nodded.
A few roars above them signaled the rest of their comrades arriving. Slowly, they all came to the battle site, walking around for any trails or off paths that might be identified.
Amatria looked just as she always had, but her eyes darted to Ishmael more often. He, on the other hand, looked around with a collected reserved demeanor. Walking over to a particularly bloody area, he pulled out nearly twelve arrows from dead bodies. Victor recognized it as his handy work.
Thane clapped Ishmael on his back as he slowly cleaned them off and placed them in his quiver. He gave Amatria a small smile, and squeezed her hand as he walked by.
Marcus looked at the ground, trying not to see anything, but when Ru'ali prompted him to glance up, he too threw up, and cleaned his mouth with water. There was too much blood for Marcus to feel comfortable there. Blood always made him queasy.
A tear leaked down his cheek, and he turned towards his dragon, resting his head against the large purple body, whose breath, it seemed, quickened at the site of such bloodiness.
Only Kyra and Hjarta remained nonchalant, they were unaffected by the destruction, only looking towards to their allotted route and debating whether to talk to the man who vexed her so.
"Do you see any tracks by you?"
Isaac called out to Kyra. She shook her head.
"But they are not anywhere else either. Either there were no survivors, or no tracks."
Maria spoke, "Do you see the mud? It should be dirt, and it is not all that bloody that the soil became this moist. It rained at some point, maybe not heavily, but it would have covered up the tracks."
"Damn the rain!" Elbryn cursed, "You can never trust the weather will be on your side."
She picked up her axe, and sliced it through a fallen tree. Observing the damage done, she informed the rest of her Rider friends.
"This tree has been dead nearly three days from a normal perspective, but the rain damage made it moist. Things are crusting and falling off in a mushy pile much sooner. I say our survivors are nearly a day and a half ahead of us." She kicked the log to the side, "And look, footprints."
The tree had preserved some, protecting it from the rain.
Thane rushed over, "That is our area. Marcus! We should leave now, we cannot have them that far ahead of us on foot."
The purple-eyed man nodded, walking past Kyra, giving her a small smile on his way out. Their relationship…he would work on. Who was he kidding? He would more like beg for forgiveness until she talked to him again.
He waited until Thane mounted Solusar and took off after they did, bidding good-bye to their companions.
"We should leave too, Amatria. A day and a half is quite long, even on dragon back. Should they reach their troops before us, we have no idea as to what trouble we could get into."
Nodding, she lithely bounced on Ladrimme, a quick kiss on Ishmael's cheek, a surprise to all who remained. But Kyra said nothing, only fixing her sword and leaving with Hjarta. Soon the rest of the group flew away too, leaving only Ishmael and Isaac on the battlefield.
"I cannot do this, Ishmael. I cannot stand this. Do you think this is what my sister is like now? Oh god, I never should have left."
Ishmael walked over to him, "Do not fear what has not yet come to pass. You are a warrior. And you will fight, you have never failed in your duty yet."
Isaac nodded, "Right. You are right. Of course you are right. I mean you are always right, you are Ishmael."
The elder Rider looked at him with considerable amusement, but said nothing.
Celtor spoke to his Rider, Shut up, Isaac. You are spiraling, you moron.
Ishmael chuckled at Celtor's seemingly harsh words. It was how he addressed the boy, it was his form of affection. Had there been none, Celtor would not care one way or another, he would have said nothing, and let his Rider make a fool of himself.
Right, Celtor. You are right, you are…
Not this again. Just get on.
Arhel began to laugh, her large body shaking the ground beneath her.
"We should go, a day and a half behind, if Elbryn is right. And she is never wrong with tracking."
"True, she and Nalmalk can spot wolf tracks from miles away, literally."
Celtor and Arhel took off to the skies, their Riders with wary eyes towards the direct west.
Somewhere East of the Battle
Maria merged her eyes with Hulon, almost instantly seeing figures below her moving. She strained, casting a spell of invisibility after informing her comrade of her intentions. Hulon moved silently, no more noise as a gust of wind as he glided down. But her suspicions were nothing more than a Shrrg in the wrong area.
She relayed her findings to Elbryn, who immediately picked up on the discrepancy.
There should be no Shrrgs here. They are too far away from home.
They should be in the Beor Mountains, no?
Especially in this time of year.
Nalmalk had an unusual remark, Could this particular one be a stray?
Not this far away from home.
Then perhaps its environment was destroyed.
If that is the case than the dwarves have fallen. Maria remarked nonchalantly, But that cannot be the case. We have heard nothing from them. And it would be suicidal to climb the Beor in this weather.
Elbryn nodded, The Beor is under siege. I had forgotten to take this into account. With the trade routes completely cut off, the dwarves are reliant on the sources around them, they probably have destroyed thousands of Shrrg habitats in search of food. We should be careful when setting up camp.
The rest nodded their consent.
Somewhere Southwest of the Battle
Amatria flew low with Ladrimme, finding the best use of their stealth in masking her presence in the sky by a simple light bending, than relying on keen eyesight as Kyra and Hjarta were. They easily fell into a routine, but slowly and surely, they felt uneasy about the ordeal.
Kyra! I see some men!
The elven woman and her companion swooped down to meet her, at once masking their presence as well.
It is not a banner I recognize.
Neither does it look human.
You were there that night, do they look familiar? I do not wish to be responsible for the death of fleeing Alagaesians.
Ladrimme answered, Most definitely. This was of the same sign of the leader I burnt to the ground.
I see two from here, and another two over to the left.
Hjarta swooped down even closer, confirming his observations.
Should we burn them to the ground?
Too telling, we need stealth.
Drop and fight from the ground, Kyra answered swiftly.
The two dragons accelerated swiftly, and their Riders jumped off as they canceled the spell to mask their presence. A few screams of surprise came through, even their anguish sounded foreign to them.
Without further ado, Kyra unsheathed her blade, ducked under an oncoming axe, and parried her first enemy blow.
Amatria was having a little more trouble. Complete battle, hand-to-hand was not her specialty, though given the right circumstances she could shine. She relied on blending in her environments, relied on becoming invisible to the untrained eye, but here in broad daylight, where her dark hair and garments stood out in the yellow plain, it was difficult. Drawing her small knife, she flipped away from one of her attackers, disarming him with a kick to his hand, and a roundhouse to his face. She blocked her second attacker, and rammed her knife into the neck of her incapacitated man.
She momentarily froze, gauging her reaction, but after a flurry of sharp objects flying at her, she did not have time to think. Pulling her knife away, she ducked underneath, flipping her second assailant and piercing his neck with her sword as he too fell.
Glancing over at Kyra, she watched as her blonde hair whipped through the wind, nearly slicing it if it could, and in one quick move, spinning around her first enemy, stabbing his heart, wrenching her sword out, and ducking under the blade of her second man, kneeling to avoid his blade in a sharp movement with focused eyes, and laid his stomach open.
Kyra stood up, her eyes unusually blank, and wiped the blood on her sword onto a clean part of the enemy's flag. It was the only thing that lacked bloodstains in the vicinity. Their clothes, obviously, were out of the question.
"I really hate blood."
Amatria was inclined to agree.
"Did we catch the last of them?"
Kyra shrugged, "Better be safe than sorry. While I do not believe we have missed any, I cannot be sure no one will come across our mark." And then she went to move the bodies into a bush, hiding them from any potential viewing, burying them under foliage and in some cases even ground.
She watched as her companion stared at the blood on her sword, not going near her dead victims. She seemed vulnerable to the blonde woman, and so Kyra walked over.
"Are you alright, Amatria?" She laid a gentle hand on her shoulder, half expecting her to flinch and move away, and when she did not, Kyra was even more concerned. Amatria never let anyone touch her…anyone. Except, it seemed, Ishmael.
Her black eyes fixed on her, and Amatria leaned in, grasping her companion lightly around the waist, a gesture of comfort.
"Now, I am really afraid for you, Amatria."
Her reply was quick as she continued to embrace her…friend.
"Do not be. I just…this is difficult."
Kyra nodded, "I cannot hope to imagine what you have gone through, but should you need to leave the grunt work to me, I am here."
She laughed, quite contrary to her usual demeanor, and then fell sober, "Do not think me weak, Kyra. Just broken, but I am being fixed."
Nodding, the fairer haired Rider jumped upon her green dragon and signaled to leave with a smile on her face, this was the Amatria she knew.
Her companion, on the other hand, moved the bodies and hid them similarly, masking the blood with well-placed foliage on the pathway, and then jumped on Ladrimme as they continued their journey.
Somewhere Southeast of the Battle
Southeast would be riddled with enemies. Marcus knew this, but it still made his heart beat a little faster when they saw their first group of enemy soldiers. There were three of them, running away, clearly lost by the way they had circled and circled around the same area. Thane wanted to follow them instead of engage, but when it came clear they had no idea where they were going, Ru'ali suggested it would be better to dispose of them. They would have no value considering they cannot be followed, and it was too dangerous to leave them alive – they were the enemy and would not extend the same courtesy to an Alagaesian.
And so, Ru'ali and Solusar swooped down, their teeth and claws making short work of two while Thane cracked the neck of the third with a simple "Jierda!"
Marcus dismounted a few feet in front, and carefully laid the ground open to put the bodies in. there could be no evidence. Thane and Solusar flew overhead making sure no one would take them by surprise.
Marcus! To your left!
His amaranth eyes shot up, drawing his sword before even locating his enemies. A group of nearly six dark skinned painted brutishly looking men headed his way.
Ru'ali opened his mouth to douse them with flames, but Marcus quickly stopped him.
You cannot! Fire is too easily recognized.
He growled a few expletives, and charged instead.
Thane flew low, drawing his bow, and quickly docking an arrow. He was no Ishmael, but he had a steady hand, a clear view, and a stable flight. He killed one on their assailants with an arrow through the head, another through the heart.
Ru'ali ripped another to pieces, but three had already surrounded Marcus. Thane could not get a clear shot without guaranteeing he would not have shot his comrade. Rather than risk the wrath of Kyra, for she would kill him with a pleasant smile on her face should anything happen to the man, he quickly jumped on the ground to assist Marcus.
But apparently, his friend needed no assistance. His eyes turned dark, focused, almost midnight in how seductive they had become. His purple blade shone in the light as if it was lit with fire, flames running down the sides, creating such a beautiful persona. But it was not fire, it was the excitement of Marcus, the electricity in his body projecting itself onto his blade, dancing with anticipation.
One of the three made a burly attempt to strike him, Marcus caught his hand midair, and threw him to the ground, all the while keeping his grip solid. The Rider broke his arm, shattering it in at least six pieces after repeated twisted and turning, but he would not let his attacker even scream for seconds later, he raised his sword in the air, as if sacrificing him to some higher being, and brought his sword straight down into his neck.
If the violent death of their comrade deterred the remaining two, then they did a surprisingly amazing job not showing it. Feeling a little out of practice with hand to hand combat, Marcus grabbed another of them by the throat, crushing his neck in a decisive blow as he too crumpled in the ground before him. The next man was not lucky with a quick death. He was brought to his knees with a kick strong enough to break his legs, Marcus started to choke him, and then sought out his mind. There were no barriers. Whatever strength they had did not result from their minds or a magical source. They simply had no magic in them. Nevertheless, Marcus painfully penetrated his mind, images of ice shards causing the man to bleed from his ears and nose. It was surprisingly useful, on this road there were several large groups, nearly up to twenty men who had gathered together after the rout of their camp. They were heading Surda, where apparently, one of their main bases was located. The name of the place, Marcus could not tell, they had different names for different place, and he understood nothing of their language.
He tried to gleam more information, but his source suddenly went blank. Marcus came back into his own conscience, and realized the man he still held firmly had died. He let him go, watching as he too fell at his feet.
I am proud of you, Marcus.
Ru'ali whispered into his mind, not with the excitement that his Rider was most like him, but rather the feeling of killing produced no emotion from the man, no fear, no hatred, no anger, no depression, and especially no excitement. Marcus was not excited by death, granted, he was not excited much by anything, but at least he found no pleasure in killing.
"Sodding good job, Marcus!" Thane clapped him on his back, his sword sheathed as quickly as it was drawn. "I will just dictate from up top now on."
The black haired Rider shook his head in amusement, grateful his companion did not prod his feelings on the matter.
"We need to get rid of the bodies, Thane."
He shrugged, "You never finished burying the first."
And so they expanded the grave to fit nine men instead of three.
"What did you find from his mind?"
"There are heavy groups of men, almost twenty strong as of a few hours ago, could be more later on. They were trying to head to Surda, but I could not place the area they wanted to go to. I have never outside Illirea, and they referred to the towns with different names in a vastly different language. I could not tell where it was."
"We have to find them before they reach the encampment. Find and destroy the larger ones. That is a pillaging group of men. Innocent villages will pay the price as spoils of war."
"I know. The last hope we have to tracking them is leaving the small groups, and following them straight to heart of enemy territory."
"Did they say where they were? The large group of men?"
"As of, I think, a few hours ago, maybe a half hour flight from where we are, west of our current location."
"We need to leave now."
He agreed, jumped to Ru'ali and they took off into sky, masking their presences by a simple trick of the light.
Somewhere South of the Battle
Fenrir was lost in his thoughts once again, well, thoughts about one particular person, Eleanor to be exact.
I wonder if people called her Ellie.
