Watching the boats appear in the distance was at the same time a pleasure and an agony. Eragon looked forward to seeing his friends once again after ten years of isolation, but to wait half a day until they arrived at the docks took too much of his patience.
Let's go meet them! Saphira's enthusiasm could almost be touched. He frowned.
We have our chores to do. Arngor is still not fully ready to receive our guests.
Well, you have chores to do. I'm going to fly over there and say hi to Fírnen. That's the perks of being a dragon, I'm free to do whatever I want to.
Eragon's frown deepened.
Go ahead. Traitor!
He stepped away from the window that faced the Edda River and prepared to come down from the eyrie. He put on his working clothes – a worn-out tunic and leather pants – and watched as Saphira took the skies toward the boats and the little green dot so far away that was Fírnen. Their bond became a fragile thread with the distance.
Eragon let out all the air in his lungs. Indeed, free he was not. Not in the strict sense of the word since his obligations required all his dedication and time.
As he walked down the steps to the main hall, Eragon stopped to oversee the preparations of the guest chambers. He made sure Nasuada was settled in a vast chamber with good lighting and a big mirror, for he knew she had handmaids that helped her get dressed in the morning. Orik and Hvedra would stay in a cozy room with a low ceiling close to the ground. King Orrin was also set near the ground, somewhere of easy access to transport all his baggage of strange flasks and other instruments. Nar Garzhvog preferred to stay with his people, as close to the open space as possible. The only one expected to stay in the heights of Mount Arngor was Arya, whose dragon, Fírnen, would undoubtedly want to spend his nights with Saphira, therefore, as close as possible to the eyrie was the best option.
The day was spent among men and women of all races cleaning, sweeping, carrying heavy furniture, chopping, peeling, baking, cooking. Eragon was exhausted when he finally felt his bond with Saphira become as strong as if she were right there by his side. He climbed up the long stairs to find her in the eyrie licking between her claws.
Did you have fun? His voice came out tired.
She didn't use words, instead, she played her memories of the day in his mind while he got in the bathtub. Scrubbing the dirt away from a day of hard work he quietly watched the scenes of Saphira's reunion with Fírnen, their maneuvers over the river, and the water they splashed over the spectators on the boats. He could count at least ten boats but suspected there were many more, carrying not only the leaders of all Alagaësia but also their retinues, supplies, and the competitors for the games.
Eragon got out of the bathtub and dried himself with a towel. He grabbed a small pair of scissors and trimmed his short beard. It was full but well kept. Satisfied with the outcome, he combed his hair pushed back, knowing very well that a rebellious strand in the front would curl up and fall over his forehead later. He put on a pair of black pants, a dark green tunic with short sleeves, and leather boots. To his belt, he attached Brisingr. Eragon would normally leave his sword in his room, but being the Head Rider, it was expected of him to look like a proper Rider, with his legendary sword within his reach. The memories Saphira showed him ended just as he finished getting ready.
Ready, little one?
Let's do it.
He climbed on her back, and together they flew to meet their guests.
The first ones to land were Queen Nasuada's and King Orrin's servants, stepping down from two large boats. They were quick to unload their monarchs' possessions and load them to the wagons. Instructed by the dwarves, they proceeded to carry all to Arngor. Eragon watched everything from a fair distance, the only ones there with him were Saphira, Blödhgarm, Ästrith, Yaela, two dwarves, and two Urgals. The student Riders were waiting back at the Hold, along with the rest of Arngor's population.
Brushing his mustache with the first two fingers of his right hand, first one side, then the other, he quite impatiently waited as the steersmen moved the empty boats to make space for the next two.
Where's Fírnen? He asked Saphira.
Right above you.
Eragon looked up and saw the green dragon gliding very high in the sky, so high he could easily be mistaken for a small bird. He smiled and felt tempted to touch his mind but held the urge since it would be rude of him to do so.
Is she with him?
No. She's in one of those slow paper toys you call boats.
He snorted in amusement.
Soon, Nasuada stepped out from her boat, helped by Blödhgarm's firm grip on her hand, and surrounded by her Queen's Guard made up by four armored and armed men. When she walked forward and looked at Eragon, he approached her and bent the knee in front of his queen. No one else did the same, the elves twisted their wrists over their sternum, so did the dwarves. The Urgals exposed their impressive necks in a sign of great respect.
"Your majesty. Welcome to Arngor, the home of the Dragon Riders." His head was bent down, so he didn't see when she smiled greatly and motioned toward him.
He felt her hands grab his shoulders and pull him up. Their eyes met, and he saw how happy she looked.
"Eragon! It is good to see you! I missed you greatly."
She then proceeded to hug him, which would have made any vassal disconcerted, but he felt at ease, glad to meet an old friend.
"I missed you too, Nasuada," he said smiling at her.
They parted and she went to greet Saphira.
"Saphira! If it's possible, you look even more impressive and beautiful!"
Then I believe it is possible, your majesty.
Eragon could feel his partner buzzing with merriment.
After Nasuada, King Orrin and his wife landed and received respectful greetings from Eragon and the others. They all twisted their wrists on their chests, and Eragon welcomed the monarchs to his home. They stepped aside and joined the host in waiting for the others.
Nasuada and Orrin traded a few words that Eragon couldn't discern, because on the third boat in line to land, he saw a movement that caught his attention. Arya got out from her cabin and stepped on deck. She leaned on the mast and crossed her arms on her chest. She was still far up the river, but he could see the bright diadem over her brow and her shining emerald eyes, gleaming under the afternoon light.
Here we go…
"Oi! Shadeslayer!" A familiar voice called, catching both his attention and Arya's. He watched as she frowned at the loud creature on the boat in front of hers. It was a big, bearded man; he didn't have a hand and claimed a shark had eaten it when he used to work as a sailor in Teirm. Now, he served as a merchant, going back and forth between the Kingdom and Arngor.
"Oswald, my friend!" He answered and waved his hand to him. "How was the trip?" Eragon asked walking closer to the docks so the man could hear him. He felt Blödhgarm following him closely, untrusting of the weird-looking man with crazy stories.
The elf rarely left Eragon alone with the merchants, and this behavior amused Eragon to no end, for he doubted any of them could harm him in any way.
"Calm, peaceful, boring even." But he wasn't complaining, Eragon knew. Every time they met, Oswald would say the same thing before adding, "If only the ocean was like this, I'd still have my hand!" They both said together and laughed.
"It may be true, Oswald, but since when calm seas have made a good sailor?"
"Never, Shadeslayer, never! You know it!" The man smiled his crooked teeth at Eragon. There was a gap where a front tooth was missing.
He smiled back and stepped away from the docks when Oswald and the other boat's steersman maneuvered to anchor. Two sailors jumped out of the boats and tied them to the docks. From them, Orik and Hvedra landed before Eragon. Nar Garzhvog and his mate emerged from the boat on the right. They all greeted each other most respectfully before Orik punched Eragon on the chest and exclaimed.
"For Helzvog, Eragon! I thought I would never see you again!"
Massaging the sore muscle in his chest, Eragon smiled broadly.
"Me too, brother!"
They shared a rough hug with lots of pounding on each other's backs.
"Welcome, my friends. Please, make yourselves at home." He conducted the newcomers to the place where Saphira stood beside Nasuada and Orrin. There they greeted Saphira and started an energetic conversation with her, with lots of praising and friendly words.
He smiled once more and turned to the docks.
"I brought what you asked me, Shadeslayer." Oswald ran to the stern of the boat and came back balancing two wooden cages between his good hand and the other arm. Inside, there were two brown cats. "A male and a female, just as you requested."
Eragon grabbed the cages and felt Blödhgarm gazing over his shoulder.
"Why do you need the cats, Master?"
"For rats, of course."
"Oh yes, Elf! Two cats are all you need to keep the rats away. Also, they make a good company." Oswald explained. "They say dogs are a man's best friend, but I'd have to disagree, you know!"
The elf seemed confused but didn't say anything else. Eragon reached his pouch attached to his belt, fetched a silver coin, and threw it to the man still on the boat. "Thank you, Oswald. Always a pleasure."
Oswald lifted his upper lip over his gaping smile.
"Pleasure's mine, sir!"
With that, he stirred the boat to clear off the docks and let another one arrive. Eragon opened the cages and touched the little minds with his own. He felt two shiny scared little creatures but tried his best to calm them down and explain he wouldn't hurt them. Instead, he would feed and house them. It worked, soon they were rubbing their faces on his boots and purring. Happy with their fast fidelity, Eragon stood up to receive his next guest.
Surprise and concern hit him when he saw who had accompanied the Elven Queen to Arngor. Angela was stepping out of the boat with Solembum close behind her in his feline form. Arya didn't move to land, instead, she looked curious to him. He tried to give her a light smile but couldn't disguise his discomfort with the herbalist's presence.
"That's an understatement, Angela." He helped her carry her bag. "Every time you show up my skin crawl thinking you know something tragic is about to happen."
"Now, you make a terrible idea of me, young man."
Then she thanked him and strode off to Saphira, who was now receiving a scratch under her chin by Nasuada.
"Atra esterní ono thelduin, Eragon Shadeslayer." Arya's soft voice made him turn around to find her standing on the docks, greeting him with two fingers pressed on her red lips.
He followed her, noting she chose to greet him first, a great honor coming from the queen herself.
"Atra du evarínya ono varda, Arya Dröttning."
"Un atra mor'ranr lifa unin hjarta onr." And she completed the greetings with the third and optional line. If he felt honored before, after that his chest filled with pride.
He twisted his wrist over his sternum.
"You honor me, my queen."
He looked up to the sky to watch as Fírnen descended in a fast spiral. A hundred feet above the ground he opened his giant wings to glide down turning slowly to the right. The sun threw green sparkles everywhere underneath him, a breathtaking spectacle.
Still looking up, Eragon felt a warm touch on his right shoulder. He looked down to find Arya smiling at him.
"It's good to see you, Eragon."
He smiled grandly to her as well, watching the green spots dance on her honey skin, mixing with her shiny green emeralds.
"It's really good to see you too, Arya."
Behind her, from the boat, a familiar and strident voice shouted: "Wyrda!"