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Of Poems and Maps

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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.

She snorted.

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.

He sighed.

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?"

Eragon smiled.

"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.

"Surprised, Shadeslayer?"

"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."

She smiled.

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!"

Chapter Text

Orik hadn't stopped talking since the feast started, and for most of his stories, Eragon was an attentive listener. After a while though, it became hard to remember all the names and facts, because he felt overwhelmed by the presence of his old friends at his new home, suffocated even. Feeling distracted, Eragon looked at Orik and realized he was expecting a response to his question.

"Pardon me, I didn't catch that," Eragon said with a guilty look.

His friend smiled and tapped him on the shoulder.

"I asked how long it would take for the first Riders to be ready."

Eragon took a sip of his ale. He had already told all the leaders in Alagaësia when he expected the first Riders to be ready to take their roles as protectors of the land. He did it on more than one occasion, and he felt the pressure to hurry the process every time they would talk to him via scrying. The only exception was Arya, who appeared to understand why he was being so thorough in educating the new Riders.

"Next spring," Eragon said simply.

"Oh, right, I remember you saying something about that. It's a good thing, people in Alagaësia are starting to think they are a myth, you know. After eight years since the first egg has hatched for one of us."

Eragon remembered his time in Carvahall, when Brom used to tell the stories about dragons and their Riders, men and women who protected and served, with great courage and wisdom. The villagers, born after the Fall of the last Riders, thought of those stories to be an exaggeration of what was the time of the Riders. He thought Brom was exaggerating in benefit of storytelling, so the audience was moved by his words. Eragon later found out that to be a Rider, one should be at least courageous and wise. The reality was even greater than the stories but harder as well.

He sighed.

"I know. But I couldn't rush the process. If there is one person in this world that knows the consequences of a rushed education, this person is me. I didn't want to do the same to any of them, or even to the people of Alagaësia. They all deserve the best Riders, you all do."

"Consequences? Killing Galbatorix and freeing the land from tyranny sound like an outstanding outcome from your rushed education."

Eragon chose not to discuss his merit in the case, so he just took the tacit compliment.

"True, but they were the results of a desperate effort. We are in times of peace, so they have time to better themselves without the constant fear of failing miserably and leading thousands of people to their death or enslavement. As you can see, I had a lot of incentive to do well." He grinned at his obscure joke.

Orik didn't find it as amusing as his friend did but refrained from commenting.

They both took their cups to their lips, and Eragon enjoyed the small period of quietness. The silence was only between the two of them because the whole room resonated with the loud voices coming from the six big, long tables set in the common dining area. There, the residents of Mount Arngor feasted alongside the competitors, soldiers, and the servants of the monarchs coming from Surda, The Broddring Kingdom, Du Weldenvarden, and The Beor Mountains. Mostly the different races stayed among themselves, especially the elves and the Urgals. Humans and dwarves were the most prone to mingle, but only a small portion of them did.

Eragon did not consider this separation as a failure in trying to install peace between them all, but only a natural course of social dynamics. In the beginning, he would lose sleep wondering what else he could do to make the races come together, but with time he noted that the races did not have to mix if it weren't their volition, they had only to respect each other and cooperate. Later even Eragon came to one conclusion that changed the game completely for him, he discovered the one reason why all those people would do exactly what he expected. They all had one factor in common, one thing that made them a cohesive unit: the trust in Eragon.

He was the reason people would work alongside individuals so different from them, even when conflicts were inevitable. Urgals and dwarves would look down on each other but with the same intensity would apply themselves to a task demanded by Eragon, because they believed he knew what was best, because they trusted him, because they even loved him.

Eragon kept that realization for the days he felt most alone.

A memory of nine years prior came to his mind as his eyes landed on the elves who had come to Arngor with him a decade earlier. They were the most loyal to him, the first ones to call him Master, even all of them being several years older than the Rider. In his memory, he recalled feeling especially lonely on the last day of that year's winter. They had worked nonstop for almost two years, they had lost and gained friends, they had cried and laughed. And through all of that, Saphira was still his only comfort, for the love and trust he would discover coming from his people were still clouded by his busy and young eyes.

He woke up that morning, feeling the last cool winds penetrate the Eyrie. He looked at Saphira and saw her fast asleep and felt a bit of heartache. If he were still a farmer in Palancar Valley, without Saphira ever hatching for him, his uncle Garrow would give him a few coins, dismiss him from working that day, and send him to Carvahall to celebrate his nineteenth birthday along with his cousin Roran. They would certainly spend the day listening to Brom's stories and songs and drink until late at night at the local tavern.

He used to enjoy his birthdays, waiting anxiously for the last day of winter. However, the only one who knew about it was leagues and leagues away, and he felt lonely. Without waking up his partner, he got ready for the day and left for the kitchens, where he prepared his breakfast and ate standing by the fire. The cooks didn't mind, they were used to his behavior and appreciated his presence there. Eragon intended to continue his routine normally when he was approached at the main hall by Blödhgarm, who greeted him touching his lips with two fingers.

"Good day, Master."

"Hello, Blödhgarm, good day to you too. Does anything need my attention for the day?"

The elf smiled with uncharacteristic easiness.

"I believe there is, Master. Your rest."

Eragon frowned.

"What do you mean? I have a lot of work to do today."

"Don't worry, Master. We will take care of your duties so you can enjoy the last day of winter. I just conversed with Saphira. She's expecting you to join her on a day trip."

Eragon felt confused.

"Blödhgarm, I appreciate the gesture, but I don't think it would be wise of me to just leave when there is so much to do."

"Just go, Master, and don't worry," he repeated and started to leave. After a few steps, he halted. "And Happy Birthday, Eragon Shadeslayer. I hope it's just one of many more to come. It is an honor to be part of your history."

The elf's words touched Eragon and he felt his eyes sting. He remembered his birthday! Saphira must have told him, but still, it brought a warm feeling to his heart.

"Thank you, Blödhgarm. The honor is all mine." Eragon bowed his head to the other and watched the gentle smile emerge from his dark fur again. Maybe he wasn't as lonely as he thought he was.

Sitting with all the leaders of Alagaësia, he locked eyes with the eccentric-looking elf from across the hall, who gave him a nod and raised his cup to him. Blödhgarm was sitting between Ästrich and Indivia, at the end of the table closest to the right wall. They couldn't be farther away from where he was sitting, at the left end of the "Important two-legged's table" as Saphira called it earlier that night. He could only think of how much he wanted to be with those who made him feel less alone throughout the last decade.

Go join them, already! Saphira said.

Would it not be rude?

Only if you leave without saying anything.

Eragon nodded to her, who was sitting by his left side. He then stood up with his cup in hand and positioned himself in front of the table. Directly in front of him was Nasuada, at the middle of the table. By her right side, sat King Orrin and his wife Queen Manuella, Nar Garzhvog and his mate Inhara. On her left, were Arya, Hvedra, and Orik. They all occupied one side of the table that stood on a step by the back wall opposite the entry doors. The other tables were set perpendicular to theirs, almost the same length as the sidewalls of sixty feet long. There were three fireplaces along each side wall, around which people would pull their chairs after dinner to chat and smoke their pipes enjoying the comforting heat. Eragon liked that particular habit very much, having acquired a pipe of his own.

"Will you all excuse me." He bowed to his companions and touched two fingers on his lips to Arya in a sign of respect, "Your majesties, Nar Garzhvog, Lady Inhara. But I must give my attention to my fellows and maybe get to know some of the competitors."

"Of course, Eragon. Although I regret not having the opportunity of a conversation with you," Nasuada spoke.

"I agree. But I doubt there won't be plenty of opportunities to do so in the days to come."

"You are right. Go now." She smiled friendly, to which he responded in kind and bowed again.

Moving away from the table, he caught a glimpse of Angela sharing a quiet moment with Fírnen. He decided to approach the pair.

"Hello Angela, Fírnen."

"Oh, hello Kingslayer." Of all his titles and nicknames, that one he hated the most, so he wrinkled his nose. "All right. Shadeslayer then. Satisfied?"

"That's better, thank you."

Hello Eragon! It's good to see you again. Fírnen's incredibly low voice filled his mind and he felt a rush of emotions coming from the dragon, which made Eragon think that he was very much missed by Fírnen in the decade they haven't seen each other.

"I am really glad you are here as well. After all, this is your home too, Fírnen, and you will be forever welcomed within these walls."

The dragon hummed with pleasure. I will remember this, Master.

Eragon smiled greatly. "You don't have to call me that, Fírnen. I'm not your teacher."

"I think he should since I plan on asking you and Saphira to train us sometime in the next days," Arya spoke walking to place a hand on Fírnen's neck.

"Train you?" Eragon was surprised. "I don't imagine there's much we can teach you that you don't already know."

"I think it would be beneficial anyway. So, do you agree? I don't want to overload you, so if you are too busy already, I'll understand."

Of course, we will train you, Arya and Fírnen. A little time in the sky is no overload to anyone. Saphira came closer to the group.

"She's right. We will set a time and a day. I'll let you know." He smiled, looking from one to another.

"Thank you, Eragon," Arya said in a kind tone.

Fírnen bent his head, saying, Thank you, Master.

His voice sounded amused and youthful in Eragon's mind, which made him feel comfortable in the dragon's presence.

Turning to Angela, he saw her curious expression for witnessing a partially quiet conversation.

"Walk with me, Angela, please? There is someone I would like you to meet."

She raised her eyebrows.

"This better be good, Shadeslayer. I wouldn't trade a conversation with a brilliant dragon such as Fírnen for a dull affair."

Fírnen hummed once more, pleased with the flattering.

"It will be anything but dull."

"Fair enough. I'll go."

They both excused themselves to the group and walked between two of the long tables. Eragon led the way, looking for a particular person he thought would benefit from an exchange with the herbalist. Seeing a head of silver hair at the end closest to the door of the second table from the left, he signaled to Angela their destination.

"He's there. Come."

She nodded and followed.

"You know, I brought the dragon knuckles with me. I bet they would tell me interesting and new things about your future."

"I bet they would. Time passed, I changed. My former future became my present or even my past."

Angela seemed amused.

"And what a future that was. It makes me curious to see what's next."

"So, you will have to wait and ask me how my life went, for I do not wish to know my fortune again."

"Are you sure about it?" She teased.

"Positive."

"Well, if you change your mind, don't hesitate to ask. I won't hesitate to tell you."

He smiled and shook his head.

"I fear you'll tell me anyway. Don't be offended if I deliberately start to avoid you from now on."

"I certainly will." Angela acted upset. "I did not come all this way to be discredited as a professional."

A wrinkle appeared on his forehead, just as they neared their destination.

"What did you come here for?"

She laughed.

"I missed you, of course. What else? You make this life interesting, Shadeslayer. Always so full of questions and ignoring the answers." She tapped his forehead between his eyebrows with her index finger.

The wrinkle disappeared but his confusion only grew. Shaking this sensation away, he turned to the silver-haired elf sitting alone at the other side of the table. His face was serious and even annoyed at the sight of Eragon.

"Angela, I'd like you to meet Renir, soon to be an official Dragon Rider."

Angela looked at Renir with great interest, but the stare she received back was less than inviting.

"Atra esterní ono thelduin, Renir-finiarel," she performed the elven greeting.

It was clear to Eragon that Renir had to gather all his politeness to respond to Angela despite his annoyance.

"Atra du evarínya ono varda."

Looking from his apprentice to the herbalist, Eragon explained.

"Well, I think it would be good for Renir to hear about your stories…"

"Yes, yes, I know what to do here, Shadeslayer. Be gone now!" She took a seat at the table for Renir's distaste.

Eragon didn't expect anything else from Angela since he knew she would find the young elf as interesting as she thought of himself. Without further ado, he left them alone.

He didn't have to walk too much to join his everyday companions. At the sight of him, Ästrich lifted her wine glass and Indivia smiled, while Yaela pulled him a chair. He sat down opposite Blödhgarm, took a deep breath and felt at home. His not-so-new home, among his not-so-new friends. But home, nonetheless. Maybe he was not so lonely as he thought.

Life is good, little one. He spared Saphira a look from afar and watched as Arya caressed Saphira's jaw while his partner pressed her snout on Arya's forehead.

Eragon smiled with fondness. Yes, Saphira, life is good.

Chapter Text

Eragon squinted his eyes under the bright blue sky of a summer morning. He could hear the rumble of the competitors' voices coming from the arena outside Mount Arngor.

The place was carefully built by talented constructors especially for the Games, and although it was simple, it showed all the commitment the residents of Arngor had towards its development. The arena was composed of a large field for wrestling, sword fighting, archery, jousts, and other strength competitions, and flanked by strong but not so tall bleachers.

On one end, a grandstand was built in a more sophisticated kind for the guests of honor. It was adorned in wood, with tall, padded chairs. Eragon thought they shouldn't differentiate who was "important" and who was not, but it was expected of him that he extended his cordiality to the monarchs and leaders, just as he was one of them.

Eragon was supposed to join them and give a speech to open the games, so he walked through the field greeting the competitors, wishing them good luck. Some of them were residents of Arngor, of all races, and they were particularly touched by his friendly attitude. Others were travelers, eager to prove themselves in front of the most famous man in the world, as they claimed, the legend himself. The urgals were the most concentrated, the reason being their validation among their peers and the opportunity to prove themselves worthy of a good mate and respect in their tribes. He felt genuinely happy to walk among them, not caring if it took too long to cross the entire field.

When he got to the grandstand, he saw all the leaders already expecting him. He climbed the steps and bowed to them. As he took the front to speak, he watched as three big dragons approached the arena and joined the younger ones by the other end of the field, an open space for the dragons to watch the competitions. The newcomers were Saphira, Fírnen, and Thorn.

He sighed in frustration. Now everyone would know Murtagh had come to Arngor, and Eragon feared he would have to put out more fires than he expected.

He sensed the others shifting uncomfortably behind him and watched people looking for the Red Rider, who wasn't anywhere to be seen. They were commenting with each other, probably, mean words about his half-brother.

Eragon cleared his throat, and after a voice enhancement spell, he started to speak. He thanked each of the leaders there present, turning to look at them. Orik had a fiery look, and Eragon felt regretful for hiding Murtagh's presence there, fearing he had lost his friend's trust; after all, the dwarves were still resentful of the murder of their king, Hrothgar.

Looking away from Orik and the others, he addressed the residents of Arngor, who stumped their feet on the ground in response, synchronized as a single organism. He felt proud of their unity. He then proceeded to greet the Apprentice Riders, that emerged from their seats on the bleachers and raised their hands. They were about fourteen students, the senior ones, an urgal and a dwarf, were expected to graduate in the next spring.

Next, Eragon greeted the competitors, praising them for their courage. They were a group of about fifty men and women from all races. Those with magical abilities were instructed to avoid any use of magic during the games, including healing spells. All wounds were expected to heal naturally, to be borne with pride. Only if one were to be severely injured, then the healers would treat the wounds with all means available to prevent death or other unfortunate consequences.

After the instructions about the rules and schedule, Eragon took a deep breath and fell silent for an instant. His gaze traveled around on each of those faces looking back at him. They were all quiet, and if that was supposed to make him feel awkward and inadequate, it failed, for his spirit was calm. He wasn't responsible for anyone's life anymore like he had been in the past during the war. Eragon was an admired figure, even loved, and his only responsibility now was to pave the way for the new players, make them apt to move the pieces on the board. How they chose to play, however, was not up to him, although he would not stand to raise a new tyrant like his Master Oromis had raised Morzan and helped to instruct Galbatorix. And that day, the only duty he had was to start a celebration of union and peace he helped forge.

"Lastly," he broke the silence, "I'd like to address the very reason we are here today. Our friends, the dragons."

All the faces turned to the opposite end of the field to look at the dragons.

"They are the magic of this world. The reason we see the flowers blossoming in the spring, the animals running wild and free throughout the land. They are the core of our peace treaty because, without their power, our races could never be bound to one another in an ancient pact. For all you do for us, I thank you."

The crowd looked to the dragons with admiration and cheered loudly. The Riders seemed to be extremely touched and proud, which made the giants hum with pleasure.

"In particular, I would like to pay tribute to the reason of my existence. Saphira." The blue dragon puffed her chest and looked at him with fondness. "Your strength, beauty, and wisdom are often neglected throughout Alagaësia, which is unfair, but understandable, for it would be impossible to capture all you are with mere words. A lifetime, long as it can be, is not enough for me to thank you for choosing me as your Rider. I hope I can honor you with every breath and every step take."

Saphira bowed her head and lifted it back up to throw a huge blue flame to the sky. The other dragons followed her lead until the temperatures in the arena went up considerably. He laughed when the competitors flinched, getting away from the heat.

I think it's enough, Saphira. You're going to burn them all alive.

She stopped the fire and winked at him.

You spoke beautifully, little one. A true poet. She said with tenderness as the other dragons ceased their fire too.

Thank you.

No, little one, thank you!

Eragon smiled. He decided then it was time to let the games begin and announced open the first edition of the Arngor Games.


It was refreshing for Arya to enjoy a warm and pleasant day outside, watching the competitions take place in the field in front of her. She enjoyed the jousts very much but was eagerly expecting the sword fighting.

As a human knight was brilliantly knocked down from his horse with a spectacular hit from his opponent's lance, she rose from her seat applauding along with all the other spectators. The winner took off his helmet and rode his horse around the jousting area, waving his hand and receiving praises. He made it to the next round.

Turning back to her seat, she crossed eyes with Eragon, who took his seat on her left, smiling at her.

"It's a pity that elves don't compete in jousting. It would be a sight to see," he commented lightly in the Ancient Language like their conversation had been going all morning.

She shook her head.

"We will let humans excel in at least one thing, in respect of our good relationship." Arya smiled provocatively. She had not felt that good in a long time.

"We are jesting, today, aren't we?" He laughed.

She did not care to respond, simply looking back to the action ahead, where two other competitors readied to start a new match.

The entire morning was spent like this, watching the jousts, talking in good humor, and taking in the summer warmth. From time to time, she would look to her left just to see that Eragon held a content expression. He looked young still but mature beyond his age. A child in elven terms, but a full-grown man for several years now by human standards. But she knew both parameters failed when measuring his maturity, for he could be considered neither human nor elf. He was something else. He was a Dragon Rider, but not only that. She knew the Eldunarí shared with him their memories, poured into his mind their knowledge, concepts so old as time itself. How could one expect to remain unchanged before all that? Eragon was born human, turned into a Rider, transformed into an elf-like being, but became what no one else would ever be. The memory of Alagaësia itself.

Once during their conversation, his eyes went blank and stared away. She held in her mouth the words about an odd fellow she had met in Teirm in the past year and waited for him to resume his attention to her. Lines of concern marked her forehead.

Eragon then shook his head and turned his eyes to her again.

"Oh, I'm sorry. You were saying…"

The lines on her forehead deepened.

"Are you ill?" Arya asked in a quiet tone.

His eyes widened, then he smiled dismissing her concerns.

"No, no! It's the dragons. Sometimes they infuse their memories in my thoughts in the most inopportune times. If it happened only at night in my sleep-like trance, it would be great, but I find myself traveling through time and space when doing all sorts of activities." Laughed a bit, but his eyes were clouded somehow.

She sensed some of those memories were worrisome enough to trouble him.

"Once, I was in the middle of a meeting with the dwarven ambassador," he started, "that was telling me about how beautiful and sad his brother's funeral was. Well, it's enough to say that the memory one of the Eldunarí decided to show me contemplated a failed attempt of a dragon to free himself from a clump of nettles when he was only a hatchling." The corners of his eyes pushed back in amusement, forming thin lines of expression that she found endearing. "The look on the poor man's face was priceless when I burst out in laughter right in the middle of his sad narrative." He laughed again, reliving the moment. She smiled kindly.

Then, when he ceased his laughter, she voiced her concerns.

"But not all the memories are this cheerful, are they?" It was rhetorical, but she expected an answer, nevertheless.

Eragon took a deep breath and looked around. They were surrounded by his most trusted advisors, the other leaders of Alagaësia, and their servants. Arya understood that there was not the right place for such conversation.

"No, they are not." He looked away just in time to see the end of another match. "Lunchtime!" He announced and got up to call the audience and the competitors to the dining tent.

Arya sighed and prepared to follow the others when Eragon touched her elbow and signaled for her to follow him instead.

They walked under the refreshing shelter provided by the trees against the intense midday sun. It was a slow pace, quiet and tense. She felt him struggling with his reflections, possibly debating with Saphira about what he could tell Arya of his memories, so she let him to it.

Her eyes, on the other hand, could not leave him alone, and she found herself throwing him long and inspecting gazes. She noticed he had tried to comb his short brown hair back, but a strand fell stubborn on his forehead. His well-trimmed beard gave him a serious look, like he was a young lord, heir to some noble house's name and properties, just like many human men she had met in her duty as Dragon Rider.

With few exceptions, they all tried to gain her attention with pleasantries and even presents. She would politely decline, not without annoyance, stating her work as a Rider would not allow her to take any compensations from those she had helped. They would mumble a plead or an apology in return, but soon enough she would be on Fírnen's back preparing to take flight.

Shaking her head, she wiped that thought from her mind. Eragon was nothing like those young lords. In fact, she was sure that if anyone tried to call him "My Lord", he would dismiss the title, attesting he was no lord. It was true, he was not a noble, and again, Arya dwelled on the notion that he was something else now. She wondered how much of his true name had changed over the years because it was clear it had changed.

It was hard though for her to forget his human features, physical or behavioral. Eragon still had warmth and curiosity pouring from his eyes, and his eagerness to learn and connect to people was very much present under his elven façade. His pointy ears and slightly slanted eyes could never cover his unique approach to novelty. Without seeing him for ten years, she knew it all to be true still. And there was also his appearance.

Arya's eyes traveled down from his dark beard adorning his strong jaw. He was wearing a simple but elegant blue, short-sleeved tunic, and a vest, embroidered with green thread, forming delicate and intricate vines. It was the perfect fit for his strong frame, adorning his shoulders and chest with harmony. The fabric was not elven made, it followed the customs of his people, the Palancar Valley inhabitants. She had seen them wearing clothes like Eragon's before, adorned with the same type of embroidery, but never in this summer version.

Roran had greeted her in the last fall wearing a similar type of tunic, except it was dark blue and long-sleeved. Arya wondered who had made it and sent it to him. She suspected Roran had sent Eragon presents through Murtagh, for Eragon's family told her the Red Rider had visited Carvahall only a month before her.

Sensing her analysis of him, Eragon grabbed the fabric with his fingertips and confirmed her suspicion.

"Katrina embroidered and sewed it to me, this and many other pieces of clothing. They're not as refined as the elven ones, but I think they suit me just fine. She asked Murtagh to give them to me when he told them he was to join us here." He looked disappointed as he shook his head. "I wish they had come with you to watch the Games. Roran said they would, but that was before they knew about Katrina's pregnancy."

She nodded.

"At least it is for a good cause."

Eragon agreed.

"How did that happen, Murtagh and Thorn?" Her question was vague, but if he thought it sounded inarticulate, he was delicate enough not to mention.

"They've been here before, but never to stay. This time I think he considered retiring from Alagaësia's drama." He smirked.

"Is it possible?"

"Well, I like to believe it is. I mean, for me at least, because if another enemy is threatening the Kingdom or any of your realms, I don't think I will be very helpful from this far. I think my role now is to forge the ones who will help." Eragon pointed to the colorful group of dragons gathered around the dining tent. "I guess I'm almost retired from Alagaësia's drama. Except, you know, for politics and brothers, and all their resentment."

Arya was confused.

"What do you mean, you will not fly back in case of need?"

He shrugged.

"I don't think I can. I can't leave the Eldunarí and the eggs unattended."

"I am sure your spellcasters can protect them just fine!" She was a little annoyed with the fact that he was seriously considering never coming back, even in a situation of great need.

"It's not their duty," he tried to defend himself, with a careful tone, as to not offend her. "It's mine, as the Head Rider. And as long as I remain in this position, I must guard the legacy and the future of our Order." He stated as if he had memorized the words. "One day, a younger and stronger Rider will be considered fitter for the job, but even then, his or her strength will be better employed in action, not at the dragon hold, guarding eggs and Eldunarí. I believe my duty is a lifelong task."

He did not sound sad or tired but resigned. It was hard to accept that the Eragon she met once, energetic and fit for battle, would agree with being left behind strategizing, studying, in the rear end of the fight. He had really become something else.

"We will have to let the future take its course then," she said looking ahead, still dealing with the dissatisfaction.

Eragon nodded, and silence fell upon them once more.

Arya followed with her eyes as Thorn rose from his spot by Saphira's side and flew to the mountain, a few yards away. He entered through an opening high up and disappeared.

"What do you think I should do about Orik and Murtagh?" He asked in a pained voice.

"This is a very difficult situation. The dwarves are not easily dissuaded from their beliefs, and Murtagh unfairly killed Hrothgar, cowardly, as Orik would say." Arya breathed in before continuing. "I believe the best you can do is to see what Orik's thoughts on the matter are and reason with him, try to keep his trust and friendship. Be wise, for the dwarves are big suppliers to the academy. You need them."

He sighed.

"I know." Eragon's eyes captured hers, and she saw he was divided. "He's my brother, Murtagh. I would fail him and our mother if I didn't accept him, but Orik was always so loyal, my brother too, bound by heart, not something as random as blood. He will blame me for betraying the Ingeitum."

"Give it time, Eragon."

"That's the solution to everything, it seems." Arya noticed a drop of bitterness in his voice and got surprised as his eyes darkened and he averted his gaze.