You shall keep wondering in the after life if you do not pay attention to what is about to happen.
Salazador beat his Rider out of his thoughts, and looked over. Victor frantically pointed beneath them, and Fenrir merged his mind with his dragon and saw what had gotten him in a riot. There were several humans, a band of Alagaesians travelers. They looked around six strong, including two children, a woman, and three men in their middle thirties or older.
Nothing to be alarmed of, unless you counted the crouched figures in bushes something to be alarmed of.
Are they our enemies?
Does it matter? They are robbers.
Taque's judgment was well inclined, and so the rest of his companions joined him in a stealthy rescue mission of their fellow Alagaesians.
Instead of killing them as they would have their enemies, Taque simply roared a little, alarming everyone and headed straight for the bushes where the bandits were located. Fenrir, on the other hand, was not so kind.
His simple demeanor evaporating, he grabbed one of the bandits and threw him to the ground, pulling the other one with magic towards him. Their would be victims were too shocked to comprehend, some of them even hid. The dark haired, relatively dark skinned man pulled his gleaming white blade and swiftly moved down to kill his perpetrator, until Salazador knocked him off his feet.
Victor jumped down and ran over, binding all the bandits with magic. Seeing as Fenrir was too enraged…at what only Salazador knew…Victor made the bandits swear in the Ancient Language that they would not harm the people they see on the path and deprive them. He even made them swear that they would return to Illirea, where they would turn themselves in to the Lord Rider Eragon Kingkiller, and would follow his orders explicitly. They agreed when the white and yellow dragon glared menacingly, and were sent on their way.
Seemingly composing himself, Fenrir walked over to the civilians.
"Are you alright?"
One of the men, clearly in at least his fifties, fell to his knees and thanked him profusely.
"Ummm…" Fenrir has zero experience with normal people, there was only so much he could gleam from stories. And he never put himself in a social situation where he could learn from observation, he felt it was too unnecessary considering he would never be fully elven or fully human, but an aberration of the two.
The woman helped the man to his feet, "Father, the kind man asked you a question."
"Yes!" He replied swiftly, "Yes, we are alright!"
He glanced around, clutching his little children to him, after finding them hiding behind bushes. The older gentleman, probably in their mid twenties gathered what little supplies they had left.
Fenrir felt sympathetic, clearly it was a distressing situation. "Calm yourself, sir, we are friends and Riders, we mean no harm."
He nodded and sat down against a tree.
"We left, perhaps, two weeks ago. We had a group of men, at least six soldiers to help us on our way, mercenary soldiers. My brother, he is a nobleman in the capital. He had told me rumors of the return of the Riders and so I set out. Our village was becoming increasingly unsafe. Mercenaries turned against me, and those loyal fell fighting those whose loyalty wavered. I took my children and a few good men left and set out for the city to my brother."
Fenrir glanced around, "This does not look like a large group of men."
Still flustered, he wiped his forehead with a handkerchief.
"We met…unexpected circumstances. The war has ravaged on. They took us by surprise, some stragglers of an army, they were heading south. We north. We met on the road, but they knew we were coming, we had no inclination. They ambushed us in the dead of the night, their skin blending in, and in the commotion, I grabbed my daughter and two children, and whoever I could find, and it was these two, James and Zachary, that armed themselves, killed at least three and fled with us. We have been on the road since, and ran into no trouble until those bandits."
A tinge of familiarity hit Fenrir, "Your brother? Does he have a daughter named Eleanor?"
The girl answered with enthusiasm, "Yes! Yes! Have you met her? Are they okay? Did they send you? Did she send you?"
Fenrir shook his head, a smile threatening to emerge at the mention of her name, despite the situation and his anger still coursing through his veins.
"No, no they did not send me. We are tracking the stragglers from the army. Your brother is preparing a celebration for you."
But he said no more.
He whistled, singing softly in the Ancient Language until a little bird came to him. Resting on his hand, he spoke specific directions, and watched as it hovered around the travelers.
"The rest of the road may not be safe. This bird will travel far and near around you, and when it sees something, he will begin to squeak and squeal as birds do, and when he does, be on alert. You should have no more surprises on this road. Though, do still be careful."
The men nodded to him, "Thank you, Sir Rider. As long as we have a warning, we have a much better defense."
"Fenrir." He said calmly. "My name is Fenrir. I do not have the title of Sir."
"You saved our lives, Sir Fenrir. That is more deserving of a title than I have seen been given."
The small company of men left back on their trail, their flying friend already scouting the area.
"We need to talk."
The dark haired Rider glanced at Victor. His partner's face was impassive, if not a little cruel.
"You were going to kill that man, had Salazador not stopped you."
Are you accusing my Rider of something?
Salazador was immediately on the defensive, and Taque responded in kind.
That is no manner to speak to my Rider, and yours clearly is in the wrong.
"Stop it, both of you." Fenrir spoke clearly, "My reasons for hatred of bandits are personal."
Victor made a face at him, "This is not a personal war, we are not those corrupted by personal feelings, Fenrir. That is no excuse."
Fenrir sighed, deciding there was no way around it, "My father was killed by bandits, and my mother because of the depression due to my father's murder."
Victor turned away, "I am sorry, Fenrir. I did not know." But he steeled himself, "However, that is still no reason to have lost your temper."
The dark haired Rider nodded solemnly.
"I am glad Salazador stopped me. My personal feelings should never get in the way of a job. Swift murder is not the correct sentence for everyone."
The white dragon nudged his Rider, Those times have come in the past, and should be left there. We must find the stragglers before they attack more innocent people.
Taque agreed, pushing his companions to ride out into the night. There would be little sleep tonight.
Somewhere West of the Battle
Isaac and Celtor flew high, with Isaac merging his eyesight with his dragons and flying well above the cloud line, looking for signs of movement. They found some – mainly animals, but no men, Alagaesians or enemies on their journey. Ishmael and Arhel flew low, with an arrow always docked, his eyes ready for an oncoming enemy. He was the most paranoid and for good reason, he was the only one who actually fought and killed.
Isaac pestered him endlessly about what to do, what they were like, and how to fight.
While patiently answering all his queries, Ishmael knew his fears stemmed from his own nerves, not his desire to learn as much about his enemies as possible. Normally, he would never question the judgment of his ebrithil. Eragon – ebrithil was by far the oldest, wisest, and most worthy teacher he could have ever asked for, and he was rarely wrong. But when Ishmael realized that Isaac would be on such a dangerous mission, he questioned if he had made the right decision. Isaac was too young, too childish, too…unready for such an ordeal. He was far too trusting, far too naïve to think that this war would be without casualties. He was too innocent for this mission.
It was the first time Ishmael sincerely begged to be wrong.
Ishmael, look to the side! The right side! Celtor sees movement.
He quickly turned, his eyesight seamlessly blending with Arhel's in a fraction of a second, if even, and located the movement. It was human, and it moved like his enemies. They had found one straggler.
Make yourself invisible, Isaac. We should follow him, and find the camp. He is alone.
Isaac nodded, relieved, it seemed to Ishmael, that his enemy would not be killed.
You worry too much for the boy, Ishmael. Isaac is strong, he bears a large burden with knowing his sister and brother in law are still alive, and in danger. He has not shown lapses in judgment, just nervousness. I remember you when you first pulled an arrow.
It was different. Amatria was in danger, I had to act, Arhel. There was no other choice.
And when the time comes, so will Isaac. There will be no other choice for him either.
And of Celtor?
That dragon loves that boy nearly as much as I love you, if not more. He is possessive, protective, caring, and incredibly skilled at keeping Isaac safe. Trust me, I know Celtor. He may grumble all he wants, but in the end, he would willingly die for his Rider. As we all would.
Nothing will happen to you, Arhel. You are indestructible.
This is a war, Ishmael. Naivety does not suit you. We will be lucky if none of us pass into the void in this confrontation. Very lucky indeed.
He paused in his answer, his heart wanting to reject his dragon's irrevocable logic, but he could not bring himself to believe it.
Damn you, logic.
Ishmael located their straggler and quickly fell into line behind him. They were silent, keeping the large shadows far behind them. The enemy would never know.
A/N I want to thank everyone who read the story, your feedback is always important and encouraging. Especially in correcting any inaccuracies, and keeping me on my toes. Thanks a ton, and to those asking about Murtagh. He makes an appearance here.
Chapter 18 Those closest are often those most blind
Arya had finished her scrying with her warriors. They had given a daily update. Most never encountered anything, but a few came across the dead bodies of some enemies, albeit, well hidden, if not for the repugnant smell of rotting bodies. The quickness of motion, they deduced, were the work of Riders who were far ahead of them.
Namira, one of her generals, had expressed explicit concern of whether the Riders were calculating enough to hid the bodies – her doubts had been answered.
The Queen sighed, war was not easy. And for once, she began to grow a deep respect for her mother. She never knew being Queen during a war was so incredibly difficult. And she had done it without someone to support her. At least she had Firnen, and now Eragon, whose love she could not fathom.
She made her way up to her room, night had fallen hours ago, the faint light of the moon illuminated her way, not that she needed it. Lifting her tired body up the stairs, she took note that Firnen had already fallen asleep, his hunt being quite exhaustive. Opening the door, she half expected to be alone. But beside her bed was the straggled form of her sleeping mate. His hair was mussed, disheveled, whatever it was called. She needed to invent a word to describe him. It looked like he had pulled up a chair and begun to read, waiting for her. But the candle had long since died out, and he remained sprawled across the chair in a form that must have been uncomfortable for his frame, meaning he had been waiting for a considerable amount of time.
Despite her tired self, Arya smiled.
She looked to her room for rest, but this was better than being alone. Far better. Loved, cared for, cherished, as he did her. The love in the air was palpable when he was near her. She could not understand how the others had zero inkling as to the nature of their relationship.
Eragon shifted in his chair, still not waking. A familiar ache coursed through her. It had been so long since she felt such desire. She swallowed, her throat uncharacteristically dry. He looked so beautiful, so handsome, so chiseled.
It should be illegal for a man to be so perfect. She glanced at his arms, strong, thick bands. Even when he was younger they offered her comfort like no other. They held her, a cage, but only one to protect her. And when she had moved out of his embrace, she felt exposed, unsafe. She craved that feeling, craved those two solid steel bands around her.
A tear leaked down her face, how did she manage without him for so long? And even when he was here, to deny the simple pleasure of waking up next to him, of falling asleep beside him? Such a small thing for everyone else, yet such a blessing for her.
Not to mention, he had been here a week, irrevocable in his love, and the pleasures of the flesh had yet to come up. A pang ran through her…she wanted him. And she hoped her desire was reciprocated.
Arya blushed, it had been so long since she felt this desire for someone else. Too long…
Her face grew hot, she needed to calm herself. And his innocent position was not helping her cause. Moving to her closet, she pulled a few sleep garments from it, walked over to the bathroom and splashed her face with cold water. She shuddered at the sensation, but it was what she needed.
Slipping her more regal clothes off, she slowly pulled on her cotton clothes. Glancing at the sleeping body of her mate, Arya walked over to him, turning off the candles with a little mutter of the Ancient Language.
She kneeled down beside him, shaking him softly, kissing his neck, his ear, anything to wake him.
Eragon stirred, opening his eyes to the beautiful green emeralds that belonged to her.
"Arya. You have returned." He groggily wiped the fog from his eyes. "Forgive me for disturbing you so late, I just wanted to let you know my Riders were all safe for the night. You were busy earlier, I did not want to be distracted."
He glanced around, orienting himself. Seeing the moon so high in the air, he sighed, "It is really late, Arya. I should go." But his actions did not mirror his words.
Leaning down, he captured her lips, savoring the feel lethargically. He could fall asleep there.
But she did not release her hold on him, rather deepening the kiss, pinning him where he was.
"Stay the night." She ventured.
A smile crossed his features, "I would love to, but…"
"If you would love to, then stay."
He raised his hand to her cheek, "I love you, Arya."
She kissed him languidly again, "Then stay." She pleaded.
Going to sleep alone and cold…the thought abhorred her.
"The repercussions…" he trailed off.
"No, do not think about those. Just me. Eragon, please do not let duty, reputations, and service keep us apart, not any more. I could not bear it. We are only sleeping. Eragon, please." Her voice was faint. In her musings, she never considered that he might not want to be next to her.
Eragon lifted her in his arms, pulling her compliant body on his lap, and somehow finding the strength in his tired body, laid her down on the soft mattress. He pushed the covers back, slipping underneath after her.
"You had me at 'stay the night,' Arya. You know I can deny you nothing. And you know I would never want to part from you."
She shimmied up to him, resting her head on his chest, the crevice right where his shoulder met his chest, and buried her face in his neck. Immediately, his arms came around her, two steel bands, her personal cage of safety.
Involuntarily she let out a sigh of triumph or happiness, she could not tell.
"I love you, Arya." And she was soaring, letting her eyes close, and sleep invade her consciousness.
Southeast of Battle
"How is Marcus? Ishmael was quite worried about him when we had been informed of our task."
Amatria's question broke her out of her reverie.
So much more broken than I will ever let anyone know. What startled Kyra is that Amatria asked her.
She frowned, "Why would you think I know?"
Amatria was the one who frowned, "You know him best of all. He is not…" She paused, "Cold. Kyra. He is not as cold around you as anyone else."
Kyra shook her head, Marcus wore his emotions on his sleeve, surely everyone saw this.
"You never noticed, did you?"
She looked away, "What was there to notice?"
"He never let people touch him, except in fighting apart from Eragon – elda and Ru'ali. You were the only one who could for a long while."
Kyra frowned, "That is not true."
"Marcus always broke his hands when fighting. He liked hand-to-hand. He never let anyone heal his hands. Thane had tried when Marcus first arrived, but he pushed Thane away so fast and bolted. Of course, it came as a surprise when he fought with you, and broke his hands, and allowed you to touch him, to heal him."
"I remember that, but I had no idea he had such a strong opposition to physical contact."
"I bet you never knew he purposely lost to you."
She sputtered her water out, "What?!"
Amatria chuckled, "I suppose not."
"How do you know?" She questioned, how had she been so blind? "Surely, you are mistaken."
Amatria shook her head adamantly and proved her case.
"Who is the one person no one has ever beaten in matters of fighting skills?"
Kyra shrugged, "Eragon – ebrithil. Who else?"
Amatria sighed, "After his thirtieth year of being a Rider, Marcus consistently beat ebrithil in hand-to-hand combat. I had seen them fight when climbing one day."
The black haired elf crouched back against the log, letting the fire warm her hands.
"It came as a surprise to me too. The way he moves when it is hand-to-hand, how quick and strong he is…you should have seen him, Kyra. Eragon – ebrithril did not even have a chance."
Her face was in a pleasant shock, "If he was so good, why did he throw the fight?"
Her companion looked at her, exasperated, "Because he loved you, Kyra. I thought you were quite a bit more intelligent than that."
Was he always so plain to read? Why did she never see the difference? Why did he never flinch around her?
She shook her head, things did not make any sense. Everyone said she knew him the best, clearly she knew him the least.
The Marcus she knew was so different from the one her fellow Riders described. He was more like the Marcus…the Marcus who left her that night. His eyes so cold, so pained.
She was not anything special…why would he take to her? She was just…decent looking, she supposed, but nothing more than that. Just…her. Nothing special. Why would Marcus be so different around her when there were far more personable people around her?
Maria, for one. She was a gorgeous brunette with such a loving personality. And Isabel, the red head who never failed to put a smile on anyone's face. She was such a firecracker. And Kate, oh Kate had such a loving personality, spunky and fun to be around.
Even Amatria, the dark haired, dark eyed beauty was so exotic looking, she was ethereal. Kyra shook her head, "I do not understand him."
"Why would he love me?" She asked under her breath.
Hjarta lifted his head from his spot, tapping his snout against her blonde curls.
I cannot tell you why. I can only tell you how much.
And he showed her his memory of his confrontation.
Soon tears were coming down Marcus' face. His anguish, his beautiful eyes filled with so much anguish…all her fault.
She felt two comforting arms around her, gently leaning her into a warm body, as she cried even more.
"Oh, Kyra. I am so sorry."
The green-eyed elf composed herself, sitting up straight, wiping the tears from her eyes.
Despite her condition, she began to chuckle. Between her laughs, and tear-eyed face she managed to get her thoughts out.
"Forgive me, Amatria. But I never imagined discussing my feelings with you. Then again, we all have changed more in the past few days than we have in those long years."
"Ishmael is good for me." She said quietly.
"How did you get over yourself? How do you feel so vulnerable, so willingly?"
Amatria shrugged her shoulders. "I suppose I could say it was because I was so happy being vulnerable. That the good outweighs the bad…but then I realized that even if love is not reciprocated, I was still just as vulnerable to Ishmael. The difference was that I would be miserable."
"So that is all then? Just those words of advice?"
She sighed, "Do not let Marcus get away, Kyra. And you make sure as hell he does not let you go either. Love, for us, is special. We are the only ones in the entire Alagaesia with the freedom to fall in love with whomever we want and never risk condemnation from our people."
Amatria thought for a moment, and then amusedly said, "Although, your family might never accept Marcus considering how respectfully he treated your brother."
Kyra let out a full-blown laugh, "Kyrian deserved it, he had it coming. Although, I was so afraid Marcus would seriously hurt him."
"Really? Marcus would never hurt anyone close to you."
"He would also never let anything that threatens me live."
"Oh, the joys of having an overbearing, slightly frightening, callous, prickly man as your lover."
Kyra sighed, "He is nothing of the sort. He is sweet, kind, compassionate, and so lovable. He just…I suppose he just needs to realize it."
"Oh honey, you have got it bad for him."
She admitted it, "I am just a mess, Amatria, A right mess."
East of the Battlesite
Maria step up their perimeter, alerting them if any wild animals trespassed on their territory. They opted to get rid of a fire, just in case any wild Shrrgs would make an unwelcome appearance. Keeping close to their dragons was only source of comfort.
"When will your parents arrive?"
Maria shrugged, "Sometime in the next week or so." She shook a bit, "It has been twenty-five years. I hardly think they will recognize me." She paused, "I have changed since that time, Elbyrn. And so has Victor."
"Your parents will always be your parents. They will love you regardless of how you are now."
Maria shook her head, "My parents are…different, Elbryn. They believe in non-violence. To the core, so much so that father could not even bear to speak with Victor when he punched another boy for making a lewd comment against me. The 'proper' way was to alert the authorities. I dared not say it was the son of one such 'authority' who actually came on to me as a child."
The brunette looked away, staring off in to the distance. "I lied to Eragon-elda when I told him father was uneasy about us leaving because Victor is his only son and must continue the business. The truth is that Father never approved of the Rider order, or of fighting. He believed they held too much power, and that is corrupting, if you will. He believed that fighting and killing, even in defense, is the most dishonorable way of life. Nonviolence is the most honorable in his mindset."
"Skewed if you ask me."
Maria laughed at her dwarven companion's statement.
"Highly skewed, if you ask me. But I have no inclination as to what I would do if he ever saw me again. I always, always believed I would never see my parents again. And so, their opinion of who I turned out to be never really mattered. I always believed that they would remember the girl I was. But now, now I stand a sword at my side, the ability to kill in my hands, and no hesitation because my sense of principles have changed. I let myself change."
Elbryn snorted, "You are not who your father wanted you to be, that will never mean you are not a good person."
"You would not understand, Elbryn. It is difficult for me to say how."
And to that, she snorted one more time.
"Look who you are talking to! Elbryn of the house of Dûrgrimst Vrenshrrgn. I hail from a warrior family. And trust me, when Nalmalk hatched for me, they had suggested numerous ways of getting rid of her, all but suggesting that I kill her." She emphasized. "It was incredibly difficult, and they would never approve of me. But becoming a Rider, it was the best decision I ever made. Sticking by Nalmalk, she was the one solace I had in a world that shunned for wanting something different."
The bronze haired, short statured woman sighed. "I am a dwarf, a dwarven Rider. And my family will never accept that, I know this. But what I love about my new family, my new order is that they do not give a set of principle that I must abide by. I do not agree with everything Eragon-elda says, and I never will. But I have never been shunned for what I believe in. And if you really think about it, ebrithil never shoved his opinions down our throats either." She paused, unsure of how to explain her revelation. "Everyone calls King Galbatorix the tyrant king, but ebrithil always addressed him as King Galbatorix. He never places his opinion on us. Whether or not he considers Galbatorix a good man or a bad man, we will never know. He gives us the facts. And Murtagh, he always calls him the Red Rider or Murtagh. Never, Galbatorix's Rider, or the Empire's Rider, or the Son of Morzan. Always just other names. Never one incriminating. What I am trying to say is that ebrithil gives us the facts and teaches us to form our own opinion. What we think as right or wrong is our own decision based on what we know, and we are far more educated than anyone that roams the land. What I am saying, Maria, is forget about who your parents wanted you to be, forget about what you think your brother or ebrithil wants you to be. You are intelligent enough to know who you want to be. Forget the rest."
Maria nodded, but instantly went on high alert. Hulon raised his ostentatious yellow head in alarm, Nalmalk kept low, her eyes burning to see who had broken their perimeter. Elbryn looked around cautiously, slowing moving out of her dragon's wing.
Cast yourself invisible.
Maria nodded and disappeared from sight. The rustling momentarily stopped, and each Rider merged their minds together, as one single unit.
A snap of a twig, instantly Maria drew her sword silently, her eyes transfixed on the noise. Hulon let his teeth bare, bringing the fire from the depths of his abdomen to rest menacingly in his throat. He looked frothy at the mouth…only from fire. A Shrrg walked through, uncaring of what had been there previously. Taking a sniff from the air around it, it moved on out through the perimeter. But Maria was not convinced that was the end of their ordeal.
Elbryn's eyes remained fixed in the shadows, merging her mind with Nalmalk's, she saw someone close. Who it was, they had no idea.
From this way.
Two humans came bustling through the bushes, the cackles now coming in their earshot.
"We have to keep moving, sweetheart. We have to." The man pleaded with his wife. He brought her up to her feet, before collapsing down to the ground in sheer tiredness. The cackles grew louder and louder, the ground shook beneath them.
We have five minutes before they come find us, whoever is chasing these two that is.
Maria nodded and disillusioned herself.
The woman screamed in horror as she appeared out of thin air.
"Hush, my companions and I mean you no harm."
"But you're alone." The man sputtered.
Maria shrugged and waved the spell off of everyone else, soon Elbryn, Hulon, and Nalmalk came into view. If the woman looked like she would faint before, there was no question about it now.
Elbryn nodded, her sword still drawn, "Yes, we are Riders. Some days ago, a few of our own demolished a large enemy camp supposed to march on the capital. Us two, along with eight other Riders are tracking down the stragglers and following them."
The man was wary, "What do you do with them when found?"
"Large contingent means kill them, small, less than three, follow them."
"My name is Christopher, this is my wife, Brittany. We have been running for a very long time. Our friends, Stephen and Isabel created a distraction, and allowed us to escape. We need to get to the capital, we need to save Petrovya. They are killed us, massacring us all!"
Maria looked worriedly, "Stephen and Isabel. Isabel has a brother, Isaac? Right?"
Brittany nodded enthusiastically. "Yes," she stood up, finding the strength to move on, "yes, Isaac, do you know him? Is he coming? He is a Rider, right?"
Elbryn nodded, "Isaac is a Rider alright. He, with another one of us, went in a different direction as ordered. Maria and I promised him we would make sure if we heard of his sister, that we would do our best to make sure she is safe."
And she is not safe in that city.
"Who said that!" Christopher looked around, staring at the large dragons behind them. "Can't be."
It is I, the not-yellow one. My name is Nalmalk, I am a dragon, and I am quite offended you think I cannot speak.
"My apologies, miss."
Nalmalk snorted, I am not a human either.
"Then how do you preferred to be called?"
Nalmalk is fine. I have a name, use it.
Stephen nodded enthusiastically.
"How many are in Petrovya?"
"Of the sea-faring foreigners? Nearly fifty, not more than a hundred. We are a modest town, they do not require thousands to keep us in line. We have no warriors either. They've been killed."
You tried to fight back? Put up a resistance?
Christopher shook his head, "Our town governor surrender the city. Just gave it up. They killed our men despite his gesture, and have been torturing us ever since. We need help."
Brittany shuddered as the cackling grew closer and closer.
"How many are following you?"
"We know of ten, maybe more."
Elbryn nodded, "We will handle them."
"But they are too many. You can fly, we should fly out of here."
Maria let her hand glow menacingly, "We are Riders, we do not run from a battle we can win easily. That is just wrong on so many accounts."
Elbryn smirked at her, before motioning them to stay behind.
Maria cocked two arrows in her bow, I need your vision Hulon, and he was more than happy to oblige.
"Do you have a shot?" Elbryn ventured.
"Several." She smirked back. And she released both arrows and watched as they sailed straight through the heads of their assailants without them even noticing they were under attack. Maria repeated the same gesture, cocking two more arrows in her bow and firing at the same time, she loved Victor's technology. It was a bow large enough to make two arrows fly at a normal distance, and one arrow to fly at an incredibly large distance, given of course, the archer knew what to do.
"How many left?"
"I see eight more. I can take out at least two more from here."
And Maria did, for some reason, at peace with what she was doing. Even if her father was adamant against it. She was her father's daughter, but she was not, in any way shape or form, her father.
Maria watched as Elbryn braced herself for the onslaught, Hulon and Nalmalk took to the skies, picking off a few enemies from the back, and the large contingent was reduced to a measly three men, completely unaware of the reduction in their numbers.
Elbryn heaved her sword in one hand, her axe in another, her strength incredible even for a dwarf, and moved with speed to match a wolf. Her two weapons spun dangerously around her as she hacked through decisively those remaining.
Maria shrugged disappointedly, "And here I am, sword drawn for no reason." She stated with a glint in her eye.
Elbryn chuckled, the dead, bleeding bodies around them.
"That was incredible! Just incredible! How did you…"
Christopher trailed off.
"We are trained for this, you know." Maria conveyed. "We fight our enemies to protect those in our land, regardless of what race."
Elbryn nodded approvingly, "That has to be the wisest thing you have said all evening." And Maria threw a twig at her, instigating her laughter.
"What's the plan? What of Petrovya?" Brittany was forcing the issue down their throats. "You can't just leave them behind."
Maria looked down, unsure of how to explain their predicament. "It is not the time or place."
"What of Isaac?" Christopher was frantic. "Your friend, Isaac. What will you tell him? That the reason his sister is dead is because you turned your backs on them. What sort of people are you?"
Silence! Human, you know nothing.
Maria laid a gentle hand on Hulon, his adrenaline was still coursing from his first taste of battle.
"Think, Christopher. Two Riders, two dragons against what could be one hundred men in a strong position. Not to mention the destructive force of our dragons is by fire, which can harm everyone in the village. Assuming we do liberate the city, and we do not kill any Alagaesians in the process, where would we go? We will have an entire village to transport between here and Illirea, when the distance between another army of men, potentially up to one hundred thousand strong is sitting in half the distance away from here to Illirea. Even if we liberate you, you will surely die when you leave for Illirea."
"There are only thirty of us left." Brittany whispered.
"What!" Elbryn exclaimed, "How strong was your village?"
"At least five hundred. We have lost everyone." Brittany broke down in tears, huddling in her young husband's arms.
We cannot leave them there.
"Where will we take them, Nalmalk?"
Maria snapped her eyes at Elbryn.
"With thirty people, in the foot of the Beor, only a short distance away, all we have to do is cross the river and enter through a few tunnels."
Maria narrowed her eyebrows, "I though the tunnels were destroyed."
"Two centuries ago. They have been rebuilt since."
"How long to the Beor from Petrovya?"
"A day's walk. The real trouble will be in the tunnels though."
"They go through a large uninhabited area. It will be at least a few days without food or water readily available until we reach an actual city, and that is at a grueling pace. Not to mention, Nalmalk and Hulon will not fit."
We will hover above the mountains.
"It is not safe, as it is, dwarves do not like dragons."
I do not like this one bit, Elbryn. I do not like what you are thinking.
She laid a gentle hand on Nalmalk, "It is the right way, you know this."
The dwarf raised her eyes, defiantly.
"Once we escort them to the tunnels, Nalmalk and Hulon will do as much fighting as they can from the sky, without getting themselves hurt. They will distract, keep them off our backs. And once we reach the tunnels, they go back to the city, we, meaning you and me, Maria, will take those that survive to safety."
Maria nodded, "And getting back?"
Elbryn shrugged her shoulders, "One day at a time, Maria."
Riders knew of the horror their ebrithil told them of being separated from their dragon. They just wished it would never happen to them. But it seemed, it could not be helped.
"What does that mean?"
The two Riders were oblivious to their audience. But Elbryn answered her question.
"It means, Brittany, that we will help. Tonight, that is, we will help tonight."
Maria mounted Hulon, motioning one of them to come with her, and the other to ride with Elbryn. The husband and wife dutifully split and Brittany came towards her, possibly because she was more threatening to her husband than Elbryn was. She smiled at the knowledge, she was so far away from reality that she did not even think of a man in that way, no one caught her interest.
"Hang on tight." And Hulon took to the skies, Nalmalk close behind.
They got their directions, and within ten minutes saw the city in sight. They landed in the way of the Beor, and Elbryn stressed that they not make a sound, and not say a word. They would use stealth to take over the city. Casting themselves invisible, Maria lithely dropped from Hulon who hovered low on the castle walls. Catching her balance precariously on the edge, Maria deftly took her bow, and locked an arrow in place. Elbryn had to land on the other side, they would meet halfway, sooner if they were compromised. Though invisible, in the dead of night, they did not think it would be a large problem. The big issue was making sure no one signaled trouble. There was quite a bit of shouting, and Elbryn located a pen containing the rest of the villagers. She easily picked out who Isaac's sister might be, they looked strikingly alike.
Elbryn watched as Maria let an arrow fly, clearing her landing on the other side of the wall. The arrow flew straight across the compound, killing in silence the man who might have compromised her. Elbryn was not very good with arrows, she liked close combat. But she too dropped down, her large feet unusually silent for her people.
Maria ran across the castle walls, locating the alarm beacon. Without making a noise, she let the oil pour to the ground, its thick consistency a silencing factor, and filled it with water. That way, even those who tried to light it, would fail miserably. Elbryn, on the other hand, jumped to the tower and climbed up the walls to the ringing bell. If hit, it would wake the entire city.
She deftly let magic untie the gong and let it fall to the earth. She called upon the strength of the men she was about to kill, called upon their strength to keep the gong invisible. And she moved out of the tower. Pulling out a knife, she took care of the guards in front of her. Her height made it impossible to silence them while killing, so she literally had to jump on their backs, hush them, and drive the knife where she needed it to be. It was not noiseless, and it was messy, but she made sure to check her surroundings.
Maria had an easier time, her perching on the fire beacon allowed her to see for miles around. And she picked off the village's captors one by one. Once she could no longer find any more patrol men. She jumped down, taking her arrows out of the bodies, storing them away for another time, all the while keeping herself unseen. But their discreteness was short lived, another enemy saw the blood seeping out and let out a blood curling yell. Maria swore, and ran her sword through to silence him, but it was too late. Elbryn immediately found Maria, and watched as the enemies exited the buildings, unsure of where the attack was coming from. Maria looked up at her, unsure of what to do, and her momentary distraction ceased her flow of magic of her invisibility, and soon she was attacked.
Her sword drawn, Maria hacked through her attackers. Hulon flew over head, waiting just in time for Elbryn to jump to set the building on fire.
So much for not letting a fire burn.
The captors immediately went to the pen, a maniacal yell and he had pulled up a child, grabbed him by the throat and was about to run his blade through, his mother screaming for him, begging him not to. But the child was immediately dropped, and Elbryn, fully visible stood a few feet shorter, and her blade through the man's abdomen. Turning with the yells, Elbryn stood her ground as man after man came her way. Her flexibility was immediately stunted with her inability to leave the captives behind. What was left of them anyway. Nalmalk came towards her, those bronze wings flapping as she slowed down. Barely getting out the way in time, Nalmalk's fire sizzled through their assailants.
"Do not worry. We are Riders, we are here to save you." Elbryn undid the pen, magically getting rid of the bondage materials, and ushered them through across the village to the other side. Maria was holding herself, but barely. Apparently, she had more assailants.
But as soon as she decided to overuse her magic and run the risk of death, a large, incredibly large red dragon came. None of the likes she had seen before. It was the size of Saphira, or even larger. And on top was a man, dressed in all black, his face covered with a black piece of cloth, stuck in place by a headdress. He stood, completely balanced on his dragon even as it roared and shook with rage. He held out a hand, protecting only Maria and Hulon, and his companion burned the rest to the ground. The entire place was decimated, the dragon had, essentially burned the village to the ground.
He jumped off, and the two Riders immediately were on the defense.
"I mean you no harm, you or your villagers, or your companions." His words in the binding Ancient Language left them secure…for now.
"Who are you?"
The man had not removed the mask, "A friend. But that is unimportant now. You are taking them to the Beor, right?"
They nodded, "But how?"
"You are Riders, not idiots. I know Eragon taught his students well."
Maria immediately raised her sword again, but he remained fixed in his spot.
"I mean you no harm, Rider." But his eyes, the way he watched her unnerved her still. His...dare she say, beautiful, haunted eyes.
"We must move quickly. The fire will alert the main contingent just fifty miles away."
Elbryn nodded, "Come quickly, all of you! We must leave now."
The villagers were too frantic to do otherwise, running with the Riders on foot. A soft flow illuminated where they were. They had to make good time tonight, and with everyone's adrenaline running, they would not stop unless prompted.
Though soon, some straggled behind, an old man, a pregnant woman, and a child. They called up to the front, and the man in black heaved back. Checking the condition, he asked how far along she was.
An answer of seven months. He groaned in despair, and his dragon appeared from the sky. Nalmalk and Hulon unable to keep their eyes on it at all times. It was too…skilled in deceiving its location.
The man lifted all three on his dragon's back, strapping them in safe, and gave specific instructions to ensure they do not let go of the saddle.
And their little group was on its way.
A/N Thanks to all who reviewed, I've read them all and I appreciate the feedback. Enjoy!
Chapter 19 Some Wounds Even Time Can Never Heal
Nearly twenty five miles later, and the cold getting to them, the villagers begged to stop. Maria and Elbryn, tired from their ordeal, were only too happy to oblige. They met up with Christopher and Brittany in the beginning, and they were just as exhausted.
Setting up a small fire, not nearly enough to alert anyone, Maria sought to find Isabel and Stephen, but Elbryn was already deep in conversation.
"Isaac's sister and brother – in – law?" Maria inquired.
Isabel nodded enthusiastically. She was just as poised to smiling even in the worst circumstances as her brother was.
"How is he? Elbryn tells me he is just like I remembered him to be." Stephen placed his arm around his wife, complete adoration in his eyes.
"I am Isabel, and this is my husband…"
"Stephen." Maria finished for her. "Isaac never stopped talking about you." And a fresh wave of tears flooded her eyes.
"I need to talk with you. " The mysterious man in black came up to them, his dragon nowhere in sight.
Elbryn stood up, wanting to give Maria time to speak with Isaac's family, "I can talk with you."
He shook his head, "I need to talk with you." And he stared and pointed towards Maria.
"Why me?" She inquired, although she had more than an inclination as to why.
He shrugged his shoulders, "I have my reasons."
Maria nodded, making a show to take her sword, though considering the extent of his magic, if he wanted to harm her, she would probably be dead. And he knew that, considering he looked like he was smiling.
Hulon, though, was not so consenting. He pinned the man to the ground, only for the much larger red dragon to fling him off.
Maria ran towards her dragon, giving the much larger red dragon an evil eye. The other villagers looked on in some sort of fearful look.
"Do not touch him again."
The blood red dragon looked at her unsympathetically, Tell him not to touch my Rider. He growled back.
Maria saw to her dragon's minimal wounds.
Do not be alone with him.
Do not worry so much. I am more worried about you.
He did not harm me, took me by surprise, but he did not harm me.
Maria nodded, knowing Hulon was not one for exaggeration. She walked away, letting Nalmalk look after him briefly, before leading the way into the forest.
She was unsure of how to begin, but soon realized it was not her place.
The man sighed, "I am sure you have some inkling as to who I am already."
Maria stared at the back of his form, "A Rider I have only heard stories of, whose dragon is nearly as big as the oldest dragon in the land, perhaps bigger due to magical alterations…"
The man winced, but she continued, "…I have more than an inkling."
"Then say it."
"My place is not to judge. If you say you are who I think you are, than you shall come across no ill feelings from me. Eragon – ebrithil, whom you claim to know so well, tells us the truth in its stripped form."
He sighed, and turned around. His eyes seemed, softer, less angered, less cold. He held sorrow, too much sorrow for what he looked able to handle. He pulled his facemask from his head, letting the cloth fall from his face, as if he was some shadow letting his identity be known.
"My name is Murtagh. I have come back."
"Murtagh, Rider of Thorn. Well met." Maria stuck out her hand, "My name is Maria, Rider of Hulon."
His eyes narrowed, "You seem very trusting."
"You were able to protect me from Thorn's flames, I hardly think you would harm me after such an elaborate spell to keep me safe. To come up with a spell like that takes about fifteen seconds to say, you could have just let me burn."
"I would never have done that." He sounded horrified at the notion.
"Clearly, considering we are having this conversation." She shot back at him.
Murtagh smirked at her, at once leaving his haunted look behind, becoming some…boyish man Maria thought he should be. As if catching himself, his demeanor returned.
And even Maria caught herself looking a bit too closely. She cleared her throat, "You are afraid then, that my companion, Elbryn will not accept you because you once killed the Dwarf king on orders from your king."
Murtagh shrugged, "The dwarves are stubborn race, they do not forget."
Maria nodded, "I understand. Though you may find Elbryn more accepting than those you know."
"Even though she is a dwarf?"
She pinned him with a hard look, but replied cordially, "Because she is a Rider."
That seemed to sober his mood, and so he nodded his acceptance of her answer.
"You are nearly another day's walk from the tunnels. You will have no food or water."
Maria nodded, "We know. Our plan was to send Hulon and Nalmalk back, keeping the foreign army occupied as best as they can, while we get the villagers in the tunnel. After, they would leave for Illirea, and report to Eragon-ebrithil."
"You have not told him your plan?"
She shrugged, "Our mission was to simply find the location of the stragglers from an army of ten thousand that ebrithil and a few others had dismantled a few days ago. The army was made up of many different platoons from different regiments. We all broke up, ten of us, in to teams of two each to find and annihilate them or track to find their location."
Maria looked away, "We have destroyed them, but not found their location."
"I have." Murtagh said simply. "And I will relay the information to you to tell your ebrithil under one condition."
Maria looked at him, nodding, "And that would be?"
"Your dragons will be gone, you have no way to leave safely to get back to the capital."
Murtagh stopped walking, his cool demeanor somehow nervous.
"Let Thorn and I escort you back to the capital."
Maria looked at him with surprise, "All these years, you kept to yourself. And now, now you chose to involve yourself in another war. Do you not tire of it? Why not leave us behind? Why stay?"
"One day, I might answer those questions."
"Why, do you not trust me enough?" Maria smirked at him, knowing she was joking, but he had no humor in his eyes.
"Because I cannot answer what I fully do not know. And the fact I am attracted to war and bloodshed is one truth I am wary to face." And he covered his face as he came across the camp.
Elbryn had long since finished her talk with Stephen and Isabel, and was checking around for injuries.
Nalmalk returned from a hunt, a very large bear in her teeth. She had to fly quite far away to get it, but they needed the sustenance. Murtagh stepped up, dragging the bear with his incredible strength.
"I know you are opposed to eating meat and killing animals. Allow me to cook this animal."
Elbryn was grateful, and stepped aside, pulling Maria with her.
She glanced warily around and confident no one was watching, she whispered, "So? What did he want?"
"I still do not know. But he is who we thought he was."
Maria nodded, "And he does mean us no harm. Why, though, I am unsure. He will not enter the Beor with us."
"Afraid the dwarves will never forget Hrothgar's death?"
Again, she nodded.
"I suppose that was why he refused to talk to me."
A look confirmed the information.
"Though," Elbryn continued, "I cannot be so sure his fear of rejection by a dwarf is the only think that prompted him to talk with you."
A raised eyebrow, "Meaning?"
"He cannot take his eyes off you, Maria."
Maria looked alarmed, glancing at his figure, and sure enough, his eyes were fixated on her, those cold deathlike eyes, haunted, just fixated on her. But he realized she was staring back, and hastily started to cook the meat.
"You are being ridiculous."
"What else did he want?"
"To offer us a chance to get back from the capital with him and Thorn."
"I would quite open to that. Since I really do not have a better idea."
Maria rolled her eyes, "I thought you might be."
We have yet to tell Eragon – ebrithil what we have done.
Hulon's voice of reason projected to the two Riders, and Nalmalk.
We know. We are deciding on what to do.
No you are not.
Maria huffed at him, Semantics.
Lying more like.
"Enough, both of you. Do we tell him now? Or later?"
Murtagh had walked over to their position, his facemask back in place.
"If you are deciding what to tell your ebrithil, I would recommend to tell him as soon as possible. The right thing would have been to tell him before you planned on committing such an act."
Elbryn glanced at him, "We found out a village of five hundred was massacred to thirty, did you expect him to say something different?"
Murtagh shrugged, "Betraying your ruler, going behind his back is never a good thing. Punishment is always bound to happen."
Maria's eyes softened. History had no inkling of what this man had gone through as Galbatorix's charge.
"Murtagh, Eragon-ebrithil is not our lord or commander. He is our teacher, and he lets us use our own judgment."
The dark haired man shook his mane, Mane, that was good word for it. It was so dark, it was nearly black, and it fell around his face as he took his headdress off. He truly was a stunning man. Haunted, broken, but incredibly stunning.
"Do not fool yourselves. This is a war, decisions like these, even for the better of the people have consequences. You are lucky that I have the information you are looking for. Had you never encountered me, your mission would have failed. And having such a large part of an area as a blind spot would have been detrimental to the capital. You would have been the reason for the capital falling."
Maria stiffened her shoulders, "You may be right. But we met you, and you have the information we are seeking. But we could not let thirty more villagers be killed when we had the chance to stop it. Eragon-ebrithil is not Galbatorix, he sees the humanitarian side of things, not just military. We are not alone, there are others who can take our place. We Riders are a unit, a team, not a solitary person with the burdens of a past two centuries old."
His teeth bared at her, "What do you know of what I went through!"
"Nothing," Maria shrugged, keeping her demeanor calm and centered even in the face of his anger, "but what you are now going through seems a heavy price to pay for sins you believe to be yours nearly two hundred years ago."
Maria felt satisfied at the look of resignation assigned on his face. For once, he looked shocked, as if no one had spoken to him in the last two hundred years like that. She sighed, no one had probably even spoken to him for the last two hundred years as far as anyone was concerned.
Immediately her heart reached out to him, and she moved to apologize, but he already started talking.
"Fair enough. Tell your ebrithil. I shall speak with him as well. He should know of my return."
Elbryn nodded and moved to a pool of water, scrying their master. A room came into picture, not his own. And there were two bodies on the bed instead of one.
"Hair that black, it has to be Arya Drottning."
"Were you surprised?"
Maria shrugged, "No, not really. Honestly, they could be more discrete."
Elbryn laughed as Murtagh questioned, squinting at the picture, "Is he with someone?" he inquired.
He looked closer, "Of course, Arya of the Elves. Now Queen Arya."
"You know her?"
Murtagh shrugged, "Eragon was imprisoned by a Shade Durza in Gil'ead during the war. Arya was imprisoned in the same cell, only for longer. See, Arya was the courier for Saphira's egg, and Durza ambushed her and her companions. She sent the egg to Brom, near Carvahall, as far away as possible. It came to Eragon and hatched for him instead. Arya lost consciousness with overusing her magic for teleportation over that long of a distance and for months she was tortured by Durza and his soldiers. Eragon saved her when Saphira and I jumped him from the prison. He would not leave her behind. They became close, I could not tell you how close, but her concern for him was quite evident in the few moments I spent with them together. I can only imagine it had increased when Galbatorix captured me as I tried to hunt down the Urgals who attacked Farthen Dur."
The two Riders were humbled at the revelation.
"There truly is no apt deion of the war and its affect on people."
He shrugged, "Eragon fought because he did not want such a war on other people. He wanted peace."
"For another time, dear Rider. For another time." And he fell silent.
You should wake him. Hulon gently suggested.
Eragon woke with a start, his arms loosening their hold on the queen, reluctantly it seemed. She shifted in her sleep, and Eragon located the source of his waking. Arya rose after him, seeing her mirror filled with three faces she could not see properly.
"For you or for me?"
"For me, it seems, iet naunen. Go back to sleep." And she did with a quick kiss on her head.
Eragon rose from the bed, pulling chair in front of the mirror, and smoothing out his face.
"What is it, Maria, Elbryn?"
They looked at each other, sheepishly.
"We are not exactly sure where to start."
"The beginning might be good." Eragon deadpanned.
"Of course," and Maria shot him a smile too wide confirming something was up.
"We were in the forests, and two human stumbled our way. They were from Petrovya. They were being chased by our sea faring enemies, nearly twelve. And so Maria, Nalmalk, Hulon, and I took care of them."
Eragon nodded, "Continue."
"We talked with the two villagers. They were on their way to the capital to get help. They were being massacred ebrithil, five hundred reduced to thirty."
He looked down, a tear suppressed from his eye, "And Isaac's family?"
He braced himself for the worst.
Maria quickly filled in, "Alive," and he let a breath he did not know he had been holding.
"Thank fate." He stopped though, "And how exactly do you know this?"
The tall brunette steeled herself, "We could not let the villagers remain there, we ambushed the village. It was guarded by no more than one hundred men, probably less. We were not alone, there was another Rider with us."
"Wh-" But the question was answered when Murtagh stepped into view.
"Murtagh." Eragon's voice was soft, almost like disbelieving. "How are you, brother?" He asked once he came to his senses.
The Red Rider looked at him squarely, "Better. Much better than I was before."
"I was worried."
"You should not have been. You had more to deal with."
"I wanted you to come with us, but by that time, you had already left."
Murtagh shook his head, "You know as well as I human contact would have been detrimental to me."
"You do not know that."
"Eragon, the woman I love was sentenced to die by mortality, not that she could ever be seen with me even when alive."
"Nasuada would have –"
"She would have put the people first, as was the right thing to do."
For some reason, a pang of jealousy coursed through Maria. But she ignored it, pushing down the preposterous notion in light of the current conversation. She knew of Nasuada's role in the Varden, and as Queen. She was a great leader, and a great ruler. Beautiful and talented, it was no wonder Murtagh had fallen for her, the most forbidden woman to him of all.
"I am glad you are back."
"How did you find them?"
"In terms of skill? Quite useful."
Eragon raised an eyebrow, "I meant physically. Though I am glad you are joking around once again, even sardonically."
He smiled, instantly looking years younger, "I was watching the village for a while, just two days. Thorn and I were flying around the coast, we always stay as far away from mainland as possible. I picked up screams and decided to pay a visit. The war was taking its toll. I never expected them to move so quickly. I watched the village for a few days, thinking of a way to get them into the Beor. But the dwarves would not accept me, and I did not know the way. I kept them from killing the villagers even more, pushing their minds not to, and it worked. Thorn was hunting, and saw two Riders and their dragons from a site far away. I put the notion of escape in Christopher's head, created a distraction, and made him go in their route. The Riders proved very well trained. Good for you."
Their master bowed his head, "I do what I can. It is quite amazing what kindness and time can do for a Rider – in – training."
Murtagh laughed, instigating a warm fuzzy feeling from Maria she was not quite comfortable with.
"Two things we were so graciously declined."
"I am glad you are there. What is the plan now?"
He looked at Elbryn, "She knows the way. They will go to the Beor. I will accompany for as long as I can, they still will not accept me."
Eragon nodded, "And the dragons?"
"As I understand it, Nalmalk and Hulon will go back to the capital, they will not fit in the tunnels."
He cringed, "Are you sure you wish to face separation? I can arrange for a dwarf to come meet them. Separation is not something kind."
Maria shook her head, "The villagers trust us, and I want to see them through. Isaac would never leave his family in the middle of a journey, and neither will we." She glanced at Hulon, and looked down, "No matter the cost."
Her statement was met with kind approval.
"I understand Maria, Elbryn. You did well. How will you get back?"
"They will leave the safety of the Beor when they can, Thorn and I will be waiting, away from dwarven eyes. I shall escort them back, personally."
"Thank you, Murtagh."
A shuffle from behind them sounded through, and Arya lifted herself out of her regal ensemble. She tied her robe together, modestly covering her figure, and walked over. She placed a kiss on Eragon's cheek, and looked more fully in the mirror.
"Drottning." They all chorused at once.
"It is good to see you safe, all of you. Especially you, Murtagh." She rested a hand on Eragon's shoulder, and leaned into him, "He asked about you yesterday."
Murtagh grinned and raised an eyebrow, "If I had known you were so concerned, brother, I might have come running. Just barely, considering I do not trip."
"Shut up, Murtagh. Why would you tell him?" He questioned Arya, fake annoyance on his face. And he was graced with her laughter.
"It has been too long, Murtagh. I do hope you will not disappear so soon."
"Not for a while, though I am unsure of how the elves will receive me."
Arya shrugged, "Those whose memory has been retained of war understand you were not at fault. Those who are younger than the war have no recollection."
He nodded, and asked, "You need the positions of those in our location, right?"
The Elven queen pulled a chair, releasing her hold on her mate and sitting down.
"I have that information."
They both leaned in closer, waiting for him to continue.
"Furnost remains free of enemy inhabitants. The villagers are safe, but there are those evacuating for the capital. Petrovya was a small excursion, a contingent of nearly one hundred and twenty from Aberon. That is where the main strong hold is. They are nearly seventy thousand strong, and demolishing the city as they live there. The inhabitants have long since left or ran away."
Arya swallowed, "I was afraid of this."
"Aberon has fallen completely. Not one Alagaesian remains."
"Fate is often cruel." Eragon grasped his mate's hand, and she leaned into him.
"I cannot imagine how King Larkin is feeling. His entire city…" she trailed off.
"I know." He placed a comforting arm around her.
"May I continue?" Murtagh inquired, not unkindly. They had all been to war, but this atrocity was unheard of.
"Those in Reavstone evacuated months ago, to Lithgow. That city contains nearly one thousand men, the secondary contingent. But no one remains there. They have fled months ago, when Aberon fell."
"Why did those in Petrovya stay?"
"As I understand it, King Larkin sent messengers to both Lithgow and Petrovya. The one to Petrovya was killed along the way. They had no idea what was to come."
"And those in Lithgow, where are they now?"
"Some are in Furnost, others came to the capital. And others followed the river to Bullridge."
Arya nodded, "Smart of them."
Eragon stroked her hand gently, keeping her strong.
"Where are you now?"
Maria began talking again, "Nearly a day's walk, if not less to the tunnels. We will leave them at Orthiad. And then join Murtagh back to Illirea."
"Who resides there, Elbryn? Any of your family members?"
"Nay, ebrithil. My family is further east, in Galfni. Dûrgrimst Knurlcarathn is the clan residing in Orthiad."
Eragon sighed, "And they are hostile to outsiders."
"But they will not kill them. Especially under the king's orders."
Arya nodded, "I will contact Orik. I had spoken to him just before you all had arrived, informing him of the progress. By the time you reach Orthiad, hopefully Orik will have sent orders and his men to receive you."
"Thank you, Drottning."
"No need to thank me. Get some rest, all of you. You have had a trying day."
"Good work and thinking Maria, Elbryn. You saved many lives today, and thank you Murtagh, for keeping the villagers and my Riders safe."
Murtagh nodded, "Think of it as a favor for not killing me."
Pain crept into Eragon's eyes, "Too soon?" Murtagh guessed.
"Far too soon."
And his brother laughed.
"Go back to bed, he is a grumpy one when he does not get much sleep."
And Murtagh closed the connection before Eragon could retort.
"Grumpy, are you?" Arya raised an articulate eyebrow. And Eragon picked her off the ground, gently tossing her on the bed. He crawled up, realizing exactly how small it seemed now, and kissed her, keeping her in place as she filled the air with her melodious laughter as he peppered kisses along her neck and collarbone.
"I am grumpy every morning I do not wake up to you."
She smiled at him, "Then stay every night. I do not care if the world knows our relationship. They will deal with it."
"Good. I was not about to leave your side this coming night anyway."
And he kept on kissing her, over and over, until the sun had fully risen in the sky.
West of the Beor
Murtagh turned around, stopping short of the glares he was receiving from Maria and Elbryn.
"What?" He questioned, his eyes shifting from one woman to the next.
"You sent the humans to us?"
"What did he mean by calling you brother?"
They both started at once.
"Could you not have just come to us instead of this charade?"
"Why would leave such an important detail out?"
Their badgering continued and Murtagh sheepishly looked around for some sort of help. The villagers looked on them, some in amusement, others in fear that their saviors were fighting over something that could potentially lead to their compromised safety.
You look like you are enjoying yourself.
Thorn huffed a large hot breath, the smoke causing only him to cough, for some reason. The other two Riders kept their endless parade of questions well alive.
You could be more helpful.
Well, I tried to get them to cough. Only you responded.
And the large red dragon rested his head back down, trying to sleep his way through the night.
Murtagh held up his hands in a truce, "Can I explain?"
"Oh, you had better explain!"
Maria was the angriest looking of them both, and quite stunning he must say. And her fierceness, it reminded him of Nasauda. He looked around wistfully. His heart was a broken one, he doubted anyone could heal it.
"I needed to assess your skills."
Maria narrowed her eyebrows, "Elaborate."
"You have to understand. Rash decisions get people killed, I could not take that chance. I might have approached you, but then if your skills were not up to par, than I would have gotten the villagers and you two killed. And I mean diplomatically, rationally, and physically. I needed to assess your mental capacity as much as your physical prowess. You proved excellent, and so you left for to liberate the village and I followed closely after. I respected how quickly you came to the conclusion that the Beor was the correct way to go. And how you both thought through the situation with a cold and calculating eye."
Elbryn nodded, but doubts crept to her mind. "How did you know what we did?"
Murtagh shrugged, "I occupied the mind of a Shrrg while retaining my own mental capabilities."
Maria narrowed her eyes, "How is that possible?"
The Red Rider shrugged before alarm coursed through him, knowing full well the reason was not one easily allowed. It was possible because he knew the name of the Ancient Language, and he could control it and do absolutely whatever he wanted with little detrimental effects. It was against the language to possess something, control something yes, but possessing another creature was unheard of, but considering he controlled the language itself, it was not so farfetched. But he dared not give that power to anyone else. In his eyes, not even he should have such power.
Maria asked her initial question, "And your relationship with Eragon-ebrithil? Or do you two make a habit of calling every man a brother and woman a sister?"
Murtagh could be mistaken, but the last comment of hers felt like it left a bad taste in her mouth, as if gagging at the consequences.
"He is my half – brother. We share the same mother."
Elbryn's mouth formed into an 'o.' "Right, so that clears that up. However, you are not forgiven for doubting our abilities."
Murtagh let out a sinister smile, "Yes, well, forgive me for being unsure as to how far your arm would extend considering your rather challenged height."
Elbryn raised an eyebrow, and immediately kicked his legs out from underneath him.
He coughed a bit, the wind knocked out of him. Maria looked down at him, and he swore it was the most beautiful face he had ever seen, but before he could gain his wits about him, she started talking.
"You deserved that."
Elbryn walked away with a smug smile and Maria left shortly after.
I thought you would at least protect me, Thorn.
You did deserve that. I am only motivated to protect you when you are not at fault.
And his equally sinister dragon puffed some more smoke at him, causing him to cough again.
Two hundred years in exile and coming back to a war. It could have been worse, considering…Murtagh sighed. It could have been a great deal worse. For all it was worth, for the nightmares, the self-hatred, the mourning, they felt relaxed in their environment. They felt a camaraderie they had lacked with Galbatorix. Murtagh had…friends, as he reluctantly called the two Riders. He had friends, and hopefully this time, he would not be forced to fight against them. He would rather die, that he had no problem admitting.
He looked up at the stars, not wanting to get off the ground, and took in the night sky, really taking in the view. And lord, what a view it was. He spent years flying here and there, looking for some peace, some semblance of peace, when all he had to do was look up. Look up to the stars, look up into a world where dreams flowed endlessly, and hopes and wishes never died. Oh to be a star! To look down on earth, to look down and feel protected by simply the distance. How he longed for protection. How he longed to be safe, how he longed to be cherished.
I do cherish you, Murtagh.
I know, Thorn.
And Eragon does care for you.
I wish for something more.
You wish for Nasuada.
Once, I had hoped…
She is dead, Murtagh.
The Rider nearly growled at his dragon.
You think I am not reminded every day of how alone I am!
Might I remind you, Murtagh, it was you who left her.
What was I supposed to do? Let her rot with me? The people would never have accepted it.
My dear Rider, you left because you were tired of fighting for something difficult to have. It is why you stopped fighting Galbatorix, it is why you did not fight for Nasuada. After all this time, we are both so tired of fighting.
Am I a coward then?
No, Murtagh. When you left Nasuada, you knew the people did not think you were innocent, and neither did you. You did not think yourself worthy of her. So now, I implore you, Rider, think of yourself worth fighting for. Stop fighting for others, whether it be Eragon, Galbatorix, Nasuada, or even me. Fight for yourself, Murtagh, and take control. You are not such a bad person that your morals side with the wrong, time and again. Your morals never sided with the wrong, but your fate sadly had.
And after waking from his attempted slumber to silence his Rider's laments, Thorn fell asleep, unaware of the silent tear that ran down his Rider's cheeks.
How could be think himself worth fighting for? When every time he fought he killed for the wrong side. It was easier to fight for someone else. Easier not to be fully accountable.
The moon rose higher and higher in the sky, the stars shone brighter, and Murtagh imagined himself up there, wishing, thinking Nasuada was looking down at him. Would she still care for him? Did they have a chance?
What kind of life would they have had anyway? Him sentenced to a life of immortality when he deserved the swiftest death, and her sentenced to a mortal life when she deserved to live forever.
Sixty years, they would have had sixty years at the most together, and he would be left a shell of a man in the shadow of a woman who he loved.
Did she even love him back?
"I cannot forgive, but I understand."
A pang ran through him as he remembered her words. If he had waited longer, would she have forgiven him?
Murtagh would never know, but he hoped, somewhere, somehow, Nasuada thought of him fondly. It did not have to be as fond as he thought of her, but just enough so, so he could be happy with her friendship. But then again, he had heard the news of her marriage, and the child being born far too soon to have reached fully maturity in the time of their marriage alone.
Was he so easily forgettable? He changed his true name for her, but she had all but forgotten him after he left.
What did he expect from her anyway? Living in mourning as he had, not begetting an heir for the throne? That was not possible.
Perhaps all she was at the time was a means to an end, perhaps she was an over-imagination of his heart, mind, and soul that was praying to find some motivation to change his name when he had none. Perhaps he had convinced himself he was in love, and believed it so strongly it was able to change him. And maybe he protected Nasuada because he felt he owed her his freedom – and perhaps nothing more.
I am hanging on to a ghost, and living in the shadow of a world that never existed.
Nasauda served her part for him, and those emotions that quickly came, changed him temporarily. And when they left, when he realized he had become apathetic towards her, he fell guilty, as he was the true monster Galbatorix had marked him. Able to convincingly love and let go of it once its purpose had been fulfilled.
Embellishing his feelings for Nasuada had been his escape mechanism, and when he had escaped, it persisted out of guilt. He thought he was repaying her by living in her shadows, dictated by her ghosts.
But not any longer. For once, Murtagh had a way to repay her, he would fight for Alagaesia, for her descendants, for her people, and save them as best as he could. He hoped that was the real reason in his convoluted mind as to why he chose to reappear after so many years. Finally, finally he was able to legitimately help the world, without harming it any more than he already had, and finally, he had a way to give peace to the Nasuada that haunted him, and to his own mind. Whether or not he was worthy of respect was an entirely different issue.
Murtagh looked across at Maria, watching as her eyes watched two children play themselves to sleep, a large smile on her face. And a stirring in his heart started where he was sure none had existed. Maybe there was some hope for him. Maybe all was not lost, and maybe, just maybe, he was salvageable. If someone with a good a heart as Maria could take kindly to him, treat him with respect, laugh with him, tease him, find him…tolerable, then maybe he was not so lost after all.
Chapter 20 Fireside Contemplation
"Who is Eleanor?" Victor prompted him. Fenrir glanced up in surprise, waiting to see how his companion knew of her.
"Have you met her?" Instant protectiveness flared up from him. Why he was so taken with her, Fenrir had no idea.
"No," Victor said simply, "You mentioned her when talking with those travelers."
Fenrir slid back down, his anger leaving him.
"I met her before I left. Who she is, I have no idea."
Victor raised an eyebrow, "Love at first sight?"
He snorted, "Just like my father? I suppose it makes sense."
"What is she like?"
A smile spread across his face, "Gorgeous, bright eyes. Hazel. They keep changing too. I swear the angrier she gets, the darker her eyes get." He chuckled to himself, recalling how he had been such a fool around her.
"Straightforward, does not care much for aristocratic customs, though she can handle herself well. She is…different."
"Even if you do marry her, or something, she is mortal."
His smile faded, he had not thought of that.
"My mother fell for a mortal man too."
Victor spoke before he could stop himself, "So you are counting on you dying or she dying."
He was not a usually angry man, but Victor had an uncanny ability to press his last nerve. In his defense, he looked apologetic.
"I am sorry, Fenrir. I…I do not know what came over me. I am not myself. I just…this is different for me. I wanted to see my parents, and I am here, and my sister is somewhere else, and I am very uneasy. I never meant to offend you."
The dark haired man nodded, "I understand. We have all been on edge lately."
"But what will you do?"
Fenrir shrugged, "Love is a precarious thing. With my luck, she will see how inept I am with woman and never spare me a second glance."
Victor nodded, "Fair enough."
But he watched the dark eyed man slouch down, deep in contemplation.
"You seem taken with her."
Fenrir shrugged, "She is something else." He answered vaguely.
The other Rider sighed, "Whatever you do, however this turns out, I wish you the best Fenrir. I only hope you are not sentenced to live on as your partner ages. That is the worst sort of life to live."
The morning came with an unusual glow, it was as if the dawn was painted with saffron, tinged with the perfect palette of yellow, red, and orange to make up the sunrise.
Kyra woke first, the glaze of the sun blinding her vision through her eyelids red. She stirred awake, immediately putting Hjarta on the alert.
It is fine, my dear Hjarta. I am only awakening.
But it is so early. He mumbled through now hazy voice.
Spring is coming, the days are getting longer, and the nights shorter.
A bustling to her right allowed Kyra to see her Rider companion gathering up her possessions, deftly locking her knife in place, and moving with authority to resaddle Ladrimme.
"We should move soon." She suggested, not bothering to look at the sunrise.
The blonde haired Rider nodded, her green eyes shining underneath her demure exterior. She glanced up at the sunrise, wishing that Marcus was here with her, admitting he loved her, or she telling him she loved him, she wished he was here, his strong arms around her, letting her know that yesterday was not who she was, killing men was not who she was, killing men with no remorse, more specifically was not who she was. She wished Marcus was here, looking at the sunrise beside her, telling her he loved her, and that they would be perfectly fine together.
Your thoughts were pleasantly free of such things after you killed those men, Kyra. Why are they bothering you now?
Killing the men does not bother me as much as knowing that I feel no remorse about it.
You have simply risen above in mentality faster than anyone else.
I wish Marcus was here. He would know what to do.
He is not here. I am here, tell me what to do.
Kyra glanced at her dragon, her sweet, thoughtful, wonderful companion. Walking up to him, she placed her arms firmly around his neck, holding her to him, as he curved his neck around her, keeping her safe.
I know I am not Marcus, but I assure you, wherever he is, he is thinking about you. There is never a moment when is not thinking about you.
I am in love with him, Hjarta.
Tell him, as soon as you see him, tell him. Do not hesitate, in this war, who knows what time we have left. As easily as you and Amatria dispatched of those men, some of us can be dispatched as well.
Fear rose through her, a tornado in the Hadarac Desert, twisting and turning until she was so caught up, she could not even breathe, forget about moving.
What if he is already dead? What is he did not survive?
Her emotions were a whirlwind. Was this what love was? Marcus needed to be protected. She had to get to him. He should not be subjected to this mission. Marcus could have been…
Marcus is fine! Stop this, Kyra! Your fear is consuming me.
Hjarta forced her emotions back, Marcus is fine. He is strong, and he is capable, and he will survive. You cannot afford such thoughts.
I do not wish to care for someone so much. Someone, at least, that I cannot protect.
You already do, Kyra.
Why now, Hjarta? Why, after so many years on that island, away from anyone? Why could I not have figured out I love him when there was no war to fight, when we had all the time in the world and longer? Why now?
Those who have all the time in the world will put everything off because they know it does not matter when something happens. It is to those who have a limited time in the world to never leave a task for the next day as they know one day, a next day may never come.
Kyra stayed silent, brooding over the subject, wishing this mission would end quickly and she and Marcus would be back in Illirea soon, looking back on this as a closed chapter in their lives.
"I do not mean to interrupt, but we really must be going."
The velvet voice of Amatria reached her eyes, and she sprung into action, saddling up Hjarta, sword in place, and mounting him quickly.
Amatria nodded, "Ladrimme told me she spotted a group of two men, she said it was from a distance and she could not tell who they were from where she was."
Kyra nodded, making herself and Hjarta invisible and took to the skies.
I will meet you there.
But Amatria and Ladrimme were already close behind them.
We have been following these guys for hours, Marcus. We should just kill them, they are going in Ishmael's territory.
Thane's exasperation was felt by everyone. He was not the most patient of Riders.
Thane, you should know better. This maybe Ishmael's territory, but who knows what else they are occupied with?
So then what, Solusar? We leave our area open?
I am not saying that. Let us finish this through, and then think of something else.
We follow the groups of men less than three, Thane, that was ebrithil's orders and these men seem to know where they are heading.
Amatria, look, we have spotted them. It is our sea faring foreigners, indeed.
Still two? Not joined up then?
We should follow them.
They are heading east, to Ishmael's territory.
I know, perhaps that is where their stronghold is. We should continue, and then return to ours if it amounts to anything.
They flew after their men for hours, they seemed to know where they were going, and did so swiftly. These particular men had horses, probably stolen. Or maybe they were part of a cavalry unit on the camp. It was quite possible as Ladrimme scorched a few horses when she lit the encampment on fire when she ambushed them a few nights ago.
They're heading back to Melian, Kyra! That must be where the main base is.
Hjarta flew higher, flying right over city, his figure completely disguised by magic.
There are too few here to be considered the main stronghold. It is just an outpost, nearly twenty thousand strong.
Did you hear that, Amatria? Just an outpost.
Then the main base is the actual capital, then?
I would assume so.
What do we do?
We should turn back to our land, we have discovered it-
The battle horn blew underneath them. Kyra quickly looked down and from the corner of her eye, she saw a group of men entering the city, human men. Their allies. But they were only thirty strong, she did not know what they could possibly be looking for.
She tried to reach out to their minds, but their barriers were strong. The men were momentarily distracted, probably thinking that their enemies had the power to use magic.
Kyra wanted to call out to them, but they were spellcasters, and collectively quite powerful. Granted, their push against her mind was not enough to break her own barriers, but it was enough for her concentration to falter, and her flow of magic to keep her and Hjarta invisible was lost.
We have been spotted, Kyra.
A rain of arrows launched from the barricade, and Kyra immediately urged Hjarta to fly out of range.
Hang on, Kyra! We are coming!
Ladrimme's voice was heard, but Kyra was too busy warding Hjarta from arrows.
He swooped down lower, his large green body lighting the entire tower on fire.
Kyra herself docked an arrow in her bow and let it fly through who she thought was the commander.
Below, she heard the human spellcasters leap for joy. They had help, but Kyra knew they were not strong enough to hold off twenty thousand. Two dragons, two Riders, and thirty spellcasters would never be enough.
Off in the distance, Marcus' ears picked up.
It cannot be…
Merging his eyes with Ru'ali, Marcus sped ahead to smoke rising from green fire.
It is Melian, Thane! Melian is on fire. Green fire!
Dragon fire. Thane responded.
I know that roar, Ru'ali.
I know that roar as well. It is the same roar I heard when I attacked Hjarta. Kyra and Hjarta are there.
We have to help them.
I know. He replied solemnly, and he sped ahead, tucking his wings in, using his momentum and the acceleration decreasing his volume provided to slice through the distance.
Thane, the men we are following are heading straight for Melian. I have no doubt they came from there.
I know, Solusar already took care of them when you sped ahead. We will meet you shortly. Make sure our friends are fine, we are only a minute behind you.
Marcus met Amatria in the air, she gave his mind entrance immediately.
The details are fuzzy. But this is what I know – Kyra and Hjarta flew overhead, she saw human men attack Melian. She wanted to know their intentions, but they were spellcasters, and followed her mind to attack mental defenses. She held, of course, but her lapse in concentration ceased her magic to keeping them invisible. They were immediately attacked, and now they are on the offense.
Dammit. Humans on the right side, or left side?
Marcus and Ru'ali went right. He saw Kyra and Hjarta from the top, and hesitated for a moment.
She looked like a sun goddess, if there was one, her blonde hair glowing in the sunlight, her hand alight with silver, and green magic erupting from it. She reduced horde of enemy after horde of enemy with just a word of her mouth. Hjarta lit more afire. But they were getting tired.
I know, I am getting faster.
And the purple dragon blasted through the wall, his mouth releasing a fiery torrent of his scale color on the enemies.
"Marcus!" Kyra's voice reached him. He nodded at her, before raising his hand and breaking the necks of the next horde of men who came at her, giving her a temporary respite.
She smiled gratefully at him, and his knees almost buckled.
Ladrimme followed next, her black body maneuvering quickly and with great flexibility. She pirouetted in the air several times, flipping and sliding like a circus troupe animal. Ladrimme did not need many wards, she could hardly be pinned down. But the strength of her fire was in stark contrast to her small body. She burned more men to the ground, every time one came out her, they became pure ash.
Amatria jumped down.
As great as Ladrimme was in the air, her Rider could not get a foot hold and do real damage from her back, she was too quick, and far too fidgety.
Drawing her sword and a small knife, Amatria danced through her enemies, her body strangely alive after never dancing again. She smiled, how good it felt to actually move as she once did.
Rotating her sword in the air, she brought it crashing down through the skull of one of her assailants. His head split in two, leaving her a clear view of the next four who came after her. Her hand glowing, she pointed her sword and yelled, "Kvekvya!" Lightning flashed, and her attackers fell in a shock, their hearts stopped from electrocution.
An orange body came above over all of them, and Solusar left a row of fire in the middle of the next round of hostiles. Thane jumped down to the human spellcasters. About three of them had fallen, and the rest were cornered.
Drawing his orange sword, he plunged it in the earth, letting his magic flow through as he whispered the words the crack the earth underneath, and suck his enemies through.
"You saved us!"
"I only heard stories of the Riders!"
But Thane yelled at them.
"Now is not the time! What were you thinking?"
One man squared his shoulders, "They destroyed our city. We do not know where our families are, dead or not, all we have left is the city that once was ours."
Thane shook his head, "Even four Riders cannot defeat a hold of twenty-thousand men. At most, we can scatter them. But we most surely cannot hold when the entire army marches from Aberon. We are deep inside enemy territory, and we have given up the majority of our element of surprise because of you people."
Another spat disgustedly, "You think you are so high and mighty. You people left only to return during war. Left your family, left those who care for you behind. What do you know about loss?"
Thane grabbed him by the throat, "You know nothing of what I suffered." He whispered menacingly. The red head let the man go, and pointed to the stables.
"Get horses, and leave the city immediately. Head north to the capital, do not stop until you must, and then continue immediately. Those people who survived have already saturated Illirea, perhaps your lost families are there."
The men nodded in fear, and Thane sighed.
He should not have lost control like that. It was the adrenaline, and the fact that he just made the earth kill twenty hostiles. Glancing at the ground, he hoped they were dead before they were buried. Thane was not that cruel of a man.
His sword ablaze once more, Thane dispatched more men as Solusar joined the other dragons in setting the place on fire.
Screams from inside caused the sea faring foreigners to rush out into fields, only to be put to death by one of the four Riders.
War was messy, Marcus decided. His vision was blurred with the fire around him. The burning of air burned his eyes as well. And they often became blurry. Twice he was struck. The first was unfortunate, right across his arm. But the pain was not new to him. Nothing worse than what his father did, in fact, not even close to as bad as the beatings his father gave him. Imagine his surprise when he grew weaker and weaker, his vision blurring more and more. The second blade came narrowly at his throat, just grazing his neck. His eyes shot open, and he threw his hands in defense.
"Brisingr!" He shouted, and a wall of fire came around him. He sagged to his knees.
Two scratches should not be this bad.
Kyra looked over at him, and screamed his name. But it seemed too distant.
"Marcus!" His attention came back around, and he watched, in horror, as one of their enemies threw a spear at Kyra. She was only looking at him, no one was around them. He could not waste anymore time.
He raised his hand to stop the spear. He could barely lift his arms. Time slowed down and he screamed in agony.
He would not watch Kyra die.
Whispering the words of teleportation, Marcus disappeared from behind the protection of flames, and reappeared right as the spear was about to pierce the blonde Rider's neck. He caught it is his chest, his sternum immediately breaking, his right lung punctured at the force of the spear carried it through his body. He felt no pain, nothing. Just pressure. Or perhaps it was because he was losing consciousness. He felt…nothing. His eyes blurred even more, he could see black clouding his vision.
Ru'ali, I am sorry.
He knew his companion's sorrow and hatred, it flowed through him. More than that though, fear. For the first time, Marcus felt fear rise up and grip Ru'ali. He seemed paralyzed by it, and then he tore through in a frenzy to get to him.
Kyra screamed his name, but he could not respond. He was too weak, the spear too deep, his blood far too much lost.
A/N Thanks to all those who reviewed, your comments and feedback are always much appreciated, and incredibly helpful. I know I left on a cliffhanger, and for that, here's the next chapter.
Chapter 21 Desperation
We have to leave now!
Kyra's voice echoed through the minds of the other Riders and dragons.
Marcus had a pulse, barely, and Kyra had to save him.
She pulled the spear from his chest, relying on Hjarta's strength to stop the wound from bleeding more. She healed him, continued to force the wound to heal back, but it was taking far too much effort.
Pulling Marcus on to Hjarta's saddle, tears streaming down her face, she commanded they take to the air.
Ru'ali's screams made her turn around.
Ru'ali! I need your strength. I need to get in his head, I need to know how to heal him.
You are trying to save him?
His questioning was almost lost. As if he believed Marcus was lost.
I need your help, Ru'ali!
And he did, he flew right up to her, reaching his mind to hers and immediately she felt sick at the visions on his head.
Blood, lots of blood, marks and whips crashing down, pools of red, almost a river on the ground, a stab wound. Lots of stab wounds. The haunted open eyes of horror of Marcus' mother on the floor as her body twitched and hitched as the life drained out of her. And Marcus, his hand reaching out to touch his mother, before being viciously grabbed and tormented himself.
She fought down bile.
Her poor Marcus. Her poor warrior. And how could Ru'ali be as sane as he is, with those images constantly replaying in his head?
Control, Kyra. Control. Please help him. The purple dragon whispered back at her.
Kyra nodded, not trusting her voice, and found the intimate connection between Rider and dragon. Following the tendrils of it, she grasped on and followed deep into Marcus' mind. Simultaneously drawing strength from Hjarta and Ru'ali, Kyra worked relentlessly to force the wound to close, and it was working, to an extent.
She shifted through his memories, trying to figure out why the wounds were not healing properly. The blonde haired Rider watched as his thoughts flew through him. Most of them were of her, thinking her a goddess, watching out for her, sometimes even killing an enemy she had yet to see. He was always looking out for her. And she…was always occupied.
Marcus had time to either get rid of one of her attackers, or protect himself. In an acrobatic move, he sidestepped his own, letting himself get nicked, and killed her attacker for her. She was fighting ten men at a time, and clearly a little overwhelmed. It was then the blurriness started, and Kyra felt his muscles get weak, his knees buckled, his mind jumbled. And he heard Kyra call out to him. He barely felt the next nick across his neck, it was not deep, just a surprise. And then she heard her own voice again.
And then she felt the horror rush through her, Kyra did not understand. She was focused, not afraid, she could save Marcus. Where was this fear coming from?
She realized it was from Marcus' memory, such a strong fear, such a gripping fear. And he watched, his eyes still blurred, some clarity emerging out of sheer power of will, and he tried so desperately to lift his arm and stop the spear.
He did not hesitate when he realized he could not, instead, he muttered the words he knew would get him killed, and teleported himself right in front of her, taking the spear in his chest, when his muscles would not work.
Kyra shut her eyes, tears leaking from the ends, she had to find out what was wrong with him.
Hjarta whispered in her head.
Poison, Kyra. He was poisoned when he was cut. It must have been on the blade. He became instantly weak after it.
Wiping the tears from her eyes, she thanked Hjarta for his observation, and left the consciousness of her body, moving her mind into his body. Finding the foreign molecules, and immediately breaking them down faster than his body could metabolize them.
She came in to her own mind, nearly an hour later, and utterly drained. Kyra nearly fell out of the saddle, and she would have, if not for the heavy body of Marcus draped across her. Ru'ali was immediately there, giving her unimaginable strength, giving her all the rest of his reserves for her use.
The poison gone from Marcus' body, Kyra healed the wounds, the hole in his chest closing, his punctured lung sealing shut.
Kyra glanced around, hoping to see her other two companions around her.
And there they were, Thane and Solusar nodded gratefully at her, knowing she had saved his life, and Amatria on the other side, keeping a lookout for them, nodded at her once she had regained her wits about her.
We need to tell Eragon-ebrithil.
A pang of fear crossed their heads, their master would not be happy at their severe lack of judgment.
Thane glanced back, Melian far in the distance, too far.
We can rest here, and scry him. And that was precisely what they did.
Kyra hit the ground, pulling Marcus with her, her throat so parched she thought she was dying of thirst. Getting her waterskin, she took a long gulp, swishing the water around her mouth as she forced water in Marcus' throat.
He was alive, but still very weak.
Thane walked over to them, kneeling on the ground, and gently touching Marcus' shoulder. Kyra watched as he focused his efforts on transferring energy from both him and Solusar, in the hope he would awaken.
His heartbeat was stronger, and his conscious much more so, but he still would not wake.
Thane gave her a sad smile, "He will awake soon. He just needs time."
Amatria dug a hole in the ground with magic, and filled it with water she called from the ground. After seeing it wonderfully full and clear, she beckoned them over.
Reluctant to leave Marcus alone, even for a moment, Kyra nearly dragged him with her, just in case he awakened.
The gedwey ignaesia of their black haired Rider shone purple instead of reflecting light as silver, and the picture of a large room came into view.
"Kate." Thane called out to her.
Kate was an elf, her full name was Katylryn, but it had been shortened, on no part of hers, to Kate for simplicity. Kate did not mind, in fact, she was endeared to it. Kate, Katie, Kat. She liked those names, short and simple, and rather sweet. She was not horribly tall or horribly short, just average height and a brunette. She had a demure look about her, and rode a rose-colored dragon aptly named Feon, or Flower in the common tongue.
Kate jumped from her position and walked over to them.
"You look like hell."
Thane frowned, and sarcastically replied, "Thank you for that astute observation."
Kate shrugged, "You are most welcome." And replied just as sarcastically.
When she saw Marcus and fully took in their appearance, her demeanor was far more worrisome.
"We need to speak with ebrithil."
Kyra's voice was gaunt with tiredness, something completely uncharacteristic of her. Kate immediately went back to the door, out of their vision and yelled for their master.
"An emergency, ebrithil! Please hurry."
They could hear the man running back to office, bursting through the door. His eyes narrowed as he saw them together.
They should not have been together.
He was about to reprimand them for not following orders, but the slouched in the chair when he saw Marcus.
"Marcus?" He questioned as if afraid of the answer.
"Alive," Amatria answered him, "barely, but alive thanks to Kyra."
Eragon let out a breath he probably did not know he was holding.
He gave them a hard look, "What the hell happened? This is the second time things did not go as planned!"
His voice lost its usual calmness, and Kyra looked down and away.
"We were following a group of soldiers, a group of two. We were dangerously close to Ishmael's territory, but they headed to Melian."
"As were the men we were following." Thane piped up.
"And then?" he prompted, not at all liking where this was going.
"I and Hjarta flew over head and we saw the encampment. About twenty-thousand men strong, an outpost. They are not moving far from the sea. Anyway, we were invisible, but we saw about thirty spellcasters on a suicide mission. They tried to get into the city, for what purpose I tried to find out. But I did not know they were spellcasters. I tried to enter their minds, but there were barriers, and I was taken by surprise. As were they. They thought I was an enemy, and attacked my mind. My barriers held, but in the meanwhile, I lost concentration on my spell, and I unveiled Hjarta and myself. They instantly attacked. Marcus and Amatria came shortly afterwards, and we held them off as much as possible."
Thane continued his side, "I went to the spellcasters, I told them to take the horses in the stables and come to the capital. We held them off for about twenty minutes, a decent start, and left Melian in ruins."
Kyra hesitated, her voice choking, "Marcus was poisoned."
Eragon narrowed his eyes, "Marcus allowed a blade to touch him? Perhaps our enemies are more apt in swordplay than I thought."
Kyra shook her head, "I was the main target, the first one. They came after me the most, and Marcus saved my life, and the time he took to do so, killing one of my assailants left his vulnerable, and he took a cut on his arm. The second came around his neck, and then," she choked on her sorrow, "then he teleported himself and took a spear in the chest. We fled, I tried healing him as best as possible, but I did not know what was preventing it. Hjarta told me it was poison, and I found it, eradicated it, and healed him. But he is not waking up."
Tears were flowing down her face again, her voice cracking and desperate. Hjarta came around her, resting his head on shoulder for comfort.
"Oh, Kyra." Kate's voice shook him out of his stupor. He sighed deeply.
"I hope you realize how angry I am."
Thane looked up at him, "We know, ebrithil."
"This mistake could have cost us four of our best Riders, all leaders of units. Both pairs were in a place that they were not supposed to be. Suppose that was necessary, fine. I can accept that. But such a folly, Kyra, letting yourself be seen…"
Eragon shook his head.
Stop it, Eragon. Can you not see she in distress?
Arya's voice echoed through his mind, and she entered not long after. Kate immediately bowed in her presence.
Eragon turned to look at her, Arya, I know…
Hush, Eragon. I know you are their leader, and this is a war. But beating a dead horse is beneath you. Look at her, she is positively broken.
Arya rested a hand on her mate's shoulder, calming him instantly, and he found himself agreeing. Perhaps he might have been angry his judgment was being questioned, however, he knew exactly how wrong and deviant things go in war. Things never go according to plan, ever. And Arya was correct, Kyra was on the verge of tears, her eyes vacant, and lost of any strength.
"I am clearly not happy, with any of you." He looked away, "I am, however, ecstatic that you are all alive."
Arya squeezed his shoulder.
"Thane, Amatria, have you suffered any injuries a night's rest cannot cure?"
Both shook their heads.
"And Ladrimme and Solusar?"
"Good as well."
"Right. Kyra, you will escort Marcus back to the city. You are exhausted, I can see. Marcus has an extensive amount of energy stored in the hilt of his blade, use it to keep yourself well on the long trip back to the capital. Thane, Amatria, you two will go back to the original route I gave you, Thane. I will ask Victor and Fenrir to cover your first area, Kyra. The south is completely destroyed. Whatever information we would have gotten from there, we already have."
"Ebrithil." Kyra's voice was hollow and lost, but not nearly as patchy as it was before. "I apologize for my mistake."
Eragon shook his head, bowing down. "I do not want you to apologize, Kyra. Once you return, you will be honored and commended for your valor. I apologize as well, my anger stems from my fear. I can gain information that is lost, I can forge trails that have been lost, devise failed missions for success, but you must understand that I cannot bring back a life that is once lost. And that is my greatest fear. That in this war, I will be forced to bury my students. And I hope that you never are forced to feel this way."
Thane had a solemn look on his face, "Kyra? Are you sure you can make it back alright?"
He was worried, and Kyra reveled in the comfort her friend had for her.
"Honestly, Kyra. Thane can escort you to the capital, and he can join me later." Amatria suggested.
At once, Eragon shook his head, "No. Absolutely not. Riders will stay together in two when venturing into what I now consider unchartered territory. And that is now the minimum. I shudder to think if it was just you and Kyra in Melian against twenty thousand."
He shook his head vehemently again. Only to stop when Arya sympathetically rubbed his shoulder. She spoke next.
"Eragon does not doubt your abilities, Amatria. But even the best can be defeated by simply being outnumbered. Thane, stay with Amatria and the two of you stick together." She looked around their area, "If you would like, I can send someone, or Eragon can come himself to find you. I know the rough area of where you are."
"No need." Kate piped up, "I will see you in about a day or even half a day, if we meet halfway."
Kyra nodded her agreement, "Thank you, Kate."
The brunette shrugged her shoulders, "I will leave now, and get Feon ready." She left the room quickly, already taking off strapping her sword to her side.
"Kyra." The blonde haired Rider looked at her Queen. When she had not been a Rider, it was an honor to be addressed directly by Arya Drottning. And even as a Rider, she doubted she would be privy to more than the honor bestowed upon a Rider. However the gravity of the honor bestowed upon her was lost in the wake of recent events. The only reality she was aware of was Marcus' unconscious body weighing heavily on her conscience.
This was her fault. She had gotten him hurt, she had gotten him poisoned and killed – all because she could not handle herself on the battlefield. She was not good enough, and her lack of skills was why Marcus had gotten hurt. Her lack of skills and judgment was the reason she could not react to Kyrian's outburst a few weeks ago, and Marcus had gotten hurt then as well.
It was her fault. Marcus' suffering was all her fault.
"Kyra? Are you well?"
She snapped out of her awe, "Sorry, Drottning. How can I be of assistance?"
Arya shook her head, dismissing her request.
"When Marcus wakes, do not be afraid to tell him." The Queen gave a gentle smile, "Being vulnerable in love is quite strengthening. I hope one day, you will understand." And she gave a long look to Eragon, seemingly oblivious to the world. Kyra had no doubt they were well in their own conversation throughout. And the way Arya Drottning walked in right when Eragon ebrithil was losing his temper…uncanny. She had to have known every thought.
They had to be mates. Kyra sighed, she supposed it was to be expected. After all, they survived the war together, and then Eragon left. She knew, from the stories, whenever Eragon did something great, Arya was not too far away. What they went through together, what they accomplished together…Kyra realized it must have taken all ebrithil's self control to stay on the island for two hundred years, pining after her. She glanced at Marcus.
And to think I cannot even wait three hours for him to wake.
She shut her eyes, tears leaking from the corner.
"My dear Rider, I never meant to bring up past memories."
Kyra shook her head, "I think, Drottning, my head has finally made sense of everything running through it. I finally have a clear sense of what I need to do, but I am afraid I have lost the opportunity to do so."
Arya smiled, "Marcus will wake soon. Do not worry."
With a grateful nod, the Riders bid farewell to their ebirthil, and went on their way. Kyra gathered up Marcus in her arms, his weight nothing to her even depleted Elven strength and hoisted him up on Hjarta's saddle. He was still unconscious. After fixing his place, Kyra took the sword out of Marcus side, pulling the purple blade out and letting her mind wander to the gem. Indeed it had vast reserves of magic. Marcus must have been storing energy in there since he learned how.
Marcus always believed he would return. And he never thought it would be so lucky as to return in a time of peace.
I do not understand, Ru'ali. He thought he would return to Alagaesia for a war?
He fixed her with a sad stare, He never thought himself lucky enough to live the rest of his life in peace.
I am sorry, Ru'ali. I had no idea of the horrors you and Marcus faced. And now I wish…
Our experiences make us who we are. And I do not wish to change.
But to feel nothing but anger and to repress it constantly? Surely you wish something different.
It is all I know, and I fear the unknown.
That admittance must have cost a lot for Ru'ali. Kyra never saw this vulnerable side to him, the insecurity, the longing, and deep sadness.
She ached for him…ached for them both.
Hesitantly, she walked up to the purple dragon's side. His scales were cut, some bleeding. He must have been in pain. He was the only dragon who had gotten injured. The others had wards around them or attacked well out of range. Marcus did not have the time to do so, considering he was protecting her mainly.
I will not hurt you, little green –eyes. You saved my Rider.
Kyra shook her head in understanding, and raised a tentative hand. Pulling a little from the reserves of her own green sword, she healed the dragon from his wounds. He sighed in relief, the pain finally evaporating from his conscience.
Thank you, little green-eyes.
She nodded and moved back to Marcus, transferring a significant amount of energy to his body. But he still would not waken.
Curiosity got the better of her, and she delved into his mind, trying to understand what kept him there. What she found was not pretty. There were replays of his memories, replays of his mother's death and his abuse. She shivered as, like a parrot, his mind repeated itself. Squaring her shoulders, she pushed those memories down, pushed them far away, and stayed in his mind, gently letting her own feelings show through. Trying to will him to wake, trying to show him exactly how much she felt for him, how much she loved him, she pushed through, sending her feelings across what she hoped would be a very strong link between them.
He seemed to settle, his shoulders slouching down, his posture becoming less rigid. Kyra leaned him back against her, holding his body tightly. She bid farewell to Thane and Amatria as Hjarta rose up in a whirlwind of dust, Ru'ali shortly after them.
Thane and Amatria looked up as their friends became little more than specks in the air. The red head looked solemnly at her, it was a permanent expression.
"Now we rest." She replied, "Night is falling. We are far away from Melian. We keep the spell for our invisibility by drawing from nature, all of it, as to not kill anything, and we keep ourselves hidden. We do not have the strength to keep fighting, and we do not know if our enemies tracked us."
He nodded his agreement and weaved the spell for them both. Amatria nodded gratefully, and within seconds fell fast asleep against Ladrimme, hoping, waiting, and wanting this terrible ordeal to be over. She wished, and not for the first time, Ishmael was by her side, holding her safe.
Thane returned to Solusar, but sleep was not as easy for him.
Marcus nearly died today…died. He shook his head. Of all the people around, Marcus was his best friend. They would never say it. Never ever speak of it, but they were. Marcus was a monster, or so he thought himself. And Thane…well he killed his own family, he was a monster too. They both put up prickly fronts to protect themselves, and now his best friend was nearly killed.
He shuddered, keeping close to Solusar for warmth.
Do not, Thane, think anything of this more than it is. Marcus nearly died, he is not dead. We will lose some of our friends. Some of our Order in this war. That was to be expected. But we have survived.
No buts, Thane. We have a job, and by whatever is just in this world, whatever remains truthful, whatever there is left in this world, we will fight for, even if all that is left is our pride.
The wind howled. The days were getting longer, the daylight lasting longer. The darkness no longer hid them. It was tardigrade, but slowly and surely, the daylight crept on them. Kyra had long since gone, and Kate had already left. All he had was his old mission. He sorely wished his fellow companions would not die. He…hated thinking about it.
Sleep, Thane. Solusar gently pushed into sleep, and the red haired man huddled closer to the warmth of his dragon's belly. He hated war. He really, really abhorred it.
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