She did not say another word on the matter, instead, she waited until his lighter mood returned. It took him a minute or two, then he took a deep breath and spoke again.

"You asked about the memories." She nodded. "Well, they show me everything, good and bad. Sometimes it's their own memories, sometimes it's their Riders'. Sometimes it's not even the past, it's now as if they had eyes throughout all over Alagaësia. It confuses me when they won't explain."

He stopped walking, which forced her to do the same. They stood under an oak tree, halfway between the arena and the dining tent. Eragon finally seemed to acknowledge the rebel strand of hair that fell lazily on his forehead. He ran his right hand through his hair and pushed it all back. It seemed soft under his touch.

"Lately – and I don't know how relevant it is –, they've been showing me different uses of magic across the land. I said lately, but it has been happening since we moved here. Powerful beings inhabit Alagaësia, people we don't even dream to know, hidden in their lairs." He exhaled heavily. "These visions make me think nonstop about Nasuada's prohibition of magic. I know people have been punished all over the place, we even have refugees from the prohibition living here, which does not please Nasuada. She is being friendly to me, because, well, we are friends, but I know she's holding it against me." He shook his head. "Now Orik is mad too, and I'm sure Garzhog is fed up with all the royal treatment he's receiving, and Orrin, he's Orrin." They shared a laugh. "What are your complaints against me?"

Arya pretended to think about it.

"I have no complaints up to this moment, but I'm sure you will mess something up very soon."

Eragon chuckled.

"It does sound like me. But I digress, I was talking about the prohibition. I don't think it's the solution. Who is proficient in magic, really proficient, and you know this better than I am, will never get caught by Du Vrangr Gata." She smirked in sarcasm. "Those magicians I saw, they would never get caught by Trianna, not even in her wildest dreams. So, instead of forbidding it, we should be educating magic users to stop them from diving into black magic. Like we do to the Riders when they show the first signs of their powers, so they don't get the chance to use it inadvertently."

He caught her interest completely with his excited tone.

"How would we do that? You do not expect me to receive them in Ellesméra for training, do you?"

He smiled.

"Of course not. Nor they would have to come here. You forget we will have new full-formed Riders and Dragons flying back to Alagaësia in the spring, and two more the next year and so it goes. Above everything, the Riders are scholars and teachers. So they will teach!"

Arya frowned. An education in magical use was the standard procedure when raising an elven child, but she was not sure if it could be applied to other races. Humans, especially, were prone to overuse it, to take advantage of it, and overthrowing their peers. When she voiced her thoughts, he shook his head.

"They do that because they weren't instructed properly. I'm not saying there should not be laws regarding the use of magic, I just think educating is better than forbidding. Don't you think all the people around the country would benefit from having more healers and scholars?"

It made sense. He forged peace not with his sword, but with his magic. A powerful and simple spell subjugated the King, freeing all Alagaësia from tyranny, and after that he tied the races together in a magical bond, granting all the same rights. It was clear to Arya that Eragon considered magic to be the way to a prolonged and peaceful agreement between all the living creatures.

"It sounds reasonable. If you have a plan, you should expose it during our next meeting."

Eragon looked satisfied with her approval.

They stood there looking at each other. His eyes inspected her, while his mouth curved discretely upwards. He looked at her face with interest, especially her lips, then her hair, and even her body in a glance. She saw the longing in his eyes and deep adoration. Arya took a deep breath that caught his attention, and his gaze found her eyes again. He realized he had been staring and looked away in embarrassment, his cheeks turning red. She thought it was amusing the sight of this grown man blushing because of his attraction to the way she looked. Arya called his name.

"Eragon." He did not look back at her but answered with a "hum."

"May we go have lunch now? As much as I like talking with you, I feel hungry." Her tone was light, as a mean to excuse him from any embarrassment.

She understood, after a decade his feelings seemed to remain strong, his desire at least was all there in his probing eyes. Arya saw the surprise on his face when he turned back to her. Did he think she would scold him for staring at her that way or run away from his eager eyes? Arya guessed it was only coherent of him to think that, for all the times she rejected his advances. She did not find it necessary to push him away this time, since they were not in a turbulent time, fighting a bloody war. They were not so different in knowledge, for his years with the Eldunarí had matured him beyond even her years. And most importantly, she had time to make sense out of her feelings for him in the last decade and was sure that, if they lived close to each other and she had not taken her people's crown, they would probably be engaged in a romantic relationship already. It was a scenario full of ifs and maybes, but there was nothing more she could do at that moment.

"Of course. I'm so sorry for keeping you so long." He motioned in the direction of the dining tent.

Arya spared him a magnificent smile and walked ahead. Before losing sight of him though, she saw Eragon losing his breath for a second, providing her a moment of vanity. Some things never change. Others, however, are bound to be re-evaluated over time and gain a new perspective, and she was glad life worked that way. It cannot be, or can it? Maybe one day, Arya, one day.

Chapter Text

At the end of the first day of the Games, Saphira and Fírnen took their Riders for a flight. The sun was low and the heat started to give in a bit. It was a most pleasant twilight, and the Riders decided to enjoy it on the edge of a small cliff a mile away from Mount Arngor, where the River Edda made a turn south. The dragons lay down behind them and started a private conversation between themselves without bothering to talk using words or opening the full meaning of it to their Riders. A small connection was still kept but nothing more than that.

"So, if I don't ask any questions, we don't talk at all?" Eragon observed Arya with a smirk. She was sitting beside him on the ledge, looking ahead, her chin slightly lifted to enjoy the warm breeze. It was a pleasant summer night already, after the time spent flying and the minutes of silence between the two of them. She turned to him and raised a brow, without saying anything.

"I guess not even then", his smirk turned into a full smile. Warm and childlike. She responded with her smile, softer, reluctant.

He scooched over to get closer to her. "Fine, I will be the curious adolescent you are used to."

Her smile grew larger.

"I am not used to him anymore, I think. I have been scrying with the responsible leader of our Order for the past ten years."

"Well, a curious and responsible leader then." He teased. "Besides, this is not a formal scrying session, is it? Feels like old times, camping on the road, except we are not camping, nor on the road."

He laughed a little, feeling his stress being washed away just for being the receiver of her smile, so rare in the past and also when they would talk formalities through the mirrors.

"All right then". Arya said simply and turned her body toward him, bending her right knee to place her folded leg on the ledge while her other leg was still hanging from it. "Ask away."

Eragon felt excitement grow inside him, with her attention completely on him. He thought about what he wanted to ask her, but nothing impressive came to mind, he just wanted to start a conversation the way the had in the morning.

"Let's cover the basics. How are you? Really, are you happy? Because you only told me stories about your travels with Fírnen and a weird fellow you met in Teirm, without any details of your well-being."

She sighed getting a tad serious.

"That's the basics? A question about happiness? I worry about when the complex ones arrive."

He shrugged.

"Contentment then. I've been thinking for a while that happiness is a fruitless tree to shake."

She nodded, agreeing with him.

"I'm mostly content. There are a lot of things I wish I could do, but I cannot, though I achieved much more than I expected to work as queen in such a short period."

It was his turn to agree. He wondered what she wished she could do but couldn't, but decided not to bring it up.

"I think this is exactly the definition of contentment. I feel this way too."

They sat in silence for a moment, looking away. She was looking away at least, for he couldn't divert his gaze from her face again, just the way he did earlier that day. Arya was untouched by time, as expected. Yet, something about her had changed, something he could not quite pinpoint. He wondered…

"How is life here? I've noticed an interesting dynamic inside Fell Thindarë. People seem to cooperate but not mix completely. How it works is beyond my comprehension." His line of thought was interrupted, but he didn't fail to engage in her questioning.

"It is exactly that, interesting, new, and it works. We can spend many days in the same routine, working unceasingly, until something extraordinary happens, always concerning the dragons of course", he smiled gently to her, to which she responded accordingly. "In those moments I remember why we are doing what we are doing. No regrets. It's a rewarding feeling to know that the choices you made were the right ones. The different races don't exactly mix, but it's not a bad thing, I figured with time, although conflicts aren't unusual. Of course, a part of the population gets along very well, in friendship or even romantically. Yes, it had happened." He laughed a little. "But mostly they maintain a respectful partnership, despite the differences, bound by one purpose. I wasn't looking for creating a new civilization, but people kept coming, and it made me anxious that I was putting the dragons in danger by allowing this. In the end, I was convinced that a cohesive society was all we needed to thrive so far away with so little resources."

Her smile never left her face during his speech, but her eyes told a different story. He looked deeply into those emerald orbs and saw a trace of… He couldn't pinpoint that either. Could it be sadness? Jealousy? Maybe he didn't know her the way he thought he did, or maybe she had changed. It was a plausible possibility, he considered, she had big responsibilities after all, as the Elven Queen and the only Dragon Rider in Alegaësia, since Murtagh had recently joined him in Mount Arngor. Ten years had passed after all.

Silence fell upon their conversation again, but it wasn't an uncomfortable one. She looked away once more, which allowed him to watch her freely. Somehow, the more he thought about it over the years, the word beautiful would always fall short when describing her. He had used the word with no hesitation in the past, but at that moment, it didn't feel right. Since his departure to his new home, her overwhelming influence stopped being a problem when analyzing other women. He knew beautiful, he saw beautiful of all races. He could well recognize it by that point, he even knew attractive and sensual. But she wasn't it, she was, but not only it. No, she was more. Maybe it was his foolish heart clouding his vision with all the love he felt for her, Eragon could not know for sure. However, anyone would agree that her perfect lines and curves, her angles and colors, they all composed a masterpiece. Not perfect though, for art is not supposed to be perfect, but deep, meaningful. So, it was only appropriate that he wouldn't call her beautiful since the word lacked all her nuances, all her depth. He sighed. Maybe he wasn't worthy of her after all.

For the first time, he felt Saphira's attention turning to him in the back of his mind, and he could tell she wasn't pleased with his self-deprecating line of thought. She didn't say a word though.

Still watching Arya, he saw the corner of her lips twitching and a little smile appear as she turned to him.

"Are you done?"

He felt embarrassed for staring again and looked down, warmth filled his cheeks.

"I am sorry, I didn't mean to…"

"It's all right", she interrupted him and did something that made his eyes dart to her, widened in surprise. Arya reached for his hand and intertwined her fingers in his. She laughed at his expression.

"Come on now, this isn't something new to us, is it?", she pointed at their hands lying on the ground between them.

He looked her in the eyes and saw amusement for his embarrassment, but mainly he saw gentleness. When did this relaxed aura had fallen upon her? Sure he had seen her laugh and enjoy the moment in the past, of course, her gentleness and soft voices weren't completely new to him, but at that moment, and the entire day they spent side by side, she looked totally at ease in his presence. It was heartwarming to have her so comfortable around him.

He shook his head. No, their touch wasn't new. She took his hand before, but her warmth on his skin would never get old. He, on the other hand, was older. He should get his composure back and act like a grown man. So, he straightened his back, showed a confident smile and dared to say in a low but strong voice.

"I apologize, but sometimes I'm reminded that there's a fool in love living inside myself waiting to betray my composure."

Eragon expected her to retract from his bold words and cut their physical contact, but she did not. She was looking at him and when he returned the gaze to her eyes, she just nodded and exhaled.

"There's no need to apologize. Love is not foreign to me as you may think." He was surprised and watched her attentively, for he knew that a painful memory had just crossed her mind and her eyes. Though he hoped that he was the one to show her love, he knew she was speaking of another, one she had lost, one that still hurt her deeply.

"Fäolin." He whispered, and she turned her face away, without letting go of his hand. He gave it a light squeeze and caressed her soft skin with his thumb. She had been in love with the elf, after all, he thought, remembering the time she avoided his question when they were returning to the Varden after Katrina's rescue from Helgrind.

"It's all right. You can talk to me about him. Or anything."

Arya turned to give him a bitter grin. It made him want to add.

"Really! Arya, there's nothing about you that I reject. He's a part of you, I've seen in your name, so it would be childish of me to assume you would just bury him inside and never speak or think of him ever again. I don't want that. I want you to feel comfortable enough with me so that matters like this come easy to your tongue, even if it's rough on the heart." Eragon was being completely honest, if he truly loved her, then accepting she had a past before him was the most fundamental step he should take.

Her gaze never left his eyes, and he was glad she didn't back away from him and his intrusion.

"Words seem to come easy to your tongue, Shadeslayer." She joked, but her tone was sad.

"I've been learning." He grinned with empathy in his eyes because he knew she must have been dealing with her painful memories all by herself this whole time, at least she had Fírnen, and this thought calmed his heart.

She let go of his hand and nodded. As she spoke she turned her body forward again, her two feet hanging out from the ledge.

"I am comfortable with you, Eragon. You are the closest friend I have apart from Fírnen, even not seeing you for ten years and living leagues and leagues away."

Her voice was low and faint, and although Eragon could hear her perfectly, she was facing away and he wanted to be as attentive as he could, so he leaned forward to have a good look at her face. They were almost mimicking each other's stance, feet hanging from the ledge and hands on their laps, if it weren't for his head turned to her and hers facing forward.

Eragon was going to ask her something to get her to talk, but she was faster.

"In hindsight, maybe what we had would be over soon if he hadn't died." She exhaled heavily. "And that's a thought I blame myself for having."

The statement made Eragon's head spin. Yes, he definitely didn't know her the way he thought he did. Arya and Fäolin had a relationship, a long and complex one apparently.

"Why don't you start from the beginning?" He suggested in a voice so soft it could pass for a whisper. "How did you two meet and started…", he thought for a second, trying to find the right word that could name whatever elves do when they fall in love. He had no idea, was it the same for them as it was for humans? "Courting? Does it sound right? I don't think it sounds right."

She laughed lightly at his confusion but didn't enlighten him. Instead, she began telling him what he had asked.

"Fäolin was a constant company during my youth. As I already told you once, we were kindred spirits, but we remained as just friends for a long time."

Arya paused, trying to recollect her memories. After a brief intermission, she started again, in a hushed voice.

"He supported my decision to leave Ellesméra, for he knew I could never sit and wait when so many less privileged men and women, humans and dwarves, were fighting for every bit of freedom they could have. He also understood my desire for revenge. I appreciated that in him and I thought that, when the time came, he would like to join me."

"He did not."

She shook her head.

"No. He stated that his purpose was to better himself before he could try to act on behalf of others. That he had a job to do in Ellesméra and he would serve in another way."

A petty thought crossed Eragon's mind, and he felt Saphira's interference for the second time, this time with words. "You're right, but don't tell her that!".

"What? That she loved a spoiled son of a bitch who couldn't abandon the comfort of his precious forest to go after the woman he loved and to help a people that didn't have half of his skills and knowledge but sacrificed themselves for the well-being of others? You mean that? Don't worry, I suspect she already knows."

"I was furious," Arya added emotionless. "Told you!" Eragon joked with Saphira, who laughed but didn't make any other observations.

"I trusted he would do the right thing eventually though, so we parted ways and rarely spoke in the next decades if it wasn't for occasional letters traded at the outskirts of Du Weldenvarden by messengers and merchants and sporadic encounters."

"Right. You didn't go back to Ellesméra until you took us for our training with Oromis and Glaedr." He reminisced.

She nodded.

"I wouldn't go back there for good taking the risk to face my mother after all that's been said and done between us. But I had to visit a few times, very briefly, as my duty mandated. I even saw him occasionally, we were amicable, and he was full of promises, ones I could not hold on to since had a job to do as ambassador."

He agreed. There was much more to Arya's story them she usually let anyone know, and he was glad she chose to share it with him. He looked at her with warmth in his eyes and said in a soft voice.

"Go on."

Arya took a deep breath encouraged by his support and kept speaking.

"And that was all that was left of our friendship during my time alone with the Varden. Our letters were a comfort, but could not replace the companionship we had before."

With that, Eragon had to agree. He was far away from his closest friends and family, and letters and mirrors just didn't give him the companionship he craved. He had Blödhgarm, Ästrith and the others, but it wasn't the same. He missed joking around with Roran, the caring embraces Katrina would give him, his long talks with Nasuada —who he thought understood him very well—, the unwavering loyalty that Orik had for him and mostly the quiet partnership he had with Arya. Despite his romantic feelings for her, he held her friendship at the highest consideration, for she was loyal, wise, giving and accepting of him.

"When he was sent by my mother to be my guard while carrying Saphira's egg back and forth between the Varden and Du Weldenvarden, I strongly refused and probably caused him some heartache, for he thought I was refusing his company, and that couldn't be as far from the truth." She shook her head as she was arguing with an image of Fäolin.

"Why was it then?"

"I believed with all my convictions that my mother was trying to manipulate me by using him. I was sure she had sent him to convince me to get back. He avoided my questioning about it for a while until he finally confessed. And he never tried to convince me of anything, he knew better." She smiled softly at Eragon. "She did that the same way she tried to use you to manipulate me." She said it so casually that he had a hard time trying to grasp the meaning of her words.

After a brief consideration, he closed his eyes trying to remember their time together in Ellesméra and how naïve he had been even knowing Islanzadí's cunning nature.

"She knew you wouldn't refuse her apologies in front of us when we arrived in Ellesméra." She nodded, and a tired grin appeared on her lips.

"Not only that, but she believed I would refrain myself from following you into the battle with Galbatorix if you asked. She hoped you would ask."

He smirked jokingly.

"I knew better."

She graced him with the same kind of smirk.

"But how would she induce me to ask that of you? I explicitly defended the idea of you fighting alongside us."

"By saying in front of you how I had only seen the hard part of life and helped myself from enjoying its joys. She hoped you would want to rethink and try to spare me so I could live on and enjoy life."

He closed his eyes again.

"She was so subtle, and I, so clueless." The tired expression emerged again on her face. "When Saphira and I came back from Vroengard, we all worked on our plan to defeat Galbatorix, and you two had a very non-private conversation about it. I should've figured her intentions. At least Islanzadí and you made peace."

She nodded.

"Well, we did, but I could not ignore my mother's biggest talent, using the men in my life to manipulate me into making peace with her." Arya used a tone of voice that never failed in startling Eragon, sarcastic, almost feral. He couldn't let go of the fact that she included him in the men in her life category. He wondered who else was there with himself and Fäolin, her father probably? He could imagine Queen Islanzadí using the memory of Evandar to persuade her daughter into doing her likings.

"Anyway, I digress. After further consideration, I accepted his role as my guard. Him and Glenwing."

"Was it when you two started to get back to what you had before?"

"Yes, and no. We became close again, but it was different, we were terribly different from the ones we had been once, you must imagine why."

"I can imagine how you were changed, being directly involved in the uprising. However, I do not know what could have changed him in Ellesméra." He let a bit of his harsh judgment transpire in his words, but she seemed not to notice.

"He had his hardships, which aren't mine to tell. And I guess we clung to each other, for comfort. It was like when we were together there was a familiar feeling, a feeling of home."

Eragon felt bad for her, thinking about how it was for her living among a people so different than hers or herself for that matter. His bad judgment of Fäolin faltered at the idea of him being her only solace.

"So, I guess that's when the actual courting started." She played with the word he struggled with before and smiled faintly to him. "For years we traveled carrying Saphira's egg with hopes that it would hatch soon. Of course Glenwing was as much part of it as the both of us, but Fäolin was my confidant, my best friend and..."

She seemed embarrassed with the word Eragon already knew she would speak. He thought he could help her let it out.

"Lover." His voice was whispered but without any judgment or jealousy. He wanted to make sure she felt safe with him.

Arya sighed.

"I don't know now the extent of my love for him, if I let myself get involved out of homesickness or because we were the only ones we could rely on, but at the time I was sure of my feelings for him."

Eragon narrowed his eyes at her. Because she was looking ahead, he lifted his hand slowly and with delicacy he touched her chin to turn her gaze to him. When Arya found his eyes, he saw her emerald orbs almost black, even though the night was bright.

"Why do you diminish your feelings like that? Why can't you just admit that you loved him without any reason, just for the love itself?"

His voice was low and intense. Eragon let go of her chin and watched as she took a deep breath and looked up to the stars.

He understood why, and again he went for the rescue.

"Because it hurts, doesn't it? He's gone, and there's nothing you can do with that feeling now." He understood her anguish to a certain extent, to feel incapable of acting on emotion or even moving on from it. Despite his profound love for her, he couldn't be jealous of Fäolin, he only had to respect her past and hope she would accept it too. Easier said than done, but he was committed to try his best.

The elf closed her eyes at his words, showing to him that he got everything right. She had loved Fäolin, it was very clear, but why did she think it would be over soon if he hadn't died as she stated earlier? When he voiced his question, she shrugged.

"We grew apart in the last year of our time together. I felt like he was losing hope of finding the next Rider, of ending the Mad King's rule of terror. It disappointed me no end, for all I had worked for until that moment had been pointless from his perspective, all of those decades of dedication, for nothing. I remember like it was yesterday the talk we had before leaving to Du Weldenvarden for the last time. I wanted to end things even still having such strong feelings for him; he begged me not to."

"So you didn't."

She shook her head.

"No, I decided to give us another try, hoping Saphira would hatch to a new Rider and his trust in our mission would be rebuilt. Looking back, it was the right thing to do, I don't know how I would feel if we had been separated at the time of his death. If I had caused him so much pain. And Saphira did chose her Rider, but he wasn't there to see."

Her voice got so low in the end that if Eragon didn't have his elven hearing he would probably miss it.

Eragon reached for her shoulder to comfort her. She looked at him and gave him a grateful look.

"Thank you for being so honest with me, and I'm sorry that you had to go through all this hardship so I could be Saphira's rider."

Arya spared him a sad smile.

Eragon retreated his hand from her shoulder and looked ahead stretching his back, that got sore from bending to listen to her so closely.

"Do you think he would have liked me if we had met?" He asked in a lively tone, trying to soften her mood.

She raised a brow to him.

He laughed at what she was probably thinking.

"Fine, maybe not like, but approve me as Saphira's rider. I mean, he knew her from inside her egg before I did, I imagine he had an idea of what a suitable candidate would look like. I'm sure you all did, the three of you."

It doesn't matter what he would think, the choice was mine and mine alone. Saphira's tone was impertinent as she spoke inside their minds. He wanted to laugh at her intrusion but held himself.

Arya pondered, with a stray look.

"It's hard to say, but Saphira is right, only her opinion mattered."

"You mean no, don't you? He wouldn't approve at all."

She stared at him concerned, but relaxed when she noticed his mood was light and playful.

"Sorry."

"It's fine, I know people expected more, especially the elves. I always knew. I even agreed with that for a long time."

"Not me." She got serious. "I trusted that you would do good since the beginning, for I knew Saphira's core I was sure she would choose the best she could find. She met and refused each one of your critics in Du Weldenvarden. I guess they were only envious of you." A kind and approving thought entered his mind coming from Fírnen, at the same time he poked Eragon affectionately on the back with his nose.

Arya's words touched him and also Saphira, he could feel her gratitude for the elf pouring through their bond and suspected his dragon was voicing it to her at that exact moment.

Arya smiled and held his hand again.

"You are very kind, Arya. Thank you." Eragon intertwined his fingers with hers. "Well..." he continued, "I would've liked him."

She raised a brow in suspicion.

"You said he was your only solace, he felt like home to you, that you two were kindred spirits. If Fäolin was that good to you, then I wouldn't have any other choice than to like him. Despite his lack of faith in me, I think we would be just fine." Eragon had a boyish smile on his face.

"If you say so..."

Arya brought their hands to her lap and put her other hand over his. Eragon doubted that she had ever shown him so much affection through physical contact before. He felt moved once more.

"How about the Black Morning Glory, when was..." he started to ask in a low voice.

"Before I left. As some kind of promise."

What kind of promise? That one day they would be mates? Did they end up being mates, was that what their relationship was? She said they were lovers, is that the same thing as mates? Eragon remained confused regarding the elven amorous practices, maybe Blödhgarm could enlighten him someday since he was sure many of his future students would be elves and they would certainly engage in those practices sooner or later, as he already started noticing with Renir and his sparring partner.

Oh yes, that's why you want to know more about it, Saphira mocked him.

Shut up! He faked resentment.

Eragon remained silent for the following minutes, just enjoying the warm breeze that kept blowing and the pressure of her hands on his skin. She caressed the back of his hand or the hair on his wrist from time to time, and it would warm him inside.

He had his eyes closed to take it all in more easily when her voice brought him back.

"You look different". She had turned to him again, just the way she had done before her narrative about Fäolin, and he saw some admiration in her eyes.

"Better I hope."

She nodded with a smile.

"Of course."

"I changed a lot since the last time we saw each other in person, on the inside I mean. I believe that's what you were referring to, since you saw me many times over these last ten years, through the mirrors."

"I meant both. I never felt like pointing it out to you when we were talking serious matters via scrying."

"I understand. What do you see, then, apart from the beard?" he laughed.

She followed him but did something he wasn't expecting. She reached his cheek with her free hand and caressed his facial hair. Arya's touch was so tender he fought the urge to close his eyes. And as suddenly as it started, it ended.

She stood up quickly and said.

"We better get back. We will be late for dinner and we have a meeting tomorrow first thing in the morning before the second day of the Games. I would like to get some rest tonight."

He nodded and got up too, wishing he could stay all night feeling her touch on his face and her musical laugh fill his ears.

After dinner, that was less ceremonious than the night before, he stayed back in the dining hall to lounge on a comfortable chair by one of the fireplaces. Not all of them were lit because it was summer and the climate was nice and warm, even inside the big mountain, but the habit of smoking by the fireplace was well kept in Mount Arngor. He was joined around the almost dying fire by some other residents, three human men and two dwarves, husband and wife. All around the hall, other groups formed. His little party did not bother to talk, instead kept a respectful company to each other for quite a while.

One by one, his companions left for the night, with quiet words of goodbye, but he didn't feel like resting, so he lingered there a little more. Saphira was long gone by then.

Alone in the enormous hall, Eragon pondered on the happenings of the day. So much had happened, he had trouble quieting his mind. He took a drag from his pipe and blew the smoke to the air, watching it twirl above his head.

"I hoped to find you alone here."

Orik's voice startled Eragon. How silly of him to be so careless with his surroundings. He should be more attentive to anyone approaching him.

"Hello, Orik. Care to join me for a smoke?" He tried to sound friendly and inviting, but got nervous, for he knew what was coming.

"Aye. Came prepared." Orik lifted his long pipe after settling on the chair opposite to Eragon.

"We need to talk," Eragon said in a concerned tone.

"Indeed. Let's talk."

Chapter Text

Eragon arrived early to the meeting with Alegaësia's leaders. He wanted to give a good impression of a polite and welcoming host. Of course, they all already knew him, they were his friends, but it was a long time without seeing any of them in person, and they had never seen him in this position before, the Head Rider leading a meeting. He wanted to show them he had grown, he was wiser and fit for the job as the Head Rider.

He stood in the huge chamber that was the conference room, large enough to fit about ten full-grown dragons. Less, if they were bigger than Saphira. Eragon had his hand on Saphira's neck while they waited for the others in silence. It was very early in the morning, for they decided to meet before the first activities for the day. The sword fighting was scheduled to start the competitions of the day, and it promised to be quite an event.

Light footsteps approached down the hall and he already knew who was coming. Only her, out of the leaders he was expecting, could be so smooth in her movements at the same time as being followed by the pounding sound that was a dragon stepping on stone. A little smile appeared in his face and his heart started to beat faster. Saphira spared him an accomplice look.

With the formal greeting of the elves, Ästrith welcomed her queen and let her and Fírnen enter the room. As Arya walked through the door, her aroma of crushed pine needles was rushed in the place toward him. Eragon then walked to greet her, his two first fingers of the right hand on his lips.

"Atra esterní ono thelduin, Arya Dröttning."

"Atra du evarínya ono varda, Eragon Shadeslayer."

He did the same to Fírnen, who answered inside his mind.

Eragon walked to the big oaken rectangular table and pulled her a chair on one end of it. Arya smiled at him and after a brief pause sat on the chair he offered her. For a moment he thought she would refuse.

He sat by her right side, while Fírnen joined Saphira behind Arya.

"Orik questioned me yesterday about our greetings. He seemed confused with the fact that I greeted you first when I arrived but later that day you did it first." She said with an amused expression.

He smiled.

"What did you answer?"

"That I greeted you as your guest and a subordinate Rider, before her superior. And after that you chose to honor me, acknowledging my royal title and age."

"I don't think this explanation soothed his confusion or did it?"

Arya let out a small laugh.

"It did not. He said he wouldn't know who was supposed to start if he were one of us."

"Well, I always think I'm supposed to go first, so it makes everything easier."

"You are a big authority now, Eragon. You don't have to say it first all the time."

"Still, I think I owe you all the respect."

She nodded, accepting his complementary words.

The door opened again, and this time Nasuada came in. Eragon stood up fast and bent his head forward, with his fist twisted over his sternum.

"Your majesty, welcome."

"Thank you, Eragon. Arya." She moved her head to the Elven Queen and took a seat on the other end of the table, as Eragon pulled the chair for her.

They didn't have to wait too long, since Orik, Orrin and Garzhog arrived soon after her. They all sat around the table, and Eragon suddenly felt like an outsider. All of them were royalty in their specific way, if not by blood then by the people's choice. He, on the other hand, was a low born, who didn't choose to lead but had to do it nonetheless, because if he didn't no one would, since he was the first free Rider after the Fall, and to be completely honest the only one fully free. And because of that, he wasn't free at all. The bad taste in his mouth was also because of Orik throwing him side looks, especially after the tense conversation they had the night before, after dinner as they smoked by the fire.

The meeting went well for a great part of it, so good he let his mind drift away.

Eragon, pay attention, you're staring. He shook his head to get back to the room realizing his eyes rested upon Arya when she began to talk, but stayed on her when it was someone else's turn to speak.

Damn it! I already did that yesterday. Soon enough she will slap me on the face. Saphira's chuckle came out as a snort that interrupted Orrin's speech about the law on fair trade of silk.

She didn't even bother to apologize or explain herself, neither was demanded to. They carried on, and Eragon tried his best not to stare again.

When it was his time to speak, he brought up the matter he discussed with Arya the day before. He wanted to educate the magicians of Alagaësia and only punish those who made a bad use of it. Except for Arya, that already knew about his ideas, all of them shifted in their seats.

Nasuada pursed her lips and gave him a severe look.

"I always knew you disliked my decision of regulating the use of magic, but this is the only time you openly oppose it. Of course, not considering your decision on taking in the sought by justice, that you prefer to call refugees."

Eragon took a deep breath. His eyes flickered to Arya before holding Nasuada's stare and he saw a glimpse of concern.

"I do not oppose, your Majesty. I propose. I am simply proposing a new approach to the situation." He stirred in his chair to turn to her. "Look, the dragons are back. The elves know this to be true, but humans often let it pass, that their magic is powerful enough to change the land at a deep level. What I'm saying is that soon enough, I don't know, but a fifth, a fourth of the population will be familiar with magic, maybe more. They can even achieve high proficiency levels in spellcasting. Do you want to hunt them all down and put them in chains, or worse?"

Nasuada lifted her head.

"I don't want to challenge you, my queen, but forbidding does not work in the long run, it already went too long. The refugees, as you mentioned, are hardworking residents of Mount Arngor, committed to the fullest to our activities, and they only use their magical powers to aid others, since they were instructed that way, they can attest education works! Can you imagine having healers on all sides of the Brodding Kingdom? Can you imagine them all working to keep the human race evolving and adapting? No more hunger and poverty. Can you imagine that?"

She seemed shaken by the image he created in her mind.

"If you want to have that in the future, you must take the first step now," Eragon said lastly and leaned back.

Nasuada looked from one face to another, studying their impressions about the matter. She took special interest in Orrin, who appeared afraid of her potential power if she created such a magical force.

"How do you plan to do that?"

"Well, I was thinking of building schools in the cities that agreed to do so. I'm sure Carvahall would be one of them, being Roran so favorable of magic. Then, the Riders would spend some time in each of the schools teaching the use of magic to those who manifested it, but also other subjects, such as reading and writing, history, mathematics, and geography, to those who wanted to receive proper education. Soon enough we will have plenty of Riders to place one in each city, and maybe more, without the need for rotation. Not only we will be producing good magicians but also proper professionals, well instructed, in all areas, from fishermen to traders or scholars."

"It's a bold plan, Shadeslayer, I give you that." King Orrin spoke but without admiration. He appeared to be suspicious of Eragon's intentions.

"I just think a good education should not be the privilege of few. People cannot be blinded to the matters of their world, they need to take control of their fate, instead of praying that no one stronger than them would submit them to his or her will. I'm sorry, your majesty, but fear is the fuel to great conflict, we reject and fight that we don't know. Let them know, educate them!"

Silence fell upon the table, as they all reminisced the last magician who submitted the land to his horrible will.

"Very well, I will consider your proposition very carefully. You managed to catch my sympathy for your cause. After all, who wants children to grow up not knowing how to read and write?" Nasuada said in a conciliatory tone.

"It's lacking, your majesty, I can assure you."

She nodded.

After that, they were all dismissed, but Eragon had wanted to gather with Arya and Murtagh to discuss matters of the Order, so he stayed back, as did Arya. Murtagh and Thorn arrived about ten minutes after the others left, and Eragon thanked the gods for that, he did not want to witness such an uncomfortable convergence of strong opinions and resentment. The three of them and their dragons gathered around the table.

"So, Murtagh, I know you wanted to stay here longer and avoid being dragged into the schemes and tensions from Alagaësia, but we need you to take the responsibility of being our reference in Illirea, since you are the only one of us available to fly back and forth with the eggs and who aren't bound to a specific place. I can't leave Mount Arngor and Arya frequently is held up by her duty as queen."

The red Rider looked concerned and annoyed.

"You know it won't be easy. They see me as a threat, a traitor."

"Less each day". Arya reminded.

"Still, it's an inconvenience. Why the two new Riders aren't being considered to this?"

Arya answered for Eragon.

"They are. Alagaësia is a big place, I know how much since I've been carrying dragon eggs back and forth the land for several decades now. They will help you taking the eggs to the dwarves and the urgals when it is their turn to receive them, and back to you in Illirea and to me in Ellesméra. But having you stated at the Kingdom's capital and being able to fly back here regularly will be a great advantage."

Eragon leaned forward to stare into his brother's eyes.

"Brother, you can do this. That's the only way you have to prove to the people in Alagaësia that you're worthy of their trust. They will be afraid at first, but after they start listening to the songs their bards will sing about you, they will want to see the brave Rider and Dragon that helped destroy the tyrant."

"Bards? Songs? What songs?"

A mischievous grin appeared under Eragon's mustache.

"I might have sent some song lyrics and epic verses to Jeod, and he might have spread them all around."

Murtagh frowned, but Arya smiled at him.

"I'm impressed, Shadeslayer. Changing the course of history with songs and poems written from afar."

He laughed.

"Well, I am my father's son, the storyteller's son. It's only fitting."

The two of them were in a light mood, but Murtagh was still concerned.

"What about the dwarves?"

Eragon stopped smiling and acquired a cautious look.

"I'm still negotiating with Orik. Anyway, like Arya said, you won't have to carry the eggs to them."

"Don't give me half-truths just because you can't lie in this language, brother. Spit it out."

Eragon exhaled heavily.

"We talked last night, Orik and I. He threatened to stop his aid to us when he realized you had joined us here. He was greatly offended because I didn't tell him before." Eragon looked down, feeling miserable for upsetting his friend. "He wants you out of the Order, Murtagh."

"Eragon! Why didn't you tell me?" Arya questioned with a severe look.

"Because it just happened last night!" He defended himself. "Besides, you're not only my fellow Rider, Arya. You're a monarch, I imagined you would feel compelled to retaliate his measure, or even intensify the help you give us." He combed the short and well-trimmed hair over his lip before adding. "There are a few decisions that I have to take by myself, being the Head Rider. By demanding that Murtagh be expelled from the Order, Orik is overstepping his rights as the Dwarf King, since we are free to organize ourselves as we please. Not even Nasuada could ask something like that, the same way she can't stop me from accepting her refugees."

Eragon sighed.

"I would fear it might cause us to cut all relations with the dwarves, but it cannot be done, it's unimaginable to exclude an entire race from our consideration, and we also included them in the pact with the dragons. Neither would I want that, I'm technically a dwarf too." He seemed tired.

So, what will you do? Thorn's voice ringed inside his mind, and Eragon flinched slightly since he was not used to having the red dragon talking to him regularly.

"What I just said. I'm negotiating." He smiled a sad smile.

"It's not going well, I figure." Arya's discontentment was very visible in her features.

"You know the dwarves. Stubborn as the rocks they are buried in, you said it yourself yesterday." Eragon fixated his eyes on the man in front of him. "But one thing I assure you, you are as part of this Order just as Arya and I, and if it comes to it, I would hate if it would, but we will find other ways to get the resources sent by Orik if he decides to cut us out. We will endure his estoppel because it is our prerogative to remain immune from any political influence or demands."

Murtagh didn't seem very confident but trusted in Eragon's words.

"All right then. We were hoping to stay away from Alagaësia for now, but if you judge important that we do this, I will carry the eggs and do whatever is requested of a Dragon Rider, but until you haven't sorted things out with Orik, I'm not stepping a foot in Tronjheim or any of their territories."

"I would never ask this of you, brother, like I already said. I care too much about your safety." Eragon was firm but warm, which made Murtagh relax his expression and nod to him.

"How exactly are you planning to replace Orik's supplies?" Arya asked, and Eragon could tell she was still mad and worried, he just didn't know if it was exactly him she was mad with.

"I sent an expedition east, to look for mineral sources, it came back with optimistic perspectives, but we still need to figure out how to extract it. If we succeed, we will have enough to cover our needs. Besides that, we already started planting rice on the flooded banks down the Edda River. We have enough to hold us for the winter, along with the wheat Nasuada sends us and the other provisions you've been too kind to provide us as well. The elves are doing great farming work here, so we expect to be completely self-sufficient in a year or two when it comes to vegetables and fruits. Hopefully, we can even trade in the future."

She nodded and her concern lessened.

"We have problems with the dwarven supplies from the start, so I worked with Blödhgarm to figure out what we could do to stop depending on all of your shipments. Your people have been immensely generous, I'll be forever grateful." He stopped to give her a curtsy, to which she responded equally. "This has been one of our main concerns, along with raising the dragons and educating the new Riders and Dragons."

"It seems that you have everything under control. My concerns are unfounded, I only fear how you will be able to mend things with Orik." She allowed herself to relax a little, but the mask of cold reprimand covered her face. "Now, Eragon, matters like these are too important for you to keep it just for yourself. You need to trust me to help you, otherwise, I'm useless to you as a Rider."

He gave her a gentle smile.

"You will never be useless, Arya. But I promise that I'll share with you everything I can unless I see that your position as queen might get in the way of your judgment."

She pursed her lips, her discontent was clear.

"I will always give the most impartial judgment no matter the subject." Her voice was controlled, but Eragon knew her too well to hear a feral undertone emanating from her words.

Eragon remained calmed, hating to say the next words, afraid it would sound like an accusation and strain their relationship.

"I'm not saying you are partial, but you have to admit that you can't separate completely the Rider from the Queen. Would you or would not come to our aid as the Elven Queen if I had told you we were defenseless against Orik's threats? Wouldn't you be tempted to send us whatever Orik decided to hold back?" His voice was low and calm because the last thing he wanted was her to turn against him as Orik was trying to do.

She took a deep breath and looked away.

"Possibly." She admitted.

He smiled in sympathy.

"First of all, you don't know if I was intending to hide it from you, because even I didn't know if I would, but if I did, it wouldn't be because I thought you couldn't handle it, but because I thought you could handle it too well. You would cover our needs in the fullest. But if I tell you something, it is from one Rider to another, not from the Rider to the Queen. When that's the case, you will hear from your ambassador, Vanir, like always."

"What difference does it make, if you are talking to the Rider or the Queen? I would help nonetheless. Don't let your pride get in the way of the well-being of your people, Eragon." Her voice was fierce, even though he recognized she tried to conciliate their differences, perceiving his gentleness.

"The queen's advisors would call us the 'beggar Riders' and probably give her a harder time than she would've wanted." His lips curved in an assuring smile. "My pride would be hurt, yes, but I don't want to make this more difficult to you or any of us for that matter. I don't know how much opposition you face in your government, it's none of my concern, but if there's any, I believe peace will be better kept if you manage to separate both of your duties."

Arya looked like she did not agree completely with his decisions, but decided to let it go, probably moved by the way he thought about her well-being. Murtagh stirred in his seat and caught his companions' eyes.

"Fine then. We established how competent and intelligent my little brother is, now it's time to decide when I'll be leaving for my assignment."

"I thought you could fly with Arya and Fírnen to Ellesméra and start from there, presenting the next egg to the elves, as soon as the Games are over."

"We're staying for the whole month," Arya stated casually.

Eragon widened his eyes.

"Really?"

"Really."

He barely could contain his excitement but tried his hardest to keep a straight face.

"You can wait to the end of the month and go to Ellesméra with Arya…" An idea came up to his mind. "Or you could make the journey alongside Nasuada and her retinue. They will sail down the river and follow it south to the sea, then get around the coast to the Kingdom. It takes less time than coming here if the tides are favorable, but still, it's enough time and a good opportunity for you to get acquainted with her people and the dynamics of her reign since you will see yourself entangled in their politics more often than not."

Murtagh seemed to think hard about his proposal, and Eragon refrained from smiling. He already knew what option his brother would choose and was glad to provide him a little time with Nasuada.

"As much as I truly want to go to Ellesméra, which I do," he affirmed glancing at Arya, "I think you are right, Eragon. I need to learn all I can about Nasuada's ruling and her court."

Eragon nodded.

"Wise decision."

"We will leave when the Games are over, then?" Murtagh asked with expectation in his eyes.

"That's right."

"So, I think I'm going to go tell her we will be traveling together, if she allows, of course."

Eragon smiled.

"You go do that, yes. We don't want her to have any surprises."

"No, we don't".

He motioned to leave but paused.

"Unless there's something else to discuss."

Eragon caught Arya's eyes and realized she was amused as well.

"I don't believe there is. Arya?"

She shook her head.

"You can go then, I still have to write some papers, but you should go talk to Nasuada."

Murtagh then stood up and Arya mimicked him. Seeing that the queen was standing, Eragon also rose up to his feet.

The Red Rider pressed two fingers to his lips to Arya and Eragon and left, followed by Thorn. Eragon turned to Arya waiting for her to leave as well, but she simply stared at him for a while.

He got caught in her emerald eyes and her smell and allowed himself to just be captivated by her. She then diverted her gaze and sat back down.

Confused, Eragon didn't know what made her stay but didn't complain.

He followed her and quietly started to work. He grabbed five sheets of parchment, dipped the pen in ink and started his report. In the Ancient Language, he described what had been settled in the meeting with the leaders and the general decisions took among the Riders, specifically the new role Murtagh would play as a Dragon Rider, now that he was officially a member of the Order.

Eragon could feel her eyes analyzing him, but tried not to think about it. He finished his report and revised it. It was good. Lastly, he signed and glided the parchment to Arya.

"Can you sign your name next to mine, please? It is of great convenience that you are here, so I don't have to send all the reports to you to be signed and then sent to the others."

She frowned and grabbed the report and the feather.

"I don't know why do you need my signature every time. Everyone trusts you are being truthful in your reports."

"Maybe, but I won't be the Head Rider forever, neither the monarchs will hold their crowns forever. It's a futile measure now, but maybe necessary in the future. I just want to make sure, by creating rules that can be followed even if the circumstances change dramatically."

"If you think it's best, I will respect your decision"." She read the report. "Is this mine?"

"Yes, what gave it away? Was it the Ancient Language or the vocative?" he teased her, with a smirk, glad to be back to a lighter mood after they disagreement from before.

You tend to disagree a lot when it comes to decisions like that. Saphira observed.

I guess she's not so sure if I can make the right choices.

Nonsense, Eragon. She trusts you blindly. I think it's something else, I believe she feels left out.

Left out? She's my right hand in the Order, my second in command. How can she think that?

I was just guessing. Maybe you should address that later.

Arya didn't answer to his jest but smiled back. She watched as he took the parchment back from her, folded in three parts and sealed the letter pressing the Riders' insignia on the blue wax, a dragon with open wings.

Eragon handed the letter back to her.

"Please, Rider, deliver this to the Elven Queen when you see her." He teased her again, still thinking about what Saphira said but not willing to ruin the moment with more serious matters.

"Yes, Master." Her smile was equally mocking.

Their eyes lingered on each other once again, until he broke contact and restarted to write.

One in the dwarven language, one in the language of the urgals and two in the common language, his native tongue. He signed them all and passed them to her, his second in command. Eragon watched as she glided the feather on the paper with her left hand, her inclined handwriting full of elegance shamed his own. He pointed it out to her, but she didn't allow his self-deprecating demeanor.

"I don't know anyone else who knows the four major languages in Alegaësia so proficiently. If you think aesthetics is more important than real knowledge, I think you should re-evaluate your priorities."

He smiled at her because, despite her scolding, her tone wasn't strict, but rather complimentary.

When they finished folding and sealing the letters, Eragon sat back on his chair, stretching his neck. Again, he felt her eyes studying him and when he turned to her, she didn't seem embarrassed like he would have if it was him doing the staring, like he was the day before and earlier during the meeting. She's a better man than you. Saphira commented in a playful voice.

"What is it?" He asked softly.

"What is what?"

He smiled to seem more friendly and don't startle her.

"You have been staring at me often yesterday, and now too. What is it, you don't like my beard?" He joked, but his heart was pounding. He wanted her to say she was acting that way because she missed him and couldn't avoid keeping her eyes on him, or something like it, but it was just a fool desire, he knew better than that.

She blinked, surprised.

"Your beard? No, it is fine. It's a good beard." He instinctively brushed his mustache with his two first fingers of the right hand.

"Then what?"

Arya hesitated. Her cheeks blushed with embarrassment.

"I'm ashamed to admit this, but I noticed your name has changed and have been trying to guess it. One should never try to guess someone else's name without permission. I wronged you and wasn't as subtle as I intended to be in my disconcerting pursuit. I'm sorry." She lowered her eyes to her hands on her lap.

His eyes widened. She was trying to figure out his new name? Why? Was she afraid that the part concerning her no longer existed? If that was why, Arya didn't need to worry, because she was very much engraved in his essence. But he was the one afraid, for he was fearing she would shut him out again when she heard how much his feelings developed and how much the Eldunarí altered his perception of time and life itself. But none of it mattered since he would openly reveal his new name to her if she wanted, after all, he had done it before.

"Any luck?"

She squinted her eyes and shook her head.

"I feel I'm almost there though."

He smiled quizzically.

"Do you want me to tell you or do you take it as a challenge, a good riddle to pass the time?"

"Aren't you offended?"

"Offended? Why would I be offended? I gave you my name once, Arya. It's yours to keep it, changing or not. You can try to guess or ask me directly, I gave you all the right to do so."

She appeared disarmed before his complete surrender.

"I don't know what to say, Eragon. You hold me too high in your consideration." Her eyes were unsure.

His expression was relaxed, despite fearing her judgment when she found out his new identity. He would always fear her opinion about him but trying to overcome it was inevitable for him.

"I do, Arya, how could I not? But you didn't answer me, will you try to guess or you give up right here?"

He challenged her in a good mood like he was proposing a fun game to a child.

Arya competitively lifted her chin.

"Is it a bet?"

He thought for a second.

"It can be. What do you want if you win?"

She paused to ponder about it. Eragon watched as her brows came together just to be relaxed once again and a stunning smile flourished on her face.

"A poem."

"A poem?"

"Like the one you made for the Blood Oath Celebration."

"About what?"

She shrugged.

"About what moves you the most. You're the poet, I'm sure you will find a motive."

Eragon agreed.

"Fine, a poem it is."

He saw a flash of cautious pass through her eyes as she asked: "What if you win, what will it be?"

Eragon thought that certainly she was afraid of what he would ask. If he could have anything of her, what would it be? He wanted a lot from her, his desire never ceased, but he only desired what she was gladly willing to give him, not what she had to give for losing a bet. He took a deep breath, disappointed that she would think that of him.

"You've been to Carvahall recently. I would like a fairth of my family, all of them the way they are now. I just wish my new baby cousin had been born by the time you were there."

Her eyes were suddenly empathetic. He knew she would make the fairth anyway, winning or losing, but he couldn't think of something he wanted more than to see his family again.

She nodded.

"Do I have a month to guess it?"

"We have a month. I get to figure out your new name too."

Arya looked surprised.

"What makes you think my name changed?"

He smiled.

"Didn't it?"

She hesitated before answering.

"It did. But I am not ready to tell you yet."

"Well, you have a month to prepare, besides, you won't have to tell me, I will figure it out on my own." He joked but got serious when he saw her concerned eyes. Quickly he added to reassure her. "Unless you don't want me to, of course. I can't force you to reveal it to me."

She took a deep and painful breath and agreed. "You can guess it, but I won't tell you what it is if you can't."

He nodded and wondered why the secrecy. What had changed in her name that could cause this much reluctance?

A long silence fell between them, and Eragon wondered if he should break it. Opting for just enjoying the moment with her by his side, he shifted on his chair, crossing his legs and resting his intertwined fingers on his chest. This time he didn't feel her eyes on him and glanced at her just to see that she had an empty look on her face. He allowed himself an instant of contemplation.

She didn't look sad or worried. Arya looked like someone in a deep conversation with herself, and maybe she was, or maybe the other end of her dialogue was only Fírnen. He focused on Arya and saw her shaking her head as she was trying to wipe away an unwanted thought. She turned to him and said:

"So, do you think it's wise of Murtagh to be in Nasuada's company?"

Eragon had the impression she was trying to make small talk, but the subject she chose was far from unimportant.

"Wise? Surely not. But if there's one thing I've been learning in this short life of mine is that we usually don't regret the things we do, but the things we don't do."

"You think they should just disregard the impediments to their relationship and engage in a story bound to be doomed in the end?"

He started to think she was probing his beliefs just how she had done in the past, like when she had told him the story of the Menoa Tree.

So long light mood! Deep conversation, here we go. He thought to Saphira.

You have a lot to talk about, little one, it's all been piling up in the last decade. Just don't oppose her too much, all right?

"You said well, in the end. All love stories end in doom for the mortals, either in a painful separation or in death. When a couple gets married, they do it knowing it's going to end and, what's most strange to immortal races, they hope their separation happens in death, for that means they fulfilled their purpose of loving, protecting and serving each other for all their lives." He uncrossed his legs and stretched them under the table. "A little time for Murtagh would be better than no time at all. And for Nasuada, it would be a chance for a lifetime of feeling loved and cared for. I would take it gladly, being one or another. Wouldn't you?" He wasn't exactly friendly with that last question.

I said don't oppose her too much!

Eragon didn't care to answer, he was focused on receiving Arya's perceptions on the matter. She had shared deep details of her story the night before and appeared to Eragon that they had built a new bridge to more intimate subjects. It was exciting and scary, his heart was racing inside his chest, and he hoped she wouldn't feel trapped and run away.

Arya pursed her lips and looked away from him.

"I don't know. I can't think like them right now, I can only see through my own eyes."

"And seeing through your own eyes, what do you think you would do?"

He was curious to hear her answer because it could tell him a lot about what her idea of love and relationships was, more than he already got to know from her revelations about Fäolin.

Arya stared back at him.

"If I were the rider in love with the human queen, I would probably try my best not to keep her from her duties, knowing that a relationship between us could prevent her from finding a suitable husband and future father of the heir to the throne."

A bitter taste came to Eragon's mouth, as he remembered exactly her rejection of him stating she didn't want to get in the way of his duties as a Rider.

"But if I was the mortal human," she continued, "I would want to live my life to the fullest, knowing how ephemeral it was."

"Would you abdicate your throne to be with him?"

She pondered, her eyes were more intense in his.

"I would try to find a way to conciliate both sides of my life, but if it weren't possible, yes, that would be a possibility, but I can't tell for sure. A possibility is not a certainty, I must remind you."

Eragon shook his head in confusion. How couldn't she see she was in a similar position? Unless she didn't want him, at least not as he supposed Nasuada wanted Murtagh. In that case, he was fooling himself completely thinking that she would ever love him even just a little bit, let alone leave her crown to be with him.

"I don't get it. You talk as Murtagh has all the time in the world, therefore he can afford not to love and being loved back. As he was supposed to give up on his happiness because of his duties as a Rider. Isn't it a little cruel of you, to think of how many years of misery he would have to endure for not having her, ever?" Eragon's voice gradually became cynical. He's own frustrations mingling with his brother's sad prospects of having a long and happy love story with a mortal woman.

She took a deep breath but didn't have time to answer, because Eragon sat up straight in his chair and, staring at her, kept on his hurtful speech.

Be careful, little one!

"I hope he finds some peace with Nasuada, and for the years to come, they live happily in each other's arms, because I refuse to agree with Brom when he noted to me in a memory how much the men in this family are unlucky in love. And he wasn't even considering my mother's side of the family, so at least there's Roran and Katrina, but even them, I lie awake at night sometimes thinking how fragile their lives are and how they could lose each other untimely, just how it happened to aunt Marian. Even Garrow was left alone before the right time." He stopped to catch his breath. "Like I said, it's more likely that Murtagh regret not giving it a chance when Nasuada is long gone, than regretting spending all her life by her side when he watches her body being lowered into her grave. It's better to lose than never have had it at all."

When he finished, he noticed her eyes were inspecting every bit of his face, absorbing all of his emotions.

Maybe she does win the bet. Saphira noted.

I fear for the poem she will get then. He answered with bitterness.

She is not trying to antagonize you, Eragon, or even hurt you. Remember she has lost someone she loved before and knows more about that kind of loss than any of us. She's just trying to be cautious, after all, she knows if it's better to lose than never have had it at all.

"I wasn't trying to be cruel." She started and again it was like hearing to her voice in his memory.

"No, I know you weren't." He looked away, considering what Saphira said. "I just keep thinking how a person's life is like a candle burning in the night, the bigger the flame, the fastest the candle burns itself to extinction. Humans burn fast, consumed by the flame of their emotions, they love and hate with desperate eagerness. They don't need too many years to learn how to feel, they just do it. The long-living races, on the other hand, are difficult to keep their flames alive. It gets blown out by every puff of cool air, so they endure untouched until a spark of emotion makes it burn, just to be put out again. It goes like this until they either decide to ignite their full potential or never light up again. They live longer, but do they live better? Do you think Murtagh, who was born to burn fast in the night, should suppress his desires to fulfill the designs of his position as a Rider? Do you think Fäolin would regret giving you his heart and burn faster than he was born to do if he was given the chance to turn back time?"

Comprehension passed through Arya's eyes as their eyes met, and he thought he saw wonderment in her gaze.

Eragon just wanted her to see that the cold demeanor the elves kept would be their downfall. They needed to connect, to allow themselves to truly feel, instead of pursuing an ideal of beauty and perfection with every little part of their beings. Love and relationships, of all kinds, aren't perfect, far away from it, they cause pain and regret, they leave marks impossible to erase. He wished she could go after her true desires instead of being stirred in direction of duty every time a choice was presented to her. She held back from Fäolin until she possibly could then tried to end things with him because she thought her role as ambassador was worth more than their relationship, and it nearly broke her after his death. Eragon wanted Arya to allow herself to heal from her pains and forgive her past, but how could he do that? He feared words wouldn't be enough.

"Fäolin was given the chance to let go of me, which he took when I left home, just to later decide that it hadn't been a good choice for him, so he burnt away. And clearly, Murtagh has his own opinion about all this, and I don't disapprove, neither think it is any of my concern. But you asked what I would do if I were any of them, so I told you, without considering the picture you just painted before my eyes." She nodded like she was fervently agreeing with him. "Yes, I believe we as individuals can choose to burn fast or linger on unlit through all the time, just the way you argued, and the choice is ours alone. You taught me something today Eragon, and again I was schooled by someone many years younger than me. Consider this, however; for some of us, it isn't a choice at all. We just do what we have to do, to live with ourselves. Duty is not just toward others, but to ourselves too. I think you know it better than anyone, including myself. Unfortunately, it may cause us to be frozen in time, immune to passion and personal satisfaction."

She's right. Would you leave Mount Arngor to go be with her?

No. Not right now at least.

Not ever, little one. You will always think you're needed here. And so does she.

Her eyes were warmer and her voice became a soft blow of wind. "You are a bigger person than anyone I know, Eragon. If everyone had a heart like yours, there wouldn't be injustice or evil in the world, but love and understanding would be the law."

He felt his emotions shift so fast inside of him he had difficulty keeping track of them. In one second he was frustrated by her willingness to disregard a future beside someone she loved in the name of duty. In the next second, her admiration for him touched him deeply, but not his pride, his most humble part instead. He felt small, contrary to what she said about him, crushed by the need for her approval. And she gave him her understanding of how his choices mirrored hers, and how they didn't look like choices at all. Serving the elves as their monarch was similar to raising the new Order of the Dragon Riders, two heavy burdens not fit for anybody else than them both. He couldn't see they calling the path they took by the name of choice, for it required for them to be free. He wanted to go to her, she wanted to stay in Arngor. Maybe they had different motivations, but the yearning was the same, to choose, to go.

Eragon was a lonely man, despite having Saphira constantly inside his head. He craved approval, attention and, most of all, skin to skin contact. Someone to hold his hand and hug him, and tell him all was right when the burden of his duties threated to bury him deep inside himself. Someone to caress his hair and kiss him every time he left and every time he returned. He never had that, and he wondered if he would ever have it, being him so intimately connected to the memories of the dragons, being changed daily by their magic. Would he burn fast or linger on unlit forever? If the choice was presented to him, he knew which one he would like to take. So, yes, if he were his brother, he would've been by Nasuada's side a long time ago.

He sighed and got up. Then he got on one knee in front of her and touched her right cheek with his fingertips so softly, that it made her lean her face gently against his hand.

Smiling with affection, Eragon spoke in a faint voice.

"My heart… I would gladly give it to you if you'd let me." Her eyes got darker, so before she could say anything that would push him away, he retrieved his hand from her face, making his words fall out between them. "Come, there's one place left for you to see. I couldn't show you yesterday because of the Games, but it's your right as a Dragon Rider to see it." He stood up and walked to the door waiting for her to follow him. "I think you will like it."

Chapter Text

Back so soon, child?

After more than a century of age, hearing Glaedr calling her child felt strange, but also heartwarming. Eragon had brought her to the Hall of Colors earlier that day, but she didn't have enough time to enjoy her time there, because the second day of the Games was about to start, so she came back later that night. The sword fighting was the biggest attraction of the day, and she was anxious to watch it. Indeed, it was a spectacle of ability and swordsmanship from all races. The fighters were separated in categories, one for each race and a general one, in which anyone could compete, at the risk of facing someone much stronger. The most impressive combats were the ones between elves and Riders, for their superiority in strength and agility, but she was delightfully surprised with the human fighters, especially the residents of Arngor, who demonstrated such eagerness, that raised the audience in feverous cheering several times. To be fair, all the residents of Arngor who fought in the Games were taken by a strong determination in all the tasks, not only the human population. Arya wondered why was that? What kind of training did they have there and how much Eragon had to do with it? She suspected he had a lot to do with such a memorable display of bravery, as it was so similar to his own.

I was in awe when Eragon brought me here this morning, so I figured I should stop by with more time to fully enjoy the wonders of this place. He said I could come here whenever I wanted, I hope it's all right by you.

Of course, Arya. You will always be welcome in our chambers. And if Eragon said you could, you don't need to ask us. Umaroth resounded in her mind.

Arya perceived the tone of admiration in his voice toward Eragon. The more she knew about the dynamics of Fell Thindarë, the more she realized how much her friend inspired devotion. Saphira too, but that was already expected since she was a dragon, respected by others just for being what she was.

Your mind holds the same impressive control as I came to know once, Dröttning. Umaroth observed. I sense you dwelling on a specific matter, but you don't let it slip through your barriers.

The old dragon was clearly inquiring about her reflections. She decided to be honest.

I was just thinking that everyone here seems to hold Eragon to the highest consideration.

And you find it odd?

Arya hesitated. She went to sit down on the floor by the Eldunarí.

Not odd. Just… I've seen people revering him before, but it was different, almost all of them were humans, who had never seen someone with his powers before and had the highest hopes in him. Now, people here admire him without the same reverence. It's different. Even you, who are the watchers of our world, who have seen it all, seem to treat him as your equal.

Umaroth sounded amused when he spoke again.

Of all people, I would think you would be the most capable of understanding such admiration. Or was I so wrong, and you, in fact, can't see any reasons to hold Eragon in such esteem?

What kind of question was that? She had plenty of reasons to esteem and admire Eragon, and she's voiced them before on more than one occasion. If she wasn't speaking to an elder, she would've lost her patience at his insinuation.

I see my reasons to admire him. But I can't possibly know for sure what people's reasons are when it comes to this place.

The dragons didn't say anything for a few minutes, which made the elf feel uncomfortable. She took the moment to glance around and marvel at the place's beauty one more time, shaking the feeling away.

It was a large hall. If Fírnen had chosen to accompany her as he did in the morning, he would be sitting by her side with room to spare. Eragon had explained to her and the other leaders that the plan for Fell Thindarë was to make all the halls, corridors, passageways and staircases big enough for the dragons to move with tranquility, the exception being the personal quarters. Indeed, her room could not fit Fírnen, such as the room where Eragon himself was probably staying, she was sure since he decided to indulge Saphira and Fírnen their alone time in the eyrie. The Riders had special apartments located by the niches crafted right below the eyrie to house their dragons. Those niches could be accessed not only through the stairwell but also by the exterior of the mountain, through openings carefully dug and protected with spells to prevent from collapsing and also from intruders. She suspected Murtagh had chosen to take one of those apartments since she had seen Thorn entering through one of the openings the day before. It was a tricky work to design and build something like that, and she suspected elves and dwarves had to collaborate to succeed in the endeavor, and maybe even quarrel with each other.

He inspires them. Glaedr spoke to break the silence. Inspires us all.

When she was ready to ask for the dragon to expand on his statement, Arya felt her mind being flooded with images, that she recognized as being memories. The feeling was overwhelming, pushing aside her thoughts to make room for not only Glaedr's memories, but the others' too. So, that's how Eragon felt when the Eldunarí decided to share their knowledge with him? No wonder he had changed, it was a powerful feeling.

The memories contemplated several moments of the building of their new home. She saw people coming from the west and joining Eragon, Saphira, and the first elves. The visions were fast, she couldn't analyze each one of them separately, so decided to apprehend the general feeling the dragons were trying to show her, for she could sense at least five dragons communicating their thoughts inside her mind. Arya watched as they dug tunnels and used magic to keep them from collapsing, as the elves and dwarves debated the best way to design the halls and as the urgals worked the enormous rocks into smaller ones, used to raise walls and pave the floors. She saw human men chopping wood and crafting chairs, tables, beds and other pieces of furniture, the same time at the women would tend the gardens for fruits and vegetables, their dresses covered in dirt, although they didn't seem to mind. She saw all that and more. Suddenly, the already fast passing scenes started to speed up even more, and from them emanated a sense of purpose, like she was capable of entering the minds, no… Not the minds, the hearts of those people, and see that they had been instructed and motivated with a lot of direction and gentleness. They felt that they belonged, that they had found a meaning in life. They were inspired. The memories began to change. They were the same memories, but expanded, like a piece of it had been covered before with a veil and now was clear to see. Digging the tunnels with the dwarves, she saw Eragon, pickaxe in hand, pounding the walls, singing along to their songs. Carrying the rocks the urgals had just shattered into small blocks, Rider and dragon worked side by side, relentlessly, to load the wagons. He also knelt on the ground to pick potatoes while a short and chubby middle-aged woman held a basket for him to collect the fresh harvest. She was talking, teaching him a soup recipe as he listened carefully while his hands were busy. Arya understood, then. Eragon wasn't only a hero, a praised warrior, to his people. He was their comrade, he worked as hard as any one of them, even harder. He taught, instructed, listened, cried, laughed. Eragon was their role model, but mostly one of them, a friend. No one there needed to sing songs about his great deeds, they shared his everyday life, and it was enough inspiration for them to admire him. Did her people saw her the same way? Arya doubted.

Slowly, the memories started to fade, and Arya saw herself alone inside her mind. She didn't say anything, just felt content to be there, surrounded by the overwhelming energy that emanated from the dragon stones.

The Eldunarí were placed on a dais in circles, the small ones on the outside around the bigger ones. The hall was lit by encrusted crystals on the walls, they cast beams of light all around and, combined with the rainbow of the Eldunarí, gave the place a spectacle of colors. Arya felt like staying there forever.

But she couldn't. She's been away from home for a couple of weeks, and already she felt guilty for leaving her position. She felt like an irresponsible child, going on an adventure when she was needed somewhere else. Fírnen would probably say she was being too hard on herself, but she knew that her opposition would take her absence as a chance to move their pieces on the board. But how could she not come to Fell Thindarë, or Mount Arngor how Eragon preferred to call when asked by Nasuada? She had argued with her council that, if she declined the invitation to attend the Games of Arngor, she would be putting at risk the good diplomatic relations the elves held with the other territories. At that point, she was heavily supported by Vanir, the Elven Ambassador and spokesperson. With such an argument, the Lords and Ladies had only one alternative, to agree with her decision to join Queen Nasuada and the others at the home of the dragons and Riders. What would she do if they had not agreed with the decision? Well, she would probably go anyway on a selfish impulse, but her concerns would be even deeper, for her opposition was sure to receive some new supporters.

Arya took a deep breath and tried to calm her thoughts. After all, what was done was done, and she was finally there, among friends and students, getting to know the place that was also hers by right, part of her inheritance as a Rider. She was watching history being made right before her eyes. So, if seeing a few frowns and hearing a few unpleasant whispers behind her back was the price for that special moment, then she would pay, gladly. But still, as content as she tried to be, her crown weighed ten times more than usual when she remembered what her friend and advisor Lord Däthedr had said to her before she jumped on Fírnen's saddle to meet Nasuada in Hedarth, the dwarf trading post, to sail alongside her and the others to the east.

"You know I speak with only your well-being in mind, my queen."He started to say, and Arya noticed he used "my queen", a vocative that no one else used when addressing her, being Dröttning or your majesty the most common ones, and for some reason, it bothered her because it sounded too intimate. "I suggest you don't get too acquainted with the matters of the East. People already talk too much, I would hate to see you having to explain yourself in front of those who clearly would not understand."

To such vague advice, she only nodded and bid him farewell. It was vague, but she knew very well what he was talking about. Her proximity to the Blue Rider during the war wasn't exactly a secret, and she knew the rumors running on the streets of Ellesméra traveled fast to the ears of the good citizens of Sílthrim and back to Osilon, reaching every inch of Du Weldenvarden. Her kind talked quietly behind her back, too low for her ears to pick up, but she knew they did and what they were saying. It made her blood boil to think her life was entertainment to people, that they enjoyed speculating about her personal affairs. They were all wrong, of course, Eragon was only a friend after all, and as long as she was the queen and he was the Head Rider, they could never be more than that. She hoped he knew about their prospects and that he made peace with it. It appeared to her, though, that he still struggled with his feelings, being himself so helplessly swept away by her smile or so propelled to lay down his affection whenever he had the chance, like that morning, when he touched her face with incredible tenderness, making it hard for her to hide herself behind a cold façade. Perhaps, she too was facing difficulties in concealing her feelings.

Arya let out a sigh.

You seem troubled. Glaedr observed. Do you need help with something?

I feel like I will be forever troubled, it's not like my position as the queen allows me much tranquility.

No, it's a constant worry, I'm afraid. Your mother would come to the Crags of Tel'naeír trying to escape the overwhelming burden of being the monarch.

I know. I remember. Did she succeed?

Glaedr fell silent for a while and Arya noticed he was dealing with a memory. Not long after, he showed it to her.

It was a bright winter morning on the Crags, and Arya received the information that it was the last day of winter, and she was one day away from turning sixteen years old. Her mother Izlanzadí was sitting with Oromis outside his hut sipping on her tea. Her gaze seemed tired and empty toward the horizon. Oromis poured himself another cup of tea and studied his queen's expression. From Gleadr's point of view, it seemed she was battling with a sour thought, her lips curving slightly downward. Arya already knew what thought was that, and the sour taste came to her mouth as well, remembering the argument she had with her mother the night before.

"Will she ever forgive me, Oromis?" Her voice came out faint, almost ethereal. Islanzadí never changed her position, looking away, a teacup in her hands.

"Arya is still very young and full of idealism. She opposes you because it is the nature of youthful souls, to go against every decision made by their parents." Oromis stated with caution.

"That doesn't answer my question, for as true as it is."

"No, it does not. But how will I be so sure of what you ask?"

The queen sighed. She placed the cup on the table and looked at the old rider, coming out of her trance.

"I fear our relationship will always be this complicated. She resents me for staying back when I should be moving our armies against Galbatorix. She thinks this is the right thing to do. And it saddens me that at such a young age she has to deal with these thoughts of war and vengeance. And Brom's intentions of an uprising don't help either."

"She wishes to join the cause."

"As soon as possible! Can you think of something more absurd? She's just a child!"Her calm seemed to be ruined with the thought of her daughter fighting in a rebellion.

"In fact, I can't think of anything more coherent than that. She's lost her father, she hears of all kinds of horrors throughout the land, it's only natural that she feels the need to do something. Anything. But as I said before, she's still too young, but her reason is strong, she knows there's nothing she can do for now. There's a lot to learn, and her training is just in the beginning. She knows that."

Arya's heart clenched. Her rebellious youth cost her closest ones to worry for her safety. Being much older and experienced now allowed her to see how straining to others must have been to deal with her impetuous behavior. Of course, her mother had her great share of guilt in their never-ending conflicts, by being so passive and resentful of the world, remaining shut inside her prejudices. They couldn't be more different. Yet, here there was Arya, resorting to the same way of unwinding from her concerns, by seeking advice from the elders.

"It's her birthday tomorrow, is it not? Do you have anything planned for her?"Oromis resumed speaking seeing that the queen remained silent to his last speech.

"It is. You know she loathes having that kind of attention, so probably she will stay inside her room, or here, training with you."

"That doesn't answer my question." Oromis smiled kindly.

"No, it does not."Islanzadí smiled back at him, but much less humorously. "I will try mending things between us, with a present maybe. At least until next time."

Oromis nodded and downed his tea.

Islanzadí did the same and stood up to leave.

"But that isn't the only thing on your mind, is it, your majesty? How was the council meeting?"

The queen's eyes were fiery just for remembering said meeting.

"You don't want to know, do you, Oromis?"

"Well, no, but you can give me the general idea."

At that moment, Arya recalled Eragon's distant approach to her political affairs as the queen. Whenever they talked via scrying, he would grasp only the superficial aspects of the politics of her people, deciding to stay as impartial as possible. She would've told him everything, if he had asked, since there was no one in the entire world she trusted more than him, except for Fírnen. Instead, their conversations were essentially practical, concerning the matters of their duty as Riders or the details of supply shipments only. Rarely, though, they would get personal, but only briefly.

Focusing on the memory, Arya saw her mother pacing back and forth twice before answering.

"The opposition is forcing us to stay back, hidden here even more. They play with Evandar's death each time, and each time my response is to go forward, to march until my sword is deep inside the traitor's heart. They know it, so they provoke my reaction, causing fear in the others, fear of starting a war we can't win." Her voice was trembling with anger.

Oromis didn't seem surprised.

"Oh, the usual then".

Islanzadí pursed her lips, breathing back to calm.

"Yes, the usual."

"It seems to me that there are only two choices here. To inflame people's hearts to march into war, or to comply with the opposition's wishes and stay back, waiting for the right moment. The way I see it, both decisions bring benefits and drawbacks."

She stared at him with great interest.

"And they are…?"

"The benefit of going into war right now, after fifteen years of the Fall, after fifteen years of isolation, is more personal to you I'm afraid, than good for everybody. Revenging Evandar's death and siding with Arya on her will to fight being the only ones. I can't think of anything else. The drawbacks are… well… war itself. Exposing ourselves to the Mad King. Being slain by the thousands."

Once again, Islanzadí looked away to the horizon, her voice back to the emotionless tone of before.

"On the other hand, if we stay back, our people won't die, our forest won't burn and my opposition will be satisfied."

Oromis nodded.

"I don't believe this is a matter of choosing whatsoever. The choice is already made, and I fear it will break my relationship with my daughter forever." Islanzadí sounded determined but terribly sad.

"I am truly sorry, your majesty".

Glaedr let the memory fade and waited until Arya was ready to speak again.

Her head was spinning. Of all their differences, this one was the biggest, her desire to fight opposed her mother's decision to stay hidden. And after all this time, she found out that it wasn't her decision at all.

Arya got up to her feet and threw her hands to her head. Why didn't she tell Arya about this? Why Oromis or Gleadr didn't tell her about this? She felt like a fool.

Before you ask why we didn't tell you before, remember your struggles as queen. Do you think Islanzadí made a bad choice by staying in Du Weldenvarden all that time without clearly opposing Galbatorix? And were you ready to know the truth before becoming the queen yourself?

The bad taste she felt in her mouth before started again. By doing something so against Arya's beliefs, Islanzadí became exactly someone her daughter would approve. Except the timing was terribly wrong. She wished she had the same understanding before. But children usually only understand their parents' motives for taking a decision long after the decision is taken. Long after they could support their parents' actions and tell them they forgive any unpleasant outcomes. Arya could only understand not fighting Galbatorix, because her mother decided not to, saving her and thousands of people from dying prematurely. She could only see the rebirth of the dragons and the new age of Riders because her mother took the selfless road, without ever seeing the king defeated and her mate avenged. Arya understood now why her mother tried to manipulate her and stir her in the direction Arya would never go by herself, risking to never have her love ever again. What she told Eragon that morning took a new meaning. The same meaning, but new depths. She was right, some choices are not choices at all, and she was bound to trail a selfless road, no escaping. A weight heavier than she's ever felt fell on her chest. If she thought duty was heavier than personal satisfaction, enlightened by the discoveries, she was sure now duty for her was all that was, nothing more. It was her destiny to give herself completely to the well-being of others.

She only hoped Eragon would understand and support her decision if he found out her new true name. She decided she would do everything she could not to let him correctly guess it, she couldn't afford to hurt him again, for his importance to this world was too great. Arya would have to hide how she felt at all costs, he could never know.

Why are you closing yourself from me, child? What are you hiding behind those walls? Glaedr's mind felt grave on her own.

Just that I understand now. Mother and you. My mother, for doing what she did, and you, for not telling me about it. I don't hold any grudges. Arya spoke in a conciliatory way, trying to keep him from probing even further, for she feared he would make her change her mind on her decision of taking her distance from Eragon.

Good. I'm relieved. It's not good to live with such a heavy burden in our hearts.

She forced a smile.

You gave me a lot to think about, Glaedr-elda. I need some rest now to organize everything inside my mind.

Of course, child. Go have your rest.

Good night, Arya Dröttning. Umaroth said.

Good night. She moved to the door, but before reaching it, she halted, a thought in mind.

One more thing!

Yes? Umaroth allowed her to speak.

Do you show this kind of memory to Eragon? About… me? She felt like a timid teenager.

He asked us not to. A sigh of relief came out of her after Umaroth's answer. The Shadeslayer doesn't feel right about prying into his friends and family's lives.

Right. Good. Thank you. She turned back to the door. But before she opened it, Glaedr spoke.

Although, he can't stop us if we decide to do so. Rest well, Arya.

Not so relieved as before, Arya left the Hall of Colors. She walked back to her room, still troubled by her thoughts of before going there and also by her new ones.

Her feet led her to her destination as she felt distracted by the memories the Eldunarí had shown her. New meanings started to take root in old beliefs, and she dared to consider that her dwelling on the matter would last for a long, long time.

When she was almost there, Arya heard a scratching sound coming from down the corridor, it made her focus on the present instead of looking back at the past. Approaching her personal quarter's door, she realized the sound came from the door at the end of the corridor, where a cat scraped the wood with its claws. She recognized it as being one of the brown cats that unpleasant merchant sold to Eragon. Curious about the scene, she took a few more steps toward the door but stopped when heard it being unlocked. From inside the room, Eragon emerged, clearly annoyed by the sound. She figured he was already in bed, being so late at night. He wore only a loose pair of linen pants, and the alabaster skin of his chest was exposed. He bent down to grab the cat on his arms and motioned to take it inside when he crossed eyes with her. His annoyed semblance turned to a warm one, he could potentially melt anyone's coldest demeanor with such glare. She wasn't sure if she was immune to that herself.

"Good night, Arya. See you in the morning." He said in a soft voice with a smile.

She allowed herself to spare him one last act of affection and smiled back at him, nodding her head.

Eragon still lingered on the doorway, as he watched her move away and enter her room.

Closing the door behind her, she rubbed her temper. This will be harder than I thought.

Chapter Text

Eragon woke up before the first light. It wasn't a calm experience at all. What he saw right before his eyelids opened sent shivers through his body, and the fact that Arya was avoiding him for the past week added more bitterness to his bad mood.

Good morning, little one. Saphira's voice was apprehensive, knowing very well his state of mind. She was in the Eyre, still lying down, with Fírnen snoozing by her side.

Good morning, Saphira.

He got out of bed and went to tend to his morning routine. He poured some water from the jar in the basin on his bedside table and washed his face. He got dressed, grabbed a fresh change of clothes and headed to the pools in the underground, so he could take his morning bath.

She must be troubled by something bad that happened in Ellesméra in her absence. It's not about you. The dragon tried to soothe his bad mood with a calm voice. He knew she was lying, and she knew better than to think that. Arya had a polite coldness toward him and kept a good distance at all times. She would always pick the farthest sit from him, divert her gaze and talk to anyone else but him.

Yes, she must be. He humored her.

Eragon couldn't hide his disappointment with the fact that she would act that way after, in his understanding, they had made good progress in their relationship in the short first days of her visit, sharing intimate memories and thoughts. She even had spared him a few moments of physical contact, that he treasured like it was freshwater in the desert. He just couldn't understand why. What has he done to make her act that way? Has he been impolite or unthoughtful somehow? Did he offend her in any way? As much as he squeezed his brain to find that moment when it all went wrong between them, he couldn't. He had wondered if she was acting this way because she felt left out from the Order's decisions, like taking Murtagh in or the whole quarrel with Orik. If that was the case, she didn't have to just ignore him, they could sit down and talk, work out their differences. All that situation just made him feel confused and grim. One day she smiles and compliments him, spending the entire time by his side on the grandstand and watching the fights taking place at the arena. They joked, laughed, told each other funny stories and some sad ones too. She even let her hand linger on his cheek for too long after brushing away a tiny leaf that had fallen on his beard. However, after saying good night to her when he opened his door to pick up the male cat that had been scraping his door unceasingly, everything changed. The next day she refused the chair he had reserved for her next to him on the grandstand; she chose to walk with Angela and Solembum, leaving him behind on the way to the dining tent during lunch break; and when he tried to talk to her after dinner and ask if she was well, she excused herself and left for the night, in a brisk way. All-day, he saw Fírnen throwing apologetic glances to him, but didn't speak a word to Eragon. Her behavior confused him and made him feel incredibly sad. As the days went by, he started to feel angry too, not only sad, a moodiness he hadn't experienced in a long time. And it has been like this for a week.

Don't dwell on it too much.

I'm not.

He was, but Saphira chose not to argue with him, especially seeing how rude and short-tempered he was being to people in the last days. Eragon saw that consideration in her mind and felt guilty, not enough however to make him apologize for it. He just looked at his feet as he walked down the stairs.

You still have some time before the activities of the Games begin. Do you want me to take you for a flight after breakfast?

No. I'm not attending the Games today. Can you let Blödhgarm know, please?

Eragon, what are you going to do? It will be very rude of you to miss the Games and let your guests unattended.

They will be fine. The elves, you, Thorn and Murtagh will make a great company, better than me, I'm sure of it.

Oh, you're sure, aren't you? That Thorn and Murtagh will be a good replacement for you in the eyes of your guests? Of course, if they even show up, which is never the case. Besides, your people fight better with you watching them.

Our people. And they will be fine. His grumpiness reached the maximum level by then.

If Saphira were by his side, she would've tackled him to the ground.

Where are you going, by the way, may I know?

I need some time with the Eldunarí.

It will not do you any good to ruminate these dreams. She warned trying to control her annoyance.

Let me be, Saphira. And tell Blödhgarm, please.

Not Arya?

He hesitated.

Why should you? No, no one else. I want to be alone.

She growled before saying in an angry voice.

As you wish.

Reaching the steaming pools of thermal water in the underground level of the mountain and finding no one else there, being so early — not even morning yet —, lifted his spirit just a bit. One of the facts that made him like having the eyrie as his quarters was that he had his own bathtub, filled with fresh water every night whilst he sat to smoke by the fire in the dining hall. The cleaning crew would send the heavy buckets of water up there by a similar pulley system used in Tronjheim, and in the morning, when he was ready for his bath, magic would help him get the water at the right temperature. He had even considered altering the bathtub with magic so it would regulate the temperature by itself, drawing energy from its store, but he had so many things more important to do, that he just cast it aside for now. And that was the only way he allowed himself being pampered since the rest of the time he would live without any luxury or privilege. Even the use of magic was restricted in his day to day life. He used a razor to shave and scissors to trim his beard and hair. Whenever he wanted to light a fire, he would draw the flint from his pocket and do it the "human way", as Saphira would always tease him about.

As he lowered himself into the hot water, he realized that he felt as tired as he was when he went to bed, maybe even more so. Not only his uncomfortable situation with Arya was draining his energy lately, but also the Eldunarí began to infuse his dreams with visions far from peaceful every night. It had been a while since he last had a good night of rest.

Eragon rubbed his face with more force than necessary, in an involuntary urge to inflict pain on himself.

Unwillingly, he made himself get on with his day. He finished his bath, got dressed and left the steaming room, leaving his dirty clothes there to be washed. When he closed the door and turned to leave, he nearly bumped into someone in the corridor.

"Good morning, Eragon." Arya's soft but stern voice echoed on the stone walls.

He just stared at her unable to greet her back. Gurgling up inside his chest, he felt a strange feeling that, in a matter of seconds, he identified as resentment. Eragon felt his body acting involuntarily again, for the second time that day, and the corners of his lips twitched a bit and curved slightly down like he had just bitten a lime. Reaching for the doorknob behind his back, he twisted it and slid it open for her, noticing she had her fresh change of clothes tightly pressed on her chest by her crossed arms. He made room for her to pass.

Arya only nodded quickly in gratitude and stepped forward to enter.

Before she could close the door, however, Eragon snapped from his haze of bitterness and cursed himself mentally. What was he doing, giving her the cold shoulder like that? Fine, she was nothing less than insensitive and potentially rude in the way she was treating him, but he waited for ten years to see her again and would only have a month, now less, to have her there, within the reach of his hand, under the gaze of his eyes. He needed to rise above any pettiness and be the bigger man.

"Arya!" He called with confidence, but she turned and squinted her eyes at him in a frown like he was an annoying bug on the wall. He faltered.

"Yes?"

A knot formed in his throat and his heart clenched. Why was she acting like that? Why? Just when he thought things were turning up the way he wanted between them, she went back at rejecting him, even worse now, because now she was hurting him willfully, he supposed, because no one could be that cold accidentally to someone they claimed was a friend.

"Just… Have a good day." He managed to say before his voice would crack from the heartbreak.

Eragon didn't wait for her to answer and stormed out from the lower levels, running up to the Hall of Colors. When he arrived there, he was out of breath, but he suspected it was more from the emotional strain than the exercise itself. Spending a few seconds to recollect himself in front of the door, he breathed in deeply and let it out. And again, then once more. He did it about ten times and stopped until his heart was back to normal and his mood was somewhat manageable.

Eragon opened the door and prepared for a morning of ordeal.


The day was suffocating, hotter than any other she had spent in Fell Thindarë so far. Arya suspected the rain that fell lazily during the morning had something to do with it, for it wasn't cold or abundant enough to freshen the rest of the day, and now the afternoon was wet and suffocating. She dipped her fingertips in her glass of water and splattered some droplets on her face and cleavage. A warm breeze rushed from the west and blew her hair and sleeveless blue tunic around her, cooling down, but just a little, the exposed skin of her arms and neck. The same warm breeze coming from the west and into the dining tent had kissed her face the night she opened up to Eragon about Fäolin. At the thought of the Rider, her eyes darted to the empty seat by Nasuada's side that was supposed to be his at the lunch table. She felt her heart drop just to think she might have hurt him bad enough to make him want to stay away. Thinking about it, it was cruel of her to treat him as her closest and cherished friend just to ignore him altogether from one instant to another. But only Arya could feel the remains of her shattered grudges against her mother shifting inside of her, piercing and cutting her beliefs, changing her being, slowly molding her to be a continuation of Islanzadí's legacy. It was happening, the change, so she had to be as open as possible to it, and as close as she could to her, or current, self, because Arya feared that if she let herself be discovered and analyzed by the only one alive who could change her that much, she would fail that legacy. If he listened to his name engraved in her essence like it was, he would not let her go away from him, but mostly she would not let herself go away from him, which was worse. She needed to be strong, even if her legs felt boneless and her hands trembled at the notion that she was hurting the man that would never consider doing the same to her. Her logic was clear inside her mind, but she feared that if anyone could extract it from her, it would look like a pile of meaningless excuses and random anguished, conflicting feelings.

Earlier that morning, his hurt and angry eyes almost made her fall to his feet and ask for forgiveness. When she heard her name escaping his lips with such strain, she could hold her cold mask no more, and repentance creased her forehead in a grimace. His reaction felt like a hit of a sword's pommel right to her stomach, pushing the air from her lungs. Eragon just acted like himself and, in the face of heartbreak, he wished her well and ran, leaving behind only his earthy smell, like wet grass and rain. His kindness was still going to be the ruin of him, just like her guarded demeanor would be the ruin of her. Arya almost wanted him to curse her, to try to hurt her with the filthiest words he knew, and she was sure he knew plenty, being a human young man. But no, he would never do that, never use his dirty vocabulary against her, he couldn't even do it in a casual conversation. Eragon would never hurt her on purpose, only she could be that vicious, not him.

That's enough, Arya! Fly with me, now! Fírnen rarely spoke to her in that tone, angered, but when he did, Arya knew he was annoyed beyond his limits.

Without a word, Arya walked to where Fírnen was waiting for her. Saphira, who attended the competition alone that day, was sitting on her hind legs beside him. Arya knew Saphira was mad at her for being so cold to her Rider, and it pained her, even more, to see the dragon turning her head away not to look at Arya.

What did you expect? That you would treat her Rider like an annoying little bug and she would still greet you like an old friend?

Again, Arya didn't say anything. She just hopped on his back and let him take her away from the big tent.


Eragon's head felt like exploding when he finally acknowledged his physical constitution. He didn't want to spend any more time going over and over the visions put in his head by the Eldunarí.

That's it. I need a break.

No, Shadeslayer. You don't need a break, you need to let this go. You already know everything you needed to, now let the players play their game. You will deal with the results later.

Umaroth's words could have come out from Eragon's mouth if he were to advise himself. So, without discussion, he bid the dragons goodbye and left the Hall of Colors. His legs felt three times heavier than usual from sitting in the same position for too long, and as he walked down the stairs, he had the impression they would fall off and roll down the steps without his command. There was also an ache on his lower back that made him move like an old man for several minutes until his body finally adjusted to the erect stance again.

His jaw dropped when he got to the ground level and heard all those voices coming from the dining hall.

Saphira, is it night already?

Yes, little one. You spent the whole day there with the elders. You must be starving.

At the mention of that, he suddenly realized he had a stomach, and it twitched in a loud protest.

I am. Hope there's still food left for me.

Eragon's mental capacity had grown considerably in ten years. He could spend the whole day meditating, without the need to eat, drink or alleviate himself. In a way, being recluse inside his mind, communicating practically through images and other sensorial stimuli only, could be considered as a form of meditation. Eragon could almost feel he didn't have a body anymore, as he spent hours without any physical sensation whatsoever. Yet, it didn't stop his limbs and organs to react when he came back to himself after so long.

His mood was in no way better than it was in the morning, but after seeing all he had seen in the Hall of Colors, he was more than grateful to be in Saphira's company again, although she never left his mind, absorbing every little piece of information he was receiving. And she didn't deserve his bitter words.

Great! Wait for me.

Entering the hall was an overwhelming experience after spending so much time in the presence of immaterial beings. The voices there were loud and the heat emanating from so many living and breathing bodies hit him like the first winds of a summer storm. He hesitated at the door but started to walk again by the sight of his partner sitting by the end of the table near the wall to his right. Beside her, he could see Angela and Solembum.

"Nobody missed you today, Shadeslayer." Angela teased him when he approached them and put his hand on Saphira's snout.

"No, I didn't think anyone would."

"Where were you, by the way? Did you have a bad episode of indigestion? If that was the case, I suggest you stay away from the lamb. It didn't inspire much trust in me if you want to know," She acted disgusted with the plate of lamb meat in the middle of the table, but Eragon knew she was just rambling, for she was very aware of the Eldunarí and the impending danger lurking around Alagaësia. How could she possibly know this was beyond his understanding.

"Indigestion? I wish my biggest problem was just not being able to digest lamb meat."

"You're right, your biggest problem is that you are not getting any prettier, even though you try your best. The beard, for example. A good effort, but useless. You still look like a weird looking featherless newborn bird, with big watery eyes that can't quite see the world that wants to kill him. Not so featherless anymore, I mean, but still weird." She finished her description pointing at his beard.

Eragon didn't know if he was more offended or amused, not knowing if he was that weird-looking, so he just brushed his mustache with two fingers of his right hand in a self-conscious act and shook his head.

"Wow, you captured my essence there. Thanks!"

She nodded, with an amused glow in her eyes that told Eragon he was the perfect target for her jests.

"I will join Nasuada's table now, but I would like to talk to you soon, when you have a moment, Angela, and you Solembum." The werecat looked at him with bored eyes and resumed his task of devouring a big chunk of lamb meat. He didn't want to sound like an authority, but he was sure this is how it came out.

"Of course." She was serious and didn't seem bothered by his harsher tone. "But don't get your hopes too high, I'm trying to figure this out as much as you, maybe I don't know what you are hoping I do."

A shiver ran down Eragon's spine. Whatever the herbalist knew, for as minimum as she thought it was, could be decisive for the future of them all, for there were mysteries in Angela's nature that he believed impossible to figure out. Both of them hadn't discussed too profoundly the matters that worried him, but still, she knew what he was talking about.

"Right. Let me know when you're ready then."

With that, he spared Saphira a last scratch under the jaw and headed to the main table.

He greeted the leaders, taking extra care not to cross eyes with Arya, and sat by Orik's side, as he's been doing every night since they arrived there.

"What did I miss?"

Even after Orik putting Eragon in the dilemma of choosing between his half-brother and the support of the dwarves, the two of them never ceased being friends, talking casually about lighter subjects and laughing together of an anecdote told by any of them. Eragon felt, however, that this peace between them would have an end if they couldn't reach an agreement regarding the matter of Murtagh joining the Order.

"Not much. Just a record or two being broken, several fractured bones and a major heatwave. For Helzvog, Eragon, you never told me this land can be this hot!"

Eragon laughed, feeling his moodiness diminishing little by little.

"A heatwave during summer is hardly a heatwave. It's just summer!"

"I'm telling you, this is not normal, the heat, you know?" And to prove his point, a drop of sweat ran down his face and got lost inside his thick beard.

"Aye. I'll ask Blödhgarm to check the ventilation system. It's possible that one, or some of the tunnels, is blocked by fallen rocks. If that's the case, he can fix it."

"I drink to that!" Orik poured ale in Eragon's cup and the pair downed their drinks trying to placate the heat. He helped himself with some more ale and felt his insides starting to burn from the drink in an empty stomach. If he didn't eat soon, his head would begin to spin, and he needed to have a clear mind for what was coming next.

Asking for Orik to pass the potatoes, he reached Fírnen's mind, brushing against his defenses very softly, so the dragon wouldn't feel offended or alarmed.

Recognizing the Rider's distinctive mind, Fírnen laid down his defenses to him.

Good evening, Eragon. It's good to see you back with us.

Thank you, Fírnen. And good evening to you too.

Is there something in the matter? Fírnen sounded worried and even embarrassed, appearing to Eragon that he would like to apologize for something.

I just need to send a message to Arya. If you made me the favor of letting her know I wish her to stay here after dinner, it would be great. Sadness crawled back into him again. It seems she doesn't want to talk to me lately, that's why I'm asking you.

Fírnen hesitated, and the two of them locked eyes. The green dragon was on the opposite end of the table where he met Saphira, Angela, and Solembum. The elves near him would frequently serve him all the food he could eat, and Eragon was sure they could only talk about Fírnen's strength and looks.

I see. I'm sorry about that, but she's dealing with some royal problems. They are taking too much of her energy. I'm sure you understand.

I understand. He didn't. Good thing they weren't using the Ancient Language since both of them were free to lie. Don't worry about it. So, can I count on you to pass the message along?

Consider it done.

Good. You must stay too, I need you to be present at the meeting.

Meeting? Fírnen seemed puzzled.

With Orik. I'm going to make him a proposal and I need you two to back me up on this.

Oh, this. Of course.

Thank you, Fírnen.

Fírnen lowered his giant head just a bit in a nod, but his eyes were inspecting the Rider. Suddenly, his orbs focused on Arya and back at him.

She'll stay. We both will.

Brilliant. Thank you.

Eragon retreated from his mind and started eating his roasted potatoes and grilled vegetables. He added some rice — their proud production — and a spoonful of cranberry sauce. It was amazing and his stomach twitched again, but this time he suspected was in gratitude, not protest.

He was so focused on his food, he blocked the noise around him, so it was a complete surprise when he heard the melodious laugh coming from Arya on the other side of Hvedra. She was being amused by the dwarf's storytelling that Eragon didn't quite discern what was it about. It only made him brood over how poorly he was being treated by Arya while everyone else seemed to receive the friendliest side of her. Suddenly the sauce tasted sour and the potatoes' gone bad in his mouth. He dropped his fork on the table and forced ale down his throat to ease the nausea. He emptied the cup and got up to leave.

"Eragon, are you all right?" Orik asked with a concerned voice, seeing his friend seemed in distress.

"Yes, I just need a moment. You know, to go see a man about a horse." He tried to relax his expression to ease the dwarf's mind. It worked. Orik laughed, and he was free to go. "Smoking later, aye?"

"Aye!"

Where are you going, Eragon?

I need some air. Can you take me to fly, please?

He quickly distanced himself from the others and marched out.

Now? How about our meeting later? You just asked Fírnen to stay.

We will be back in time. Besides, I could use some help to get to Thorn's niche. We need to talk to them before the meeting.

Saphira didn't need more convincing. They left the dining hall and headed to the main entrance, where they took flight into the warm night.


Watching Eragon walking out of the hall after apparently having a discomfort brought Arya to remember what she had heard from Fírnen earlier.

Fírnen's rage that afternoon was still very vivid in her mind during dinner. Eragon's tired expression didn't help soothe her guilt either, instead, it only made her hate herself even more.

After being scolded by her dragon for ignoring her friend and making him feel bad for days, she started feeling how painful it is to be the one receiving the cold treatment. Fírnen hasn't spoken a word to her since they came back to the Arena hours earlier, and his mind was completely blocked to her. She took a deep breath. Earlier or later he would have to open himself up again, and nothing would be different, she would still keep her distance from Eragon. So why put themselves through this?

It was earlier than later, and Fírnen entered her mind with a message from Eragon. He wanted them to stay there after dinner to meet with Orik. It seemed he had a plan to placate Orik's harsh demands, and she couldn't be more curious to know what was it.

Are you still giving me the silent treatment?

Yes. I'll be quiet now. Goodbye!

Stop, Fírnen! Let's talk. Because all I did today was to listen, and it hardly qualifies as a conversation.

The dragon remained quiet but did not cut their mental connection. She threw him an inquisitive look from across the hall and continued.

I know you don't agree with me because you like him very much and you think I'm going to hurt all four of us if I keep shutting him down like this. I know all of that, you were very emphatic this afternoon, and I agree with you. She sighed and looked away from him, politely refusing the potatoes Nasuada offered her. But I will hurt us all even more if I allow him to get closer just to see himself entangled in a dangerous web that my position as queen will put him through. When we arrived here, I felt good in his presence and thought that there was no harm in opening up to him just a little, even if he found out my name. But I was wrong! Fírnen, I found out his true name, just from observing him and listening carefully to the things he said. What keeps him from discovering my true name? What if he does? I mean, he will know that I'm not as indifferent to him as he thinks I am, but what's next?

Arya got distracted by her dragon moving from his place at his table to the space behind her. It took a couple of minutes and some bumps on people's heads for him to get to her. When he did, Arya felt him pressing his snout on the back of her neck, encouraging her to continue.

He will pursue me once more, and once more I'll have to tell him we cannot be. How could we? He's here inside this damn mountain, and I'm there, deep into the forest. It cannot be. The elven society would never accept us, even before, when I was just the queen's daughter, people talked. It wouldn't be easy. And he'll get hurt.

Unless... He started, and Arya already knew where he was going with that. ...You're not there anymore. If your opposition wants the crown, let them have it. Or anyone.

She shook her head furiously, catching Nasuada's attention. She signaled Fírnen with her hand, and the human queen understood that there was a silent discussion going own between them.

I would never give in to those greedy vultures, not after so many centuries of all of my family's hard work to keep the elves from harm. No! The opposition doesn't think like us, they want the glory, the domination over other races, they want to rule the land, but we don't need it! We are at peace, I don't need anything else.

So, to stop all that from happening, you give up on your happiness. It wasn't a question. Fírnen stated that hoping she would see how twisted it sounded.

What kind of happiness will I have if I let it all happen? If it was all my fault?

And you think you are the only one interested in keeping the peace? That you are the only one fit for the job? How about Däthedr?

I'm the best one because no one understands how to do this job better than me, I'm sure of it now like I've never been before. Her mind voice was stoic, firm.

She had played those arguments many times in her head in the past days for the case of Eragon confronting her, but she didn't expect to use it with Fírnen, the one who was supposed to see them at the source, inside her consciousness.

Just because of the memory of your mother? One single memory has all this power? He was incredulous.

It was all I needed.

And are you sure you can't make a little room for Eragon to come in, just a little bit? Just once every ten years?

Arya hesitated. What exactly he was proposing?

What do you mean?

Well, look at me and Saphira. Of course we would like to be together the entire time, but we take what it was given to us, once every ten years we are each other's mate, and it has to suffice for now. Why can't you just do the same with Eragon?

It would never work. It's human nature to always want more. it's all or nothing with them, no in-betweens.

You underestimate him. You know he's something more than human now, you've seen in his name.

She knew, but Arya pushed that thought aside, for it would be one more complicating factor to their already puzzling math.

Maybe I do underestimate him, but it's better to be safe than sorry.

Something tells me he would think differently.

One more reason to be away from him.

Fírnen growled low in the back of his throat, consumed by frustration. She was as stubborn as the dwarves she criticized so often. Perhaps all those years among the dwarves had turned her into one of them.

You are being very silly, for such an old woman.

Silly but right. I'm right on this. My mother would agree with me.

Listen to yourself! If Fírnen had hair, he would be pulling it from his head at that moment. Your mother was the person who antagonized you the most, and Eragon the person who accepted you the most! How can you not see this?

I see this! I also see that everything I knew about her was wrong!

Not everything, Arya. Don't be so naïve.

Arya was tired. She let out a deep breath and turned to face him.

Fírnen, I know I wanted us to talk, but this is going too far. You must understand that Eragon and I, we cannot be, not in these conditions.

I'll do it if you understand that it doesn't matter if you can or cannot be, only that you are hurting him, and I want you to stop, now!

"Enough of this, Fírnen, I don't want to talk about this anymore, and my decision is final." She said with both mind and lips.

The guests sitting at her table stopped their conversations among themselves and spared the pair a glance. They knew of her ferocity on the battlefield, they've seen her fighting with the fervor and fierceness of a wild animal. If she had to be mad at someone, they hoped it would be a dragon, fully capable of matching her might.

Fírnen didn't confront her though, yet small columns of smoked came out of his nostrils as he breathed heavily. Finally, he backed away and sat down, still staring at her. Arya turned back on her chair to face her plate. She grabbed her fork and knife and restarted to eat, regretting leaving her food untouched for so long, for the vegetables were soft and a bit soggy since the cranberry sauce spread all over the plate.


After checking with Blödhgarm the conditions of their ventilation system, Eragon took a seat by one of the fireplaces in the dining hall. He looked around and saw the tables still considerably occupied by a good number of diners. So, ready to wait for them all to leave, he sat back on his chair, took his pipe from his vest pocket, filled it with Cardus weed and lit it with a flint. Saphira came to seat next to him, resting her head on her front paws by his chair. Eragon took a drag and with his left hand started to caress her brow.

Do you think they will come?

I believe they will, little one. Murtagh seemed eager to solve this matter once and for all.

Yes, I think so too. I just hope Orik will listen to us and accept our proposal.

He will be a fool if he doesn't.

It didn't take long and Orik followed by Hvedra joined them there. Eragon glanced over to see if Arya was there, and saw that she looked back at him with a blank expression. He sighed.

It's going to be a long night.

Relax, Eragon. There's nothing you can do, you heard Umaroth. You will explain the game rules and wait for the players to make their moves. You can't force Orik to cooperate, neither make Arya to treat you decently. Let them play!

Right. I'll try.

Orik turned to Eragon with a puzzled expression.

"It must be an impressive horse that one you went to see a man about. Took you ages to return!"

Eragon threw him an apologetic look.

"I had pressing matters to oversee. The work never stops around here."

"I can imagine that; in Tronjheim we have the same dynamic," Hvedra spoke with admirable authority and looked at Orik, who had at the same time pride and guilt on his face. "And if I don't take care of such matters, nobody will."

"That's what makes a good Grimstcarvlorss. But, of course, Hvedra does more than she should, because she takes care of our clan, but also the entire city when she finds time for it."

"It is impressive. You should be proud of yourself, Hvedra."

"So should you, Shadeslayer." They exchanged complimentary smiles.

The four of them engaged in a light conversation for some time, as people were leaving the hall. As usual, some of Arngor's residents stayed behind by the other fireplaces, or even at the dining tables, but they weren't as many as usual, and they were spread through the hall, because the heat there was still intense, causing people to disperse after dinner.

When Nasuada left, Arya headed their way, followed by Fírnen, taking a seat by Hvedra's side. She didn't look at Eragon, not even when it was his turn to speak. Slowly, he stopped taking the initiative and let others tell their stories and anecdotes. Instead, he occupied his lips with his pipe. He felt wrong, dirty, worthless. Wasn't she who said he was a bigger person than anyone she knew? Well, she made him feel very small, the tiniest of all men.

Do you want me to bite her tail off? He felt a hint of laughter die in his chest before it even started.

I would like to see that, but no, better not. I just need to focus on making Orik understand our situation and then I won't need to be here under her look of contempt.

Yes, just let them sort their problems out, we already have ours.

Exactly. We have plenty.

Orik turned to Eragon after a particularly long story told by Hvedra and tried to bring him back to the conversation.

"Isn't it true you almost had all of the skin on your legs peeled off by Saphira's scales on your first flight together?"

"On the inside of my legs, yes. But it was peeled off, not almost. I had the scars until the dragons cured me from Durza's wound."

"I told you," Orik said to Hvedra. "Dragon scales can be harder than rocks."

Much harder. And sharp too.

Eragon felt silent again as Saphira explained the different types of scales, from hardest to softest. He thought it was time since the hall was fairly empty. The ones remaining wouldn't take long to finish smoking their weed. He took another drag and closed his eyes.

Reaching out with his mind, he brushed the boundaries of many minds there in the hall and all over the mountain, as his reach grew larger. Usually, he would ask Saphira to approach someone mentally, since people would hardly get offended or feel invaded by a dragon, knowing that was how they normally communicated. But he felt like calling Thorn himself and let Saphira carry the conversation forward.

His mind ran fast to the highest level of the mountain, just below the eyrie, and searched through the niches, until he found Thorn's mind.

Is it time? Thorn's voice rang inside his head.

It is. You can come now.

We will be right there.

"Are you all right, Eragon?" For the second time in the evening, Orik sounded worried about his friend.

"Yes. I was only talking to someone." He tapped his temper.

"Oh, right."

"In fact, Orik, there's something I would like to discuss with you too."

The Dwarf King looked like he had received bad news. He straightened his back to try to look taller and more menacing.

"Is it about that Kingkiller? Did you come to a decision yet?"

"I did, and I communicated it to you at the moment you presented me with your conditions for supporting us with supplies. It is still the same. I'm sorry, Orik, but I can't let you dictate how our Order will organize itself. Only members have a say on our matters."

Orik clenched his jaw and his face turned red.

"Then I don't see what else is there to talk about. We will end all our relations here, including..." His voice trembled. "...our family bond."

Eragon expected such a reaction, but it didn't fail to hurt him. His already flayed heart twisted painfully inside his chest, and he thought it had been a mistake to allow the Games to take place in Arngor. What good did it bring? Only heartbreak.

His eyes fell to his pipe, avoiding everyone's gaze.

"I feared you would say that and I am so sorry it came down to this." His voice was low, full of emotion. "I'm not usually the one to hold grudges, you know that, but I want you to remember this moment very carefully, for when you need it in the future, for I know you will."

"Are you threatening me, boy?" Orik's eyes were fierce.

Eragon resented the use of "boy", as to provoke and diminish him. He looked around and saw a few small groups scattered throughout the hall, so he spoke quietly the spell to block their conversation from being heard by others.

Careful now, Eragon. Choose your words with caution. Saphira advised.

"You won't understand now, but no, I'm not the one threatening you or anyone else here." He pointed at the others. With the movement, his eyes fell on Arya's, and for the first time in one week, he saw true emotion coming out of them. He saw concern and compassion. Now she was with pity of him? "There's something, someone, lurking around Alagaësia, and you will need the protection of our Order if you wish to survive. Remember, Orik, if you cut ties with me, you will be cutting ties with the entire Order, and will be breaking the pact with the dragons. No more eggs hatching for dwarven children, no more protection for your lands. The ones of your people that choose to remain here will be treated as outcast, refugees from your Kingdom."

Orik spat at Eragon's feet.

"It's not like you're protecting us all that much. Where are the Riders we sent you? Three so far, and none came back to us!"

"It's not how this works, they would never get back to you, unless their orders sent them back home, but if it took them somewhere else, they would have to go. That, of course, if we still held each other on good relation." Eragon leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. "I already told you, these are times of peace, there's no need to rush their education just so they could satisfy the wishes of a few. We took our time, and they will be ready to fight this menace and any other the appear throughout Alagaësia from now on, of that I'm sure. I'm even more sure because Murtagh and Thorn are coming back to Illirea, where they will be our first line of defense. It would be wise of you to begin to accept him. Hearing Thorn's words would be the same as hearing Saphira's, and what Murtagh decides will be as if I am the one making the decision."

"When I thought it couldn't get any worse, you raise him at the highest rank, as your right hand!" Orik looked disgusted with the idea.

"That's not..." He hesitated and looked at Arya. She was serious. "...that's not true. Arya is my right hand. But Murtagh is the one for the job, and I trust him almost the same way as I trust Arya, and that's enough."

The group stayed silent for a moment. Eragon resented the way things turned out between him and Orik, but he understood he wasn't just a member of the Ingeitum Clan or a regular Rider. He was the one to make the difficult decisions, the one who had the impossible task of leading the Riders in a lifetime mission of devotion and sacrifice for the well-being of others, even when these others refused protection. Being unscathed in this situation was only a wishful thinking, far from reality.

Just when he was preparing his next argument, steps coming toward them interrupted his line of thought. Murtagh and Thorn strode in their direction and joined the group without formalities or greetings.

Orik's face turned bright red and Hvedra stirred uncomfortably in her chair.

"Before you start to protest, Orik, just hear him out, please?"

Eragon! What are you doing? Arya's voice echoed inside his mind.

He threw an indifferent look at her but responded as politely as he could.

I'm giving them the opportunity to talk. They never even tried to do that, so now is the time.

You're ambushing Orik!

It had to be done. With that he shut his mind to her, blocking any access.

Seeing that Orik was shaken enough to have trouble speaking, Murtagh took the chance and started his speech.

"Orik, I know you hate me and see me as a worthless king killer. I had my reasons to do what I did, not that it justifies that horrible act, but it at least can help you understand what it was like for me." Still, Orik didn't say a word, his face as red as a beet. "Galbatorix did not force me to kill Hrothgar, I did it out of my own volition, that's true. But he did something worse. He tortured me and Thorn and played with our minds. He challenged me to impress him, to do better each time, without saying exactly what he wanted from us, apart from capturing Eragon and Saphira. I knew that a part of me fought the idea of harming my brother, so I had to outdo this order, I had to do the worst I could think of, or he would hurt Thorn just to torture me for not taking Eragon and Saphira to him. He didn't reward me for what I did to your king, but I didn't suffer his wrath."

"You were a coward!" Orik yelled at him.

"Aye! I understand you think that. But what should I do instead? Let him hurt Thorn? Kill or capture Eragon?" He looked at his brother, and Eragon thought he saw deep emotions in Murtagh's eyes. "We may have our differences, but don't want to harm him, never did."

"You should have killed yourself!"

"Don't you think I didn't consider this back then? But I didn't want to die, nor let Thorn die because of it."

"You're pretending you didn't have any choice but to cowardly kill Hrothgar. Except you did! Imagine if the roles were reversed, and you were fighting for the Varden and Eragon for Galbatorix. Do you see him killing anyone he wasn't commanded to kill?"

"Orik!" Eragon called his attention. "This is not fair! We are different people, raised in two very different ways, but it doesn't mean I'm better than him."

"Peace, brother, Orik is right. You wouldn't have done it, you know it."

Eragon shook his head.

"I don't know what would have happened, but it doesn't make any difference now. We must solve our problem right now!" He turned to the dwarf. "Orik, listen to me. You don't have to forgive Murtagh, I understand that, but you can't think you have the authority to demand anything from the Order, because nobody does. I know it sounds like we can do whatever we intend to do without any kind of supervision, but I managed to include this issue in our pact with the dragons, through the Eldunarí, so the Riders are not allowed to harm the peace in Alagaësia or act in self-interest as it happened before. We will be held accountable for our mistakes by a powerful type of magic."

Orik narrowed his eyes at Eragon.

"I'm listening."

"Now, it includes Murtagh. He took the oath when he arrived here a few weeks ago, he's bound by it, he will only be freed from the oath in his death, and even the Name of Names is not enough to break it, I made sure of it. So his life mission now is to keep Alagaësia safe from any danger, the dwarves too. If you cut ties with the Order, neither Murtagh nor any of the Riders can protect you. This is important because he will be the one fighting for all the people in the west. Murtagh, Arya, the Riders graduating soon and their dragons, they will be your protectors, not Saphira and I, we will never fight again, we won't come if you call us."

Orik seemed shocked.

"I never took you for petty, Eragon."

"It's not pettiness. It's just impossible for us to go anywhere, for we are bound to protect the Eldunarí, the eggs, and the wild dragons. We are done fighting unless the fight comes to us."

All eyes were switching between Eragon and Saphira, trying to make sense of his words.

"Eragon. What fight? What do you know?" Arya asked in a low voice, concern clear in her expression.

"I will show you what I know, but first I need you to swear in the Ancient Language that you will not speak of it to anyone else. Tomorrow I will tell Nasuada, Orrin, and Garzhvog, I will also allow Arya to tell Roran, and Nasuada to tell Grimrr Halfpaw. But no one else."

He told them the words they were supposed to speak, and they swore.

"Now open your minds. I'll show you everything I know, which isn't much."

When they all allowed him entrance, he placed in their minds the vision he had in his dreams. It was a dark and cold forest. The ground was frozen, but it didn't snow. Footsteps broke the thin layer of ice as a tall hooded figure walked through the trees. The figure shortly joined a big group of also hooded figures. They were gathered around the fire, and by its side, another hooded creature stood. He or she was teaching the others what Eragon knew to be magic. The "teacher" raised their hands and, hovering above them, an orb of red light appeared and was controlled with ease as it moved from one hand to another, up and down, around the clearing and back to their hands again. All of it without the spellcaster saying a single word. Soon, the figures tried to conjure a similar orb with their own hands. Some of them fell to the ground, dead, drained of their entire energy, others cast a completely different and disastrous spell, making them go unconscious or dead. The ones who survived the practice managed to create a faint and untamed orb of different colors, but at least three out of ten created perfect imitations of their master's spell. The vision vanished, and Eragon retreated from their minds.

An army! Thorn gasped.

Of evil spellcasters! We need to find them and end this before it's too late. Fírnen's eagerness entered their minds.

No, Fírnen! We still don't know what this means. Saphira intervened.

"I spent the day with the Eldunarí scavenging the land, looking for this army, but we couldn't find anything concrete. They are probably hidden somewhere unknown by the dragons. But I know for sure it's in Alagaësia and it's trying to become powerful enough to dominate the land."

"How do you know that? Isn't it possible that they don't mean harm at all?" Orik asked like he didn't believe the possibility himself.

Murtagh answered.

"It's wordless magic, to dodge Nasuada's control on the spellcasters. If they need to hide, they must be up to no good. They are practicing wordless magic, and have been for a long time. I know this because I ran into some individuals like those hooded figures who were proficient in that type of magic. Thorn and I even pursued them for a while, until we lost track of them."

"You did?" Arya looked like a confused child trying to grasp the sense of life. "How? Where? And why didn't you tell us, or at least Eragon?"

"I already knew," Eragon spoke. "I've seen one of these encounters almost ten years ago when Murtagh went to Ceunon under the name of Tornac."

Arya's gaze became angered.

Well, with the anger I can deal with. Indifference is what makes me crazy. He said privately to Saphira.

And again you left her in the dark, this time for ten years. Yet you still claim she is your right hand. No wonder she's angry.

What side you're on?

I told you to tell her about this, nine years ago, but you chose to keep it to yourself. Now face the consequences.

"You knew and didn't tell me?" Arya spoke with ferocity.

"It doesn't matter now, we still need to figure out our predicament." Eragon dismissed Arya's unrest and turned to Orik, which almost cause her to hiss like an angered cat. "Orik, tell me now. May we settle in a truce? You don't cut our relations and I send the first dwarf Rider to you, exclusively. Rider and dragon will be in charge of all the matters regarding your people and will act alongside your ambassador to straighten our bond. Protection, diplomacy, education. In exchange, you keep sending the supplies and promoting the Bonding Ceremony in Tronjheim for the dwarven children. What do you say?"

Orik looked at Hvedra, who held a pleading expression. It was clear to Eragon that she was in favor of the agreement between dwarves and Riders, for she was still trembling from watching the frightening scene inside Eragon's mind.

"Exclusively?" The dwarf wanted to make sure.

"Aye. For now, it will be enough, but we can add to the agreement later if we both see fit."

The Dwarf King sighed loudly before jumping out from his chair. He approached Eragon and raised his hand to him.

"We have a deal."

Eragon took his forearm feeling great relief.

"Deal." When they let go of each other, he dared to ask. "How about our family bond, am I still your foster brother or our relationship is only formal from now on?" Eragon's humility could be heard in each of his words.

Orik stared at him for excruciating instants. He then patted Eragon's shoulder with excessive force.

"What family doesn't have its quarrel, heh?"

Eragon smiled.

"Brothers, then?"

"Aye. But only yours, I'm no brother of that coward Kingkiller that shares half of your blood." Orik's tone didn't carry as much malice as his words inspired, so Eragon relaxed and kept smiling.

"All right, just us two then."

Saphira led the way up inside the mountain. Eragon dragged his feet behind her, feeling at the same time completely drained from the strenuous conversation with Orik and the others, and relieved for solving the problem with his foster brother.

After all was settled, one by one his companions left for the night, leaving the blue dragon and Rider enjoying each other's company. Little did they talk, sharing only emotions and images, like they often did in their day to day lives. It had become a habit of theirs to keep from using words since that was how the Eldunarí would communicate their memories and visions, which with time started to feel natural for them.

When they decided that it was too late at night, they climbed up the long stairs, Saphira heading to the eyrie and Eragon to his quarters. They separated on Eragon's level, and he walked to his room, seeing that the two cats he still had to name were at his door, waiting for him. He smiled. When he asked Oswald to bring the cats to him, he had other plans for them, like killing the rats that were eating the grains in their silos, not to snuggle in his bed at night. He opened the door and let the little creatures in, but before entering too, he glanced at Arya's door. How long would they act that way around each other? It was silly of him to let so many days go by without confronting her about her behavior, but now he was to blame as well because he neglected to trust her with important matters. If he let it pass, he would not be able to rest that night.

Without hesitation, he marched to her room and knocked on the door. It didn't take long for her to open it, already wearing her nightdress. He paused.

The vision of her figure lit faintly by the torches of the corridor sent him into a daze. Eragon didn't know what he was doing there anymore, he just wanted to keep looking at her forever, alternating from her eyes to her lips, so red and enticing under the dim light. Arya's curves were visible through the soft cloth of her nightdress and it was enough to make him forget any disagreement between them. His desire started to take the best of him, and seeing that her eyes showed a similar message, he took a step forward toward her. She froze at her spot, staring deep in his eyes; a spark danced in her green emeralds. Could it be she wanted him too? Losing all the grasp of rational thought, he lifted his right hand and let his fingers lightly trace a line from her wrist to her shoulder. The touch of his hand on her bare skin sent a warmth from his fingertips to his underbelly. Incapable of breaking contact, he moved his fingers along her collarbone and neck, hearing with pleasure as she gasped and leaned in toward his hand. Eragon came even closer, only a palm of distance from her, and rested his hand on her neck, raising his thumb to touch her face, very slowly caressing the line of her jaw. Her scent of crushed pine needles engulfed him even more into his trance. His heart was racing in his ears, and when he was almost leaning in to capture her lips with his, she closed her eyes in a pained expression.

"Eragon." His name came out as a quiet cry.

He halted his movement.

She opened her eyes again.

"Please, stop. We can't." Despite her rejection, her voice wasn't harsh, but sweet, almost loving.

He retreated his hand. Suddenly the memory of what he was supposed to do there came crushing in.

Arya stepped back and waited until he composed himself.

Eragon sighed and relaxed his shoulders, getting back to his full consciousness. His hand ran through his hair, as he tried to normalize the beat of his heart.

"I need to apologize to you. And also ask..." His voice was hoarse. "...what in the name of the gods is happening to us?"

Arya's expression looked tired as she cleared the way for him to pass through the door.

"I would like to know as well."

Chapter Text

 

The silence between them already lasted long enough for a normal person to feel uncomfortable. However, used to long hours of the quiet rustling of the trees in Du Weldenvarden, Arya simply felt at peace, even when the situation instigated the opposite of that. Only minutes before, when she was tossing in bed, a knock on the door made her rise to her feet and dread what would come next, the total loss of all control. His look, the touch of his fingers, the warmth of his body, inch by inch getting closer to hers; all of it was just cracks on her wall of indifference. But above all was his smell. Arya wondered if he has ever realized his smell was so enticing, that earthy aroma, made of the peculiar scent that comes in the first instants of rain, when the drops hit the dried soil and raise a thin layer of dirt. His smell was a delightful mixture of rain and wet grass. It reminded her of home somehow, but it was so particularly his, she imagined if he knew about it. She first noticed at the Blood Oath Celebration, when he had come for her after his transformation. Eragon always looked like a handsome boy for her, but after the work done by the dragons, he changed into a more mature and refined version of himself. At first, she wasn't sure which one she liked best, for she grew accustomed to his human features enough to find them endearing, however, his new smell just settled the dispute for her. The elf-like Eragon smelled like something she loved.

She was sitting on her bed, legs crossed, while Eragon took a wooden chair in front of her and appeared as at peace as she was. If she looked closely, she could even say he seemed in a trance, as if he was meditating.

"What are you thinking about?" Her soft voice sounded like a rumble in the silence.

He focused his eyes on her.

"Nothing." She watched as his shoulders rose in a shrug. "I'm trying to understand what happened."

Arya knew what happened. Eragon came to confront her about being cold and distant to him for the past week, but instead of that he treated her like she was the most desired creature that had ever existed. All confrontation forgotten.

"You said you wanted to apologize."

"Right. I did. I mean..." He straightened his posture. "...I do. I want to apologize for not telling you about the threat I saw in my visions. You were right to get angry with me about it."

"It seems you take a lot of decisions without my consent."

He seemed guilty for a second, but then a defensive stance took over his demeanor.

"How should I consult you to make the decisions I have to make every day if talking with you is an once a month event?"

"That's not what I meant." Arya never wanted him to feel she doubted his leadership, but she also felt left out of important matters simply because she wasn't there close to him. It didn't feel right, but also how much could she demand of him? She wasn't sure. "Every day decisions are only yours to make, even if I lived here with you. You are our leader, you have all the right to do what you think is best. But big matters as the one you just mentioned, you can't keep those from me. I may be able to help you, you know?"

"Yes, I know. That's why I'm apologizing." Eragon sighed and sat back. "I thought I could figure this out before telling you or anyone else about it. I came to realize though that figuring things out is not my job anymore, I'm just the messenger now."

"What do you mean?"

"I already told you. I'm not going to fight anymore, unless the fight comes to me. So, you, Murtagh and the new Riders should be able to deal with the information I pass along to you the best way you see fit."

Again with this argument? It made Arya mad that he was really considering staying back if a new threat is marching through Aleagaësia. Since when he was the one to shy away from a fight? He seemed at peace with this decision, and even Saphira didn't oppose the idea of not fighting when he revealed it to the group a couple of hours before, which seemed even stranger.

"I can't imagine you and Saphira choosing not to fight when the time comes. It seems odd." She tried to sound casual, non-judgmental, but how much she succeeded she wasn't sure.

"We found our roles in this world. We're teachers, not fighters." Apparently she did a good job, because he sounded just as casual and not angry with her judgement.

"But you two are so good at fighting, how can you say that?"

Eragon smiled faintly and shrugged.

"Our world is full of fighters. We're just two more, for as good as we are. But teachers are never enough, so we can't give this up. That's our purpose in life now."

Arya knew that. It was part of his change, she saw in his name. She realized he had lost interest in anything related to fighting when he chose to leave Brisingr behind in his room every day, except for the day of her arrival in Arngor, when he displayed it with pride. Also, his new role as a teacher was evidenced in his speech on the first day of the Games and in the way he greeted his students and fellow residents of the mountain, one by one, encouraging them and empowering them. But also, in the way he would always speak about them when they talked over the mirrors. That's how she was able to piece it together with the other parts of his name that came instinctively to her from knowing him so well.

She nodded and silence befell them again. Eragon looked away with a blank stare like he was going to lose himself in deep thought.

After a while, their eyes met, and she feared she would lose the bit of control she had left after their short but intense interaction of before. So, she tackled the other matter in hand.

"You asked me a question. Shouldn't you be waiting for the answer?" Eragon shook his fogginess away and stared at her.

"I am. You can take your time to answer it."

What in the name of the gods is happening to us? Yes, Eragon, what is happening? It seemed to Arya that they were playing a game of hide and seek for too long, and it was getting boring. What he wanted from her she could not give, although she wanted it too. What she could give him was forever ruined, since she treated him so badly to the point of hurting him. What was left for them after all?

"I don't think I have the answer you want, and the one I have you cannot know."

He laughed a bitter laugh.

"You always tell me what I cannot be, or do, or have. I think you do it so you can refrain yourself from doing what you can't quite understand."

Her eyes narrowed.

"And what would that be?"

The ironic glow in his eyes vanished, and he started talking to her the way he would do to a student, she noticed.

"Letting yourself go, of course. Who sees you walking around, crown on your head, cold expression, can't imagine the fire you have in there." He pointed at her chest. "But I have seen you fighting, Arya." Eragon smiled gently, and Arya was impressed by the speed with which he changed expressions, even after keeping a blank stare for so long. "You may have forgotten how it feels like, but I remember like it was this morning, you dancing on the battlefield, the look in your eyes, the passion..." He let the words die as if he was lost in memory.

"What it has to do with...", she hesitated "...us?"

"You don't see it? It's the same fire." Arya felt her cheeks getting warmer. "When I touched you before, that's what saw. Now, I can't understand how someone who can show so much passion can hide behind a mask of indifference toward the one she bared her soul to."

That confidence coming from Eragon completely disarmed her. She knew he was changed and she knew exactly the extension of his change, for she had discovered his new true name, but seeing his personality taking shape right in front of her eyes was daunting.

Arya fought to find her voice again, but she hoped he hadn't noticed.

"I have my reasons."

Eragon smiled again.

"I'm sure you do, you always do."

He got up from his chair and knelt before her the same way he had done a week before, at the conference hall.

"But this is not a matter of reason, is it?" His voice was low as he rested his hands on her knees. "The way I see it, and maybe I'm a fool for thinking like this, there are things beyond our rational comprehension. Some things we just feel and, ultimately, accept."

The heat coming from his palms spread through her legs, stomach and chest and fused with the one warming her face. She was right to think his warmth was strong enough to melt the coldest of all hearts.

"What I feel is a liability." She sounded weak when she wanted to sound as confident as him. When she wanted to argue so he would back off.

"You sound really stupid for such a wise woman." He laughed. "Try again."

The criticism failed to anger her or to make her want to defend herself. She felt lost, out of arguments when she knew she had plenty. Arya had rehearsed them all during that week, she even used them with Fírnen, so why she couldn't get any rational thoughts out of her mouth to stop him in his onslaught to her resolution?

"We just..."

"Cannot be, yes, I know." Eragon shook his head and sat back down on the chair. "Too much distance, too much responsibility, you're old, I'm young, you're an elf and I don't know what I am. I know, believe me." He ran a hand through his hair.

"So why do you keep doing this to yourself? Why can't you just let it go?"

"I was doing that, just trying to be a good friend, until you pushed me away completely. It's not fair! Just because we cannot be together, it doesn't mean we should be enemies, or worse, indifferent to each other. What are you doing, Arya? I thought I was the closest friend you had."

Finally, his anger and confusion emerged. She's been waiting for it.

"You are. And that's the problem. You know me too well, and I'm afraid you come to realize parts of me that you shouldn't."

"I don't understand. What have you done in these past ten years that can make you fear my judgement so badly?" His voice got a little higher, in clear disarray.

She sighed. It would be so much easier if she was free to lie like humans did in their own language. It would be perfect if she could make up something to satisfy his curiosity and leave it at that. But no, they only spoke in the Ancient Language with each other, lying was not an option.

"I don't fear your judgement."

"What is it, then? Arya, you can tell me, I made it clear to you that there's nothing in you that I reject, you can talk to me."

"I don't want you to know my true name, that's why I treated you with indifference this past week. I thought you would find it out sooner or later if I'd let myself go, the way you want me to and the way I was doing in my first two days here. It was easy to know your true name by the way you laid yourself bare for me."

Eragon seemed surprised.

"You know my true name?"

Arya smiled sadly.

"I ultimately figured it out during our conversation about Murtagh and Nasuada, after observing you changing before my eyes for ten years. You have the habit of being quite transparent when talking with me."

His cheeks flushed.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"It's not an easy name to understand, is it? I'm still digesting it."

Eragon looked embarrassed. Lowering his head, he said without any trace of the confidence he showed earlier.

"No, it's not. I just wished you had told me then, so I could explain it to you. There are things in there that you might misinterpret, and..."

"Eragon." He looked back at her. "It's all right. You said you don't reject anything in me, well, the same goes for you. What I meant by difficult to understand is that it's impressive, big, heroic even. And tragic, solemn, important. Not that I think bad of you for it, it's quite the opposite."

"So, you're not scared?"

She smiled kindly.

"Of what? Your overwhelming knowledge of the world or your deep feelings for me?"

She saw him gulp.

"Both."

Her hand was raised in the air waiting for him to close the distance and take it in his own. Eragon stood up, took her hand and sat by her side on the bed.

"I feel nothing but pride of the person you have become. I'm proud that I'm the one you chose to keep in your heart. I'm only scared of myself, but this is not your concern, it's something I need to work on by my own."

Eragon seemed to be close to tears, as he brought her hand to his lips. The touch of his lips on the back of her hand was warm and comfortable, but also scratchy because of his beard. It wasn't unpleasant though, it was a satisfying type of roughness.

"Loving you was never a choice, Arya." He spoke onto her skin. "But I understand if loving me is."

He disarmed her once more. No, loving him was never a choice either. She wanted to scream that, she wished she was free to do so, to let him know that everything he did was just another reason for her to want him. Like a moth to a flame, so deadly drawn, yet so oblivious to its terrible fate. Arya didn't know exactly where her feelings for him would take her, but she was sure the end was terrible. Even if she wasn't strong enough to keep him at a great distance —that ship had sailed away at the moment he knocked on her door —, she would have to raise some safety walls between them. That she was sure she could do.

"Don't mind me if I choose not to, then. For our own good." Arya tried to use the kindest tone she was capable of, still his expression broke her heart. She didn't lie, she really believed she could stay away, which didn't make it any easier to say.

Eragon didn't speak. He just shot her a desperate look before he grasped her hand very tightly between his own and took it to his chest. He then closed his eyes in a pained grimace. That's how he stayed for a couple of minutes, trying to console himself, until she managed to talk again. It looked like he was sinking in a cold and deep lake and the only thing keeping him afloat was his grip on her hand. She hated doing that to him. She hated that her choices brought so much pain to his heart. At the same time, it puzzled her how deep his feelings for her came to be. From an infatuated teenager to a devoted man, much has changed in the way he loved her, but the love itself was still there, not giving any evidence of extinguishing itself any time soon.

"How can you do it? How can you love me this much?" She asked under her breath.

He raised his eyes to find hers, and she almost wished he didn't, for they were clouded with unshed tears.

"I try to remember a time when I didn't, but it feels wrong, incomplete, so my mind gives up." He squeezed her hand, and she noticed he was doing a big effort to make the words come out. "But honestly, I don't know. I loved you before I even met you. It wasn't lust, I mean, not only lust, at least. It was always love, but not like this. You were right. My feelings for you did change in five, ten years. What I felt before is not like what I feel now. This love is patient, is resilient. It doesn't listen solely to desire or get fooled by it, even it being strong too, you know that. It understands that, if you decide to choose someone else or nobody at all, it will remain alive, changing and adapting, but always growing. This flame will always be alive." His last words made her remember the conversation they had about life being like a candle, burning away. She feared they would burn in different rates if they kept running around each other for too long.

He studied her eyes, hoping she would say something to finally soothe his heart.

She didn't say anything though, unable to let go of his captivating gaze, so he continued.

"I know that you can't possibly feel right now what I feel, and it's all right. I know that I shouldn't choose someone that can't choose me too, but I'll wait for you, how long it takes, until you can love me back." Her heart clenched. "Only if you tell me that there's a chance of one day you love me just enough to meet me halfway." He pleaded.

Arya already did. So how could she answer to his pleading? How could she say she would never meet him half way without lying about how she felt? How honest was she willing to be?

"The day I introduced you to Fírnen, I told you maybe, but that was before you said you were leaving. Now, ten years after that, you defied my expectations and kept on loving me, and I'm sure I would've already met you halfway if you hadn't left, but you did."

"Oh, it's my fault? It's my fault you don't love me back? How can you be so cruel?"

Eragon let go of her hand and walked to the door, looking more hurt than he's ever looked, if it was possible.

When he placed his hand on the door knob, his body started trembling at the same time he heard her hush voice speaking to herself. He turned to look at her with surprise and saw her standing up. She wanted to run to him, hug him and protect him from herself, their worst enemy, but she simply spoke his true name, expecting to gain more time to think what to do before she lost him forever. She wasn't so sure anymore if it's human nature to want all or nothing, all that she knew at that moment was that she's hurt him so irrevocably, that going back to their smooth friendship of before was impossible, and moving forward to the ravishing romance he craved was equally problematic. They would have to settle at a middle ground, somewhere between having it all and ruining them for good.

"Arya?" He mumbled. "Why did you say..."

She walked to him, her forehead was creased. Eragon let go of the door knob and came closer to her. She covered the rest of the distance between them and pressed her lips on his ears. In a whisper, she repeated his new true name. His body trembled once more in recognition, and a cold feeling of fear hit her core. What if he ran away knowing that not only she knew the extension of his love for her after ten years, but that she chose not to act on it, thinking she blamed him for their misfortune, just when she decided to go for the middle ground?

When she stepped back to look at him, what she saw couldn't be as far away from fear as possible or even rejection.

He was confused, hurt. His eyes were watery and a single tear dropped and rested on his cheek. Eragon lifted his hand to wipe it. After he did it, he motioned to take his hand away, but she grabbed it in her own and held him in a firm grip.

"I don't blame you for anything."

"It sounded like you did."

"I know." That was the moment for her to make a decision, break him completely and forever or be honest and endanger her reason and duty. Could she fix the damaged made when she said she wouldn't choose him? What a mess she's made. If she could punch herself for being so sloppy in dealing with her emotions she would.

Arya looked deeply inside his eyes and knew the decision was already taken. "There's a lot I wish to tell you..." She paused as he frowned expectantly. "...but I can't, unless you promise me one thing."

"You're asking for a lot from me tonight, Arya. Am I not beaten enough for you? Must you put me through even more?"

"You wish to leave and we never speak of it again? Of us? You're free to do so, but I'm just not so sure if I will be open to talk about it whenever you feel like it." Her intention was not to make it sound like a threat, but it did, so she hoped he would forgive her rudeness, among all the other things she hoped he would forgive as well.

Eragon freed his hand from her grip and brought it to his face, where it met with his other hand, and rubbed his eyes.

"Fine. What is it?" He exhaled.

"I wish to tell you my true name, for I don't want to hurt you anymore than I already have. I think you find some comfort when you hear it. But I ask you not to demand more than I can give to you right now. Not now, not today."

"And what is it, that you can give me today?"

"A middle ground. Somewhere between friendship and complete surrender."

He smiled sadly.

"I'm not sure you can give it to me either. You haven't been a good friend lately."

Arya sighed.

"I know, but I explained why. Please, promise it to me, Eragon, and things can go back to being good between us. I can even explain how I came to the unfortunate decision of shutting you out, but you must swear you won't ask for more than this."

"And what exactly is this?"

She paused. What is the middle ground between being friends and lovers?

"I guess we will find out with time."

"You know I have the means to revoke any oath I take in this language, right?"

She started to feel annoyed with his hesitance.

"I trust you won't, or will you?"

He shook his head.

"So? Do you promise?"

"I promise I won't ask to be more than your... friend unless you allow me to."

Feeling a little calmer, she moved forward and involved him in an embrace, with her arms around his shoulders. They were almost the same height, so it was easy for her to reach his ear and speak quietly, as to hide her name from the curiosity of a crowd that wasn't there.

Recognition ran through her body, and she heard him gasp. When she was ready to back up to face him, she felt his arms enlace her waist, making her to stay where she was.

"Say it again," his voice was hoarse with emotion, "please?"

She took a deep breath and whispered it again. His hands grasped the back of her silk robe as she spoke.

After what it felt like a minute, Eragon let go of her clothing and backed away. He had unshed tears in his eyes, and she knew a torrent of questions was coming her way. She smiled gently and waited, preventing herself from touching his face or hand again, what she suspected would send him in another rush of emotion.

"What… when? How?"

"Very eloquent, poet. How do you expect to write me a poem if you can't articulate the words properly?" She tried to tease him into being calm.

Eragon shook his head and cleared his throat.

"Sorry. I'm a little confused right now."

She nodded still smiling.

"I understand." Arya held a hand out for him, that he grabbed and let himself be led to the bed, where they sat down. She took a deep breath and figured she was the one to make sense of her name for him. A lot of it he already knew, for it remained the same as before, but the part regarding Eragon was new and full of doubts. It wasn't as deep and clear as her share in his name, not as strong and lyrical either. It was confused, unorganized and too intense.

"I felt it happening on the way back to Ellesméra alongside Roran and Fírnen, after telling you goodbye."

He frowned and his voice came out a little high pitched for him.

"You started to have feelings for me just days after I left?"

His perplexed reaction looked extremely funny, and she failed her task of trying not to laugh. Seeing how his confusion amused his audience, Eragon frowned even more and turned his face away, red of anger.

"Forgive me." She pleaded recomposing herself. "Eragon." She called. Reluctant, he turned to her again. "Of course I didn't start to have feelings for you only after you left, what happened after you left was the change in my name. What would be the sense in only loving you after your departure?"

"None, no sense at all. And it's beyond cruel." His hurtful tone made her want to comfort him, but at the same time reminded her of his outbursts of anger and impulsiveness of his younger self. It made her remember that, despite his new found patience and wisdom, he was still very young, not even thirty years of age. She smiled gently.

"I started to develop these feelings for you during our time together with the Varden. I knew it was happening, but couldn't act on it, neither did I want to. I don't even know what to do with it now!" She let out a bitter laugh. "When the war was over and Galbatorix was dead, I thought we would have time to recollect, see things in a new light, make sense out of our feelings." She put her hand on his shoulder. "Let's just say you surprised me more than I like to admit when you announced your departure. And I'm not blaming you, just being honest. I felt lost, like you took away my chance to choose my path for myself, without you even knowing the harm you were causing in here." She pointed to her own heart.

He sighed. His anger was vanished from his expression, instead he held a sad look. Eragon looked away around the room. Arya followed his gaze, and saw that the candles she had lit on the side table and on her desk were almost going out.

"So, if you already felt it, why it wasn't in your name when you first told me? What made it change?"

"Isn't obvious?" She questioned with a bitter tone. She wasn't mad at him, but with their circumstances. She cursed their fate for ten years, not because she thought he was her happiness, for she didn't hold any romantic fantasies of finding the one and suddenly be free of all pain and hurt. Arya wanted to choose her own fate, wanted to reflect on the possible outcomes when taking a step into the unknown. But she was left with little to no choice when Eragon and Saphira decided to leave, they chose for her. She would've wanted to help them raise the new dragons and protect the Eldunarí, she was in fact looking forward to it. But that was never her choice. "Isn't it obvious…" She repeated, "that pain cuts deeper than joy? You left and I felt it so deep in me that my own essence changed."

Eragon opened a timid smile and saw her lips curve in a smile as well.

"Aye. It makes sense."

"I was afraid that you would know how I feel and pursue me even more, to which I'm not sure I would be able to resist."

"Why would you even want to resist if you in fact do have feelings for me?"

She closed her eyes, trying to organize the arguments so well-thought by her in the case this question emerged.

"I believe I have a particular mission as queen, which I should not disclose to you, but it's enough to say that if I let my personal matters take too much of my time and focus I will fail, and tragedy can befall not only my people, but all the people of Alagaësia."

His eyes narrowed.

"Who's not telling important information now?"

"That's different. You never wanted to know details of my duty as queen, so you could remain impartial. This is one of them."

Eragon sighed and nodded.

"Fine. But I don't understand why your choice of mate could interfere with any political matters."

"It does if this mate is you. You are the Leader of the Riders and a human, more powerful than any of the elves that oppose me. It was a struggle even trying to set the agreement of visiting Mount Arngor once every ten years, for they did not want me to come at all. And that's all I can say about it."

His face started to flush with anger.

"Those stuck-up lords! Who they think they are to interfere in your personal decisions or even your decisions as a Rider?"

She squeezed his hand lightly.

"They are the council, their opinion matters. I'm the queen, but my decision can't be imperious, no, we decide it all as a whole, taking in consideration the interests of all groups. Of course, I have the final word, but I don't take a step without hearing them."

"Even on the personal level?" He was appalled with how entangled she was in her duty. They had very different approaches on commanding thier people, and she suspected he felt lucky his position required way less restraints than hers.

"If it affects the other instances of my life, including my duties, then yes, they have a say in it. That's why I never wanted to take the crown."

"So why did you?"

She smiled and brought his hand to her lap.

"The mission, remember? There's a lot to it, but I can't tell you or I will be breaking our agreement of not sharing political details of my people."

He just nodded, but didn't show any contentment. On the contrary, he looked unmotivated, tired.

"Eragon." Arya called and grabbed both sides of his face. "I'm sorry. I know now that my choices were as hurtful as yours, if not worse. But this is something only I can do. I know you understand."

Eragon stared at her, his brown eyes almost black under the dim light of the dying candles.

"I do. I just wished things were different."

"Me too." Her arms went around his shoulders to bring him into an embrace. "But since we're on this middle ground, we can hope one day things are different. We never know, right?"

"Right. Not now, not today. But someday." His lips moved against the skin of her neck and she felt a shiver run through her entire body.

"One day, my Rider, one day."

Not today, of course not, only yesterday she cried about another lover, but trusted him enough to open up about it. Only today she hurt him so badly it was a miracle that he was inside her arms like that. Her political opponents would come out swinging at her if they saw how close their queen and the Head Rider were, but she had to be strong if she wanted to keep the right balance in her life. At least she wasn't alone. It would be a long way, but he would be always patient, just as he promised her, of that she was sure.

"One day, my Queen, one day..." He said and leaned back to kiss her forehead, which she allowed with great satisfaction, just before repeating his true name in the intimacy of their shared embrace. She felt electric waves shaking his core from the touch of her warm hands on his back and the power of his name. Her cheek rested on his shoulder as his hands held her waist firmly, feeling the soft curves of her figure. She raised her head to look at him, her expression was relaxed, playful even.

"You owe me a poem."


Crawling under Saphira's wing to rest for the couple hours left before the wake-up time, Eragon felt more exhausted then he's ever felt.

Some conversation you two had, little one.

Hum. He could barely respond to his partner.

Did I do well not to intervene? I told Fírnen not to do it as well.

Aye.

Good. I'm glad I can get back to being friends with Arya. I missed her.

Feeling his waking dreams involving him, the last thing he heard was Fírnen's incredibly low voice entering his mind.

Rest, Shadeslayer. We will watch over your sleep.

Not strangely at all, his dreams were all about being held tenderly in a warm embrace, smelling the soft scent of crushed pine needles and seeing green all around.

Chapter Text

The last day of the Games was as bright and hot as Eragon expected. Walking to the arena had become a task of resistance, with the sun burning his face or the back of his neck.

We should grow trees along the pathway, for the next time. Remind me to discuss it with Blödhgarm, Saphira, please?

Sure, little one. It's a good idea. She was flying high in the sky with Fírnen, preparing to land at the arena, while her Rider walked alongside his honored guests.

Attending the Games for the last time also meant that he would be saying goodbye to his friends, the ones heading west the next day. Remembering the past two weeks felt like trying to retell a too big of a story, a lot had happened in just a fortnight, but it also went by so fast. A memorable chapter of his life indeed.

Of his students, only Renir and Avelina, his sparring partner, managed to qualify for the finals in sword fighting, in the general, elf and human categories. Naturally, Renir was the most skilled fighter Eragon has ever taught and had a promising future ahead, if it was not for his short temper. On the other hand, only a few Riders achieved the same level of success in other competitions, but Eragon was especially anxious to see how would they all go on their performances.

"Archery is the first competition of the day, correct?" Nasuada asked.

They walked together, her arm around his own.

"Yes. After that we will have the Javelin Throw, Wrestling, Jousting and finally Sword fighting. The champions will be awarded at the closing ceremony at the end of the day."

She smiled.

"Busy day ahead!"

He returned the smile.

"Yes, your majesty."

They headed to the grand stand, where they took their usual sits, with Arya by his right side, surprisingly accompanied by the white raven, Blagden. He had been missing during the whole duration of the Games, but that day he sat attentive on the back of his queen's chair.

Saphira placed herself with Fírnen and the other dragons at the opposite end across the field, and Eragon wondered if Thorn and Murtagh would make an appearance at last.

He didn't have to wonder for much longer, however. Thorn thrown himself from his niche's opening high up in the mountain and landed right beside Saphira, where Murtagh jumped out of his back and took a sit on the bleachers. The audience kept quiet for excruciating instants, until Nasuada's bard introduced the first competitors and opened the last day of the Arngor Games.

For everyone's surprise, the archery champion in the general category was to be decided on the last round, when only a human young man and an elf Lady were the ones still running for the title. The Rider qualified for the finals missed two shots by an inch, what was enough to make him fail in keeping up with the boy and the elf. Of the five finalists, they were the only ones to hit the target exactly in the middle with every shot. Both of them had another try, if the draw was confirmed, then they would have to share the title.

First went the elf. She held her impressive elven bow, that Eragon knew from experience to be a powerful weapon. Her bow arm raised and steadied itself on the right position, then the other arm followed, arrow in hand. She pulled the string to its limit and after a brief pause her fingers released the arrow. They all saw as her silver hair danced with the morning breeze that assaulted her arrow at the exact moment it left her bow, changing its intended course. A snarl came out of her noble lips when the target was pierced half an inch to the right from the center, causing the audience to gasp in surprise. The Lady had been betrayed by the wind. A courteous but contained round of applause echoed through the arena.

The human boy took his turn. Eragon noticed his bow wasn't less impressive, even being obviously made by mortal hands. He figured the boy was a young noble, son of some Lord, or maybe someone of great possessions.

"Arya." He called in a quiet tone. She leaned in but didn't turn to him, for her focus was completely on the competition. "Is this the youngest son of Lord Tarrant? I heard the bard say something about the boy being from Ceunon."

"That's him. His brother is the Lord now after Tarrant's death."

Eragon remembered how the elves had joined the fight against Galbatorix. Lord Tarrant started to cut down the trees of the elven forest to build war machines. Of course Queen Islanzadí couldn't look away from such criminal activity.

"Are they a problem for you, his family?"

She shook her head.

"They don't cut our trees anymore." A fierce grin appeared on her face, and he feared the day that Lord would ever consider laying a hand on a single tree of Du Weldenvarden like his father did.

The young aristocrat of Ceunon didn't seem shaken by the expectations and with confidence launched his arrow that hit the target with perfection, making himself the first champion of the Arngor Games. The public stood to their feet and clapped with enthusiasm, even the leaders seemed satisfied with the win.

"Great performance!" Eragon heard Orrin exclaiming from his place on the front row.

Arya moved closer to Eragon to whisper on his ear.

"Should we expect him to join us as a Rider anytime soon?"

She was joking, but Eragon had to admit that having someone with the boy's ability among his students would not be a bad idea. The young Lord then proceeded to win in the human category as well, cementing his dominance in Archery.

The rest of the competitions was as exciting as the first one. The urgals were the big attraction when force was required, so they dominated the general categories for both Javelin Throw and Wresting. A bloody and long battle crowned a young Kull as champion of the last one against the urgal Rider who was supposed to graduate next spring. They were both so battered at the end, that the healers had to intervene with magic once the fight was over, to make sure they wouldn't perish before the audience's eyes. A great glory, as Nar Garzhvog stated, to demonstrate such bravery and ferocity, but he regretted the use of magic to keep the participants alive and well, for battle wounds demanded to be felt, even if it meant death. Eragon only agreed with only the first half of it, dreading the sight of a dead competitor on his Arena, especially it being a Rider.

After that, they had a break for lunch. On the way to the dining tent, Angela caught up with Eragon and expressed her desire to stay back while the others returned to Alagaësia.

"Any specific reason why?" Eragon asked her.

"If I were someone else, I would think you were being rude with such question, Shadeslayer."

"But you are not. So?"

"I might have a reason or two. But mostly I found a great need for a herbalist around here, so I thought I should make myself useful."

Eragon didn't seem convinced, and he was not, but whatever her reasons were to stay, Angela was a difficult individual to understand, so he just decided to leave it at that.

"Fine, you can stay."

"And who said I was asking for permission?" With a severe look, she strode ahead with Solembum at her heels and left Eragon behind, with an incredulous look on his face.

Eragon heard a quiet laugh coming from his right side and turned to see Arya's amused expression.

"Having fun?" He said annoyed by her mockery.

"Very. It's a good day, isn't it?"

He was forced to agree with her.

"Aye. Today is a good day. Tomorrow is a different story."

Arya seemed to sympathize with his reluctance and placed a hand on his forearm.

"Saying goodbye is never easy, but leave tomorrow's concerns for tomorrow, and just enjoy today."

Eragon nodded and smiled to her.

"You're right."

Lunch was served with abundance of fresh vegetables and fruits. Ale flowed freely and the spirits were light. Eragon looked around the tent and rejoiced to see his students, Riders and dragons, enjoying each other's company, as well as spending time with the travelers from all races. If his plan of placing the Riders as teachers throughout the entire Alagaësia worked, then they would have to get to know all kinds of people and be comfortable around them. A frustrated sigh came out of his lips though when he saw Renir, the only one of his students to be isolated in the back.

Arya looked at him with puzzled eyes.

"Anything wrong?"

"Renir."

"Oh." She knew what he was referring to.

Before sending the young elf to Eragon's care, Arya alerted him that Renir was a reluctant student, full of anger and indiscipline, atypical of elves. Eragon wanted to know the reason for him to be that way, and she simply stated he had his share of heartbreak in his short life and held the indifferent stance to keep people at a safe distance. For Eragon, it sounded like a vague explanation, for everyone there had experienced some kind of loss along the way to become who they were, and it was not a good reason to be rude and aloof like Renir was.

"I thought he was connecting well with his sparring partner, I thought you had mentioned that a while ago."

"He was, but I guess they had a fight, because she refuses to train with him now, which is making my work with him so much more difficult."

Arya seemed concerned, and Eragon thought she was right to feel this way. Usually their students were excited to be there, learning to be a Rider, sharing the experience with their dragons. But not Renir, he was always excluded from the rest, in the quiet company of his partner, Vance, a light blue male dragon of three years old.

"What are you going to do about it? He's been studying under you for two years now and he still hasn't made peace with his position as a Rider. What Vance thinks about it?"

"Vance answers politely what is asked of him, but keeps quiet about his Rider. He's obedient and very dedicated. He has a talent he shares with Renir, who despite being difficult is still a brilliant fighter and scholar, he just has trouble following orders and respecting his superiors. Well, mostly me... He respects Saphira and the Spellcasters, but me he despises." He took a big gulp of his ale. "I'm working on a new method, that will anger him even further in the beginning, but if it works, I'll have one loyal Rider someday."

Curiosity sparked in Arya's eyes.

"Method?"

"I will make him my shadow. He will go wherever I go, do whatever I do and meet whoever I meet."

She seemed confused.

"What good can come from that?"

He looked to his right where she was expecting for his explanation, fork paused halfway to her mouth.

"You can't teach without love. Right now, I don't love teaching him, and he definitely doesn't love learning from me." He took another sip of ale and continued. "Love comes from admiration; admiration comes from respect; and respect comes from knowledge. He doesn't know me. He will never respect me, let alone love me, if he does not know me."

Arya moved her food to her mouth and chewed slowly, allowing him to do the same. When she was ready to speak, she nodded in understanding.

"It makes sense. If he spends time with you, he'll know you, being easier for him to create a bond with you and eventually accept your teachings."

"Exactly."

"He can also come to hate you even more, on the other hand." Arya's tone was so casual that it sounded funny to his ears.

"I suppose that's a risk. But I need to try. I could never live with myself if I abandoned a reluctant Rider to his own luck, without the proper guidance, at risk of him turning against those he was supposed to protect." Without a trace of humor, his speech was full of reference to the tyrant Galbatorix and the Forsworn.

His biggest fear was to teach someone who would eventually use the knowledge received from him to harm others. Eragon would spend hours and hours searching in the dragon's memories, now his memories, the moment where everything went wrong, the moment where the Mad King's teachers had failed him, so he wouldn't make the same mistakes. But apart from a harsh word here, or an indifferent look there, no mistakes were made, yet the biggest evil Alagaësia has ever seen came out directly from the ranks of the Dragon Riders.

"He won't. You will succeed, I'm sure of that." Her certainty expressed in the Ancient Language soothed his heart, even for just a moment.

Feeling like he should show Renir his support in the competition, Eragon excused himself from their table and walked all the way to the back of the tent, where the silver haired elf ate in the company of Vance.

Renir was a young elf, considered a child among his people, being only two years younger than Eragon. He was born and raised in Osilon, and later Eragon found out he had stood in line to touch Saphira's egg every time Arya would bring it to his hometown, its final destination from the Varden. Eragon thought that part of his reluctance toward his teachings was resentment for Saphira choosing Eragon instead of himself, but that was just a theory yet to be proven.

Saphira, do you want to come with me to wish Renir good luck at the finals?

I'll speak to him later. I think this should be your moment alone with him.

Right. He wasn't so sure about his desire to be alone with the angry elf, but she was right, he needed to be the one to wave the white flag.

Eragon approached his students and greeted them, to which they responded accordingly, gaining more respect from Vance than from Renir.

"I only wish to tell you good luck, Renir. You will face mighty opponents at the finals today."

Renir looked with coldness at Eragon, his bright blue eyes piercing his teacher's soul.

"Thank you, Master." He almost spat the last word.

Eragon took a deep breath.

"Look, Renir, I have an assignment for you for when the Games are over and Queen Arya and Fírnen have left. Come look for me the next day of their departure, all right?"

Renir appeared intrigued, but didn't ask for further details.

"All right."

"Good." Eragon felt out of place there, but tried to look confident. "Good luck again. And if there's something I can help you with, don't be afraid to ask."

Again, without displaying anything than coldness, Renir simply thanked. Eragon left his student's sight feeling like a failure.

This method better work, Saphira.

What if it doesn't? Do you have a plan B?

Eragon felt his heart growing heavier with the thought.

No. I'm going for Plan A with everything I've got.

Then if doesn't work it won't be your problem anymore. Let it be.

In theory she was right, but Eragon was sure he would never let it be, for he would always feel responsible for the actions his Riders would take.

Back to the arena, Jousting was as entertaining as the other competitions. Only the best knights of the Broddring Kingdom and Surda competed in the finals, and with each strike of their lances the audience would rise to their feet, clapping enthusiastically. The champion was a surdan Lord, a prestigious member of Orrin's court, which made the monarch very pleased, and Eragon thought he saw a tense exchange of looks between him and Queen Nasuada.

Next and finally, the sword fighting matches started. Every race had its own category, that crowned two Riders as champions, the senior dwarf and a human girl, Renir's former sparring partner, Avelina. Renir fought twice in a row, in the elf category and the general one.

The first one he won easily against a warrior from Ellesméra, member of Arya's guard. When Renir dealt the last blow to the elf's chest, Arya clenched her fists on her lap, probably wondering how a youngling such Renir could defeat an experienced warrior like her guardsman. Eragon knew how. His student's talent was unprecedented, the only flaws in his game being his arrogance and recklessness, to what Eragon could easily relate.

All the blades used in the Games were dull, but a strong blow could still hurt badly, and that was almost what happened to the Renir's adversary. His armor was deeply dented on the chest, making it hard for the elf to breathe. For a tense minute after the match was over, the healers tried to rid him from the metal that constricted his lungs and watched as his face was turning red. When they finally succeeded, the audience relaxed and applauded both competitors for a great fight.

Without much time to rest, Renir positioned himself to fight again in the general category, this time his opponent was Avelina. Eragon felt his stomach turning upside down and feared that at least one of them would get out of the arena immensely hurt. He stood up and moved to the front on the grand stand, making sure he didn't block anyone's view, and grabbed the parapet.

Relax, little one. They will be fine.

I don't know, Saphira. I think they are really mad at each other.

Enough to cause harm on one another?

I hope not. I really hope not, because if there are two mightier fighters than them, I wouldn't know.

Be vigilant then. You might need to intervene.

And that was exactly what Eragon had to do.

With incredible agility, Renir and Avelina traded blows that failed to hit its targets. Renir's sword missed Avelina's rib cage for a tenth of an inch once, to which she retaliated with a strike to the knee, diverted by the edge of his shield. Each hit to their shields would make a loud bang that echoed throughout the arena, where the audience was too impressed to say a word. After all that mortal dance around each other, it still wasn't clear who held the advantage.

It wasn't until Renir was able to mark Avelina's right shoulder that the fight started to turn out favorable to the elf. After that, it seemed that the girl lost all her power and capability to defend herself, for he hit her several times in a row, to the point where she would only raise her beaten shield and let Renir's sword punish it.

"It's enough. Call it off, come on." Eragon pleaded under his breath, too low for the judge to hear.

Renir didn't seem to mind that his fellow Rider was under such aggression and continued to strike her, his anger pouring out with each impact of his sword on her shield, her helmet and armor. Losing all the strength she had to resist his assault, Avelina let her shield fly away after a particular powerful blow and raised her sword to stop an attack to her face. Their blades crossed between them for only a few seconds before Renir pushed her backwards with his foot, making her fall on her back, her sword thrown to the side.

"Come on, call it off, it's enough!" Eragon's voice resounded across the field, the only sound to be heard besides Renir's boots marching toward where Avelina was found on her back. She looked pale and had a big pair of wide brown eyes, afraid of what was coming next. She was too shocked to move.

The judge ignored Eragon's words and followed the rules of the competition, that stated that a match would be finished only if one of the fighters was unconscious or severely hurt; in a clear state of submission, like a blade pressed to the throat; or if one gave up the fight, by doing it verbally or by crossing both arms in front of one's face. Avelina didn't do neither of those, so Renir kept on advancing, ready to throw the final blow to her head. When he was close enough and his hand had made almost the whole way down to strike her face, Eragon raised his own hand, and from it a wave of blue energy emanated, sweeping the field around the two Riders and throwing Renir several feet back, away from a very scared Avelina.

"I said enough!" Eragon's voice came out almost in a roar, his dissatisfaction was evident in his tone. It wasn't too loud, but it was enough to make all heads turn in his direction. "I said enough!" He repeated and jumped down from the grand stand, at least ten feet high, and strode to pick up Avelina from the ground.

He grabbed her by the armpits and stood her up.

"Are you all right?"

She only nodded and let herself be led by Eragon to the medical tent. When they were almost out of the field, Eragon turned around and noticed the audience was still observing him.

"Well, go on! I believe you have a new champion." He said to the judge in charge of the match.

The man seemed to wake up from a trance and walked to the middle of the field, where he announced Renir as the new champion of the Arngor Games.

Dealing with Renir's temper was hard. He felt drained. All he wanted to do was to go to his room and climb on his bed and let his dreams take him away from there. So, after making sure Avelina was all right and the attention had been into the celebrating the champions, Eragon ran to his chambers to find some peace. When he opened his door, however, he was surprised with something on top of his dresser, next to his sword, Brisingr. It was a fairth. He got closer and realized it was a perfect image of his family, Roran, Katrina and Ismira, gathered on the front porch of a farm house, the house from his childhood, rebuilt almost exactly as the way he remembered. The sunset colors on their figures made it so beautiful, that nostalgia hit him like a dragon's tail to the face. He felt tears coming to his eyes as he picked it up to look at it closely.

"Is this what you had in mind?" Arya's soft voice coming from the open door made him turn fast.

Eragon's eyes didn't know which image they should focus on, the beautiful fairth in his hands or the woman of his dreams standing at his door.

He nodded and wiped away a silent tear that fell from his right eye.

"But I didn't win the bet."

Arya smiled and leaned on against the doorframe crossing her arms on her chest.

"Consider it a thank you gift."

Eragon walked closer to her until he was an arm's length away from her.

"For what?"

She shrugged.

"For everything." Eragon didn't quite understand what he had done to deserve her gratitude, so he just frowned in confusion. "For your hospitality. For being who you are. A good teacher, a good friend, our leader. I made this last night and put it in here this morning after you left, without knowing what would happen today, with Renir and Avelina." His confusion grew even more. She smiled again. "You realize you used wordless magic to avoid your student from getting hurt, right? You risked your life to protect her."

"Oh, that. Right." He cleared his throat and looked down to his family. "Yes, I know. It was nothing. I've been stopping fights since day one, I'm already used to it."

"It was impressive nonetheless. And dangerous." Her expression became serious. "Do you do that a lot?"

"Yes. I told you."

"No, not the fights, the wordless magic."

Eragon hesitated. How much should he tell her?

Everything. Tell her everything. She already knows your true name.

Saphira! I'm sorry, I ran upstairs without even telling you.

Don't worry, little one. I understand. Now, tell her.

What if she reprehends me?

Saphira seemed to laugh at his childish thought.

I don't think there's much she can do. You are her superior, after all.

Right.

I'll be at the dining tent. Meet me when you're done.

Of course. See you later.

Eragon stared at Arya and saw her expecting, but patient eyes looking back at him.

"I've been practicing this kind of magic for a decade now. Since the Eldunarí showed me the vision of Murtagh fighting a group of magicians who performed wordless magic."

Arya straightened her posture end stepped forward to look deeper in his eyes.

"You are telling me that you are proficient in the use of magic without the Ancient Language?"

"Aye. I am."

She took a while to process the information, her brows formed a "v" as Eragon watched the thoughts running wild behind her emerald orbs.

"What exactly can you do?"

"Let's just say that defeating Galbatorix now would be a lot easier than it was."

"How much easier?"

"With the Eldunarí? A lot."

"And without them?"

He paused to think about it.

"I think... I wouldn't go into battle without such vast quantity of energy. But let's just say that a I did. I could easily draw the energy necessary from the different forms of life around us. It wouldn't distract me like it did before, although I'm not sure how much energy they would provide me with."

She seemed tempted to look around for the life he mentioned, and it made him chuckle.

He could see with his mind's eye the little creatures crawling on the walls of the mountain like they were bright stars in the sky if he paid attention. It didn't even have to be a very concentrated attention, like when he did when he was learning how to perceive all the beings around him. It was more like a background noise that he turned off for the majority of the time, for he thought too much information could be stressful. After all, one of the joys of life, he figured, was to be surprised, just like when she spoke behind his back minutes earlier without him sensing her, and it made the hair on the back of his head stand up as she were speaking in his ear. For moments like that, he thought magic could only get in the way.

"What else?" She whispered.

"What you want me to do? Ask, and we shall see if I can."

"Close the door." And a second later, the door was slammed shut with a loud bang. His eyes never left hers and no sound came from his mouth.

"That was too easy. Can't you think of something more challenging?"

"How do I know you're not using words inside your head?"

"You seem distressed, Arya. I'm sure that if you tried to do the same, you would easily achieve the same level proficiency than me, if not higher."

"It's just... You shouldn't be messing with this kind of magic. It's dangerous. If your mind strays away even for just a bit, you can kill yourself."

Eragon didn't even ask for her permission and intruded her mind like it was the house of an old friend. Sensing his touch on her thoughts, Arya didn't resist his intrusion and allowed the contact. She gasped, however, and he thought he had hurt her.

I'm sorry, did I hurt you? Eragon spoke inside their minds.

No, I just... Your mind, it seems different than I remember. Vast. Powerful.

He wasn't sure if it was a compliment or not, so he smiled lightly at her.

Yes, that's what I want to show you. Saphira and I, we trained our minds tirelessly for the past years, so we could be the best versions of ourselves. She wanted to be wiser and calmer, worthy of respect. I just wanted to be ready for when the time comes that I need to fight again, even though I hope it never happens. So, my mind is not so easily distracted if I don't allow it to be.

She nodded slightly for him to go on.

We acquired all the memories we could fit inside our heads, but mostly we tried to comprehend the information they contained. To make sense of what we see is a powerful exercise. I for example can spend hours and hours in meditative state without any physical sensation, like I'm free from my physical form. Saphira can expand her consciousness to a great extent, it's possible that she's almost reaching the most eastern point of the Hadarac. We reshape and exercise our minds so often that it had become second nature to us. I must remind you, Arya, that you met us in our formative years, and they are far from finished. We will change constantly, and each time you see us, there will something new to discover about us.

After the explanation he gave her, he allowed her to observe his every thought, without reservations. As to prove that he was indeed performing magic with only the power of his intention, he made the door open and then close slowly again. There was a key in the lock that he turned also very slowly, never looking away from her. He felt her inspect his mind with all the attention she had, even when she insisted in entering places he considered to be the most private corners of his being. The embarrassment of having her so intimately attached to his consciousness never came; on the contrary, he felt at peace, in the company of someone he trusted with more than his life, sharing what he thought no one else would understand better than she would.

Arya closed her eyes as she watched the memories of his practices, when he was alone in the eyrie trying to move some runes on the board, or fighting Blödhgarm on the training area, the elf wielding a sword against Brisingr, apparently floating by itself in the air and attacking its opponent with fury. She also wandered between the images of him and Saphira sitting in complete silence in the Hall of Colors and how straining mentally it was for them to do so.

Eragon was surprised by her curiosity, once he realized she was accessing not only the memories concerning his training but also his day to day life. Unsure if she was willingly walking further inside his mind or being dragged by it, caught in his mental traps, similar to the hypnotic effect an elf's mind had on a mortal one, Eragon held her shoulder with his free hand and shook her lightly, as to wake her up. Her eyes seemed heavy, like she was savoring a good dream, too good to wake up from.

He leaned in toward her and spoke quietly in her ear.

"Arya, come back. You're drifting away."

She didn't respond, what made him very sure she was trapped inside his mind. So, he reached for her melodious consciousness and started to untangle it from all the poison ivy he had set there, locking his memories away from her grasp, and little by little he felt her music fading, leaving behind only the loneliness of his own thoughts.

"Arya." He called again and watched her eyes slowly opening. "Are you all right?"

"What happened?"

He smiled gently as his hand moved from her shoulder to caress her face.

"You were drifting away. I'm sorry, I should've told you about the traps. But I didn't realize you would be interested in my memories so much."

Arya widened her eyes and stepped back until she was leaning against the door, away from his touch.

"No, Eragon! am the one that should be apologizing to you! I should have never entered your mind like that. I'm so sorry!"

His smile was large this time, as he used an unspoken spell to open the door again, what almost made her lose her balance.

"Come on, let's celebrate and forget about this, all right?"

She shook her head.

"Eragon... I'm sorry."

Seeing that she was truly distressed with the way she acted, he went to the dresser to put the fairth away and closed the distance between them again. Her hands were wrapped by his larger ones as he took them to his chest.

"You didn't enter my mind. I dragged you in, your only sin was not to resist me. If you did I know I would never be able to do so. Once you were there you managed to get caught in one of my defensive traps, again my fault, I should've warned you. Summing up, you have nothing to feel sorry for. And don't say you have."

"But I looked into your memories."

"Anything interesting there?" He knew very well which memory she had lingered on the most, it was the one about the red-haired woman. From all the images and sensations Arya accessed, that one was what puzzled her the most. Eragon thought it was an odd selection of priorities. Or wasn't it?

She narrowed her eyes to him and freed her hands from his grip.

"You know what I saw."

"Well, in my defense, you never asked. Besides, nothing really happened. You know it."

Arya shrugged and turned to leave the room.

"It's none of my concern, anyway."

"Arya!" He called.

"Let's celebrate and forget about that, you said it yourself." She tried to sound carefree, but a hint of annoyance came out too.

He made a note to himself, however, to remember that too much honesty can do as much harm as a well told lie. With that in mind, Eragon let out a sigh before following her down the stairs. When they arrived at the feast, they were already in good terms again, although he figured she was still dwelling on the things she had learned about him that day. Without hesitation, he served ale to them both and motivated her to just relax.

They danced and drank. Not only Eragon and Arya, but the monarchs and the Riders. The common people ate and drank among nobility that night. Even Murtagh enjoyed himself, rehearsing an attempt on being social, spending most of his time talking with Nasuada. Angela, for Eragon's surprise, sat by Renir's side again and kept a heated conversation with the young elf. He wondered what they were talking about.

Eragon tried to give a little bit of his time to each one of his friends. He shared a toast with Orik and a long and emotional conversation with Nasuada about their heartbreaks and losses, that he was sure was fueled heavily by the liquor. Nar Garzhvog informed him and Saphira about the changes going on in the urgal society, and how the Games were a vital part of it. He even invited Eragon "Firesword" and Saphira "Flametongue" to attend the next edition in a year in Ilirea, its traditional host city. They politely declined the invitation, but promised that one day they would arrange it to make it happen.

When the last participants were either too drunk to leave or still engaged in an interesting argument and all the rest had left for the night, Eragon sat by his elven comrades like he did in the first night of the Games. They were clearly exhausted from all the work to make the event be a success, so they sat in silence and enjoyed each other's companionship.

Eragon raised his last cup of ale of the night.

"Thank you all. You did it."

Blödhgarm, Yaela, Ästrith and the others mimicked him, and they all emptied their cups.

The next day, Eragon felt his head throbbing with every beat of his heart. He regretted each drop of ale he downed the night before, for it was making him feel even more miserable at his friends' farewell. One by one, they boarded the boats that would follow down the river to the ocean and around the coast until Surda. The boarding took a long time, and the sun was already strong enough to make him squint and curse the brilliant mind that decided to have the Games during summer, the back of his neck was feeling raw from burning under the sun while standing there at the docks for so long.

Should we grow trees around here too? Saphira teased him.

Or a roof. We should grow a roof over the docks.

She laughed at the pun he made, which made her entire body shake by his side.

I'm glad I amuse you. Now, you could move your head to the left just a bit, so I can stand under you shadow.

Oh, I'm the roof you were talking about? Great! She played offended but did what he asked, minimizing his agony.

I'm never drinking ever again. Eragon grumbled to himself.

Saphira snorted.

So you say. Let's see how it goes next time.

After the goodbyes were said and the boats had left, Thorn landed by the river, where Murtagh jumped to the ground and walked to meet his half-brother, before flying to follow Nasuada's boat.

They hugged and wished each other well.

"Listen." Eragon grabbed Murtagh by the shoulders as he spoke. "Remember what we agreed on. You will handle the affairs of Alagaësia the most impartial way possible. When in doubt, don't hesitate to scry me. If you need help you call for Arya, she will come for you. In the spring, the new Riders will fly to meet you in Ilirea, you will give them the egg and wait for them to return with the one that Arya will take to Ellesméra. If they don't hatch right away, you will have to work on a trading system with Arya."

"Yes, I know. You told me all of that already!" He was impatient, like a child receiving his mother's instructions before leaving to play in the streets.

"Fine! But any doubt, really, you scry me, all right?"

"All right! Now let me go."

Murtagh went in for a last hug before jumping back into Thorn's saddle.

"Do I see you next summer for the Games in Ilirea?" He shouted from up there.

Eragon frowned in a painful expression.

"I wouldn't count on it if I were you, brother. Sorry."

Murtagh smiled.

"Farewell, brother, Saphira! In the worst-case scenario, we will see you two in ten years, then."

Eragon just waved, feeling his misery growing roots inside his chest, and watched as a part of his little family took the sunny skies without knowing when they would be reunited again.

At the same time as Saphira came to his side to protect him from the sun with her shadow, Arya's hand wrapped around his own, in a comforting grip. Fírnen moved to Arya's side, and the four of them stood there, surrounding each other with all the love and friendship they had, until there was nothing left to do besides moving on.

Chapter Text

How long has it been since she last had a free day? A day just for herself, just to enjoy the sweet sensation of doing nothing. No council meetings, no Riders to teach, no Games to attend and not a single decision to make. Well, except for which path to take next, the training area, the Hall of Colors or the library.

These options sound like work to me.

Fírnen wasn't entirely wrong, but he wasn't right either. Yes, Arya would definitely feel tempted to give a suggestion or two about the way the students were preforming with the sword in the training area, or to inspect on how her people were being led by the Lords she left in command, if the Eldunarí showed it to her. If she went to the library, the possibility of her finding an intriguing subject to study about was immense, what would possibly drain all her energy.

However, it had been so long since she last had a sparring session that she thought it would be more fun than anything. Besides, conferring with the Eldunarí could be a great opportunity for her to expand her knowledge and power like Eragon had been doing, even if just a little bit. Who knew what she could find in their infinite archive of information? And finally, she was eager to find new readings, hopefully something freshly written by someone from Mount Arngor, a poem or story.

Arya decided that she had enough time to do it all. She said goodbye to Fírnen at the main hall, from where he headed to meet Saphira and the student dragons on the outside of the mountain, and walked to the training area. She was glad she chose to wear her leather headband instead of the crown and casual clothes, for it would be impractical if she wanted to join in the training.

The clashing sounds could be heard several yards from the training area, as well as the raised voices. It appeared to Arya that the trainees were quarreling with each other, but when she entered the large space with an incredibly high ceiling and stone walls, she noticed they were shouting instructions to their partners. Those who waited on the sidelines helped the ones sparring, and then they switched. The students were organized in small groups, that Arya noticed to be a miscellany of different levels of proficiency. Among the groups, some of Blödhgarm's spellcasters walked giving instructions or correcting a wrong move. They had their own swords unsheathed and often taught by demonstrating instead of speaking, which seemed to Arya the right way to do it, otherwise they would just add another voice to the rumble, at risk of not being heard.

On the other side of the area, opposite to where she entered, she saw Eragon crouched in silence. He didn't have Brisingr. Instead, in his hands he had something that seemed like a bamboo stick. She thought it was the oddest thing to teach the ways of the sword without actually wielding one, but Eragon never did what was expected of him, did he? It amused – and also intrigued – her how unconventional his ways were.

When Eragon acknowledged her presence there, he motioned for her to move to his side, so she encircled the entire training area to where his was. Coming closer, she realized it wasn't a bamboo stick that he had in his hands, but four thin slats of bamboo held together by three leather straps, forming an object similar to a cane.

"Interesting weapon you have there." She spoke in his native tongue, which surprised him.

He then looked to the cane and got up to show her. She grabbed it and twirled it around, noticing it was about the length of Eragon's stretched arm and very light.

"It's a bamboo bat. Good for adjusting sloppy postures." He gave her a mischievous smile.

Arya frowned and returned the bat to him.

"Do they need much correcting?"

"Well, at least once every minute. Is that much?"

He was joking. Good. It would be terrible if he was so strict to the point of hurting his pupils. She didn't really think he was.

Arya let out her melodious laugh.

"It's a bit too much, yes."

Eragon switched to the Ancient Language, still holding an expression of good mood.

"They're good learners. Fast or slow, they learn, nonetheless. After all, what kind of teachers we would be if they didn't?"

Arya nodded, content with his answer.

"I don't really hit them, you know." He had an amused grin in his face. "It only happens when they don't close their guards properly and the bat goes straight to their faces. But that's not my fault."

Arya could imagine Eragon having too much fun with the task of teaching the Riders. In moments like these, she could see how much he looked like Brom – the mischievous grin, the sparkling eyes and the fierce determination. Eragon was born to be a Dragon Rider like no one else she had ever met, except maybe for his father. And they both also shared the vocation for leading. And trouble.

Indeed, his ways of teaching made the student Riders turn into good learners, but also good partners and instructors, for they helped each other with great effort. When she mentioned it to Eragon, a spark passed through his eyes and a big smile illuminated his features. Arya couldn't keep her eyes off of him, for he looked...

"It's a good idea, don't you think? To make them tutor each other? I always feel that I learn a great deal when I'm teaching." His excited tone appealed to her even more.

"Yes. It's a brilliant idea."

Eragon played with the bat, drawing imaginary patterns on the stone floor, while his eyes held hers. It felt to her like a thousand minutes had passed, but none at all, just for the fact that Arya couldn't find a way out of his warm gaze.

He lifted an inquiring brow to her and a coy grin appeared on his lips.

"So... What exactly are you doing here?"

Arya untangled herself from his stare and cleared her throat.

"I guess I came looking for a sparring partner."

Eragon looked around. Arya realized he was trying to match her with someone there, which felt frustrating to her, for she imagined he would make himself available.

"You could try to teach Renir a lesson..." He looked to the only student not working with a group. He was training with Rílven, one of the elven spellcasters, who despite being less talented than the young Rider was far more experienced and managed to subdue his opponent more often than expected. "...or you can have one of the elves to cross blades with you."

"Not you?" She asked expectantly.

She watched as his lips curved in a mocking smirk.

"I don't think it would look good if the queen was defeated by someone using a bamboo bat against Támerlein."

Arya narrowed her eyes. Maybe he had forgotten all the times she defeated him in training, and she would have to remind him. But she guessed their combat would have to wait.

"I won't respond to that." He laughed loud at her annoyance.

"Let's find someone else then."

Eragon looked around again and started to walk toward the elves. Arya thought that fighting one of her subjects could be problematic. They would probably hold back out of fear of hurting their queen. As she needed to be protected like that. And she wasn't quite sure if fighting them would be as engaging as facing Eragon in combat.

Eragon came back to her bringing Ästrith with him.

"Your majesty. It will be an honor to cross blades with you." The elf spoke in a soft voice.

Arya didn't know Ästrith very well, but she seemed to be close to Eragon in a way no one else there was. Ästrith showed a few signs of loyalty during Arya's stay in Mount Arngor that made her think the elf would do his will and follow his commands without hesitation.

"I appreciate it, Ästrith. But you don't have to. I understand you have your duty to fulfill."

"I insist, your majesty."

Eragon's excitement was palpable, still she felt it wasn't right. Arya wanted to fight Eragon, not someone who would draw back or would lack the skills required to match hers. She hated to feel this presumptuous, but it was true, she could only be matched by another Rider, and not any Rider, which made sparring so difficult for her.

"It won't be needed, Ästrith, but I thank you anyway."

With another courtesy, Ästrith left to the training area.

"What happened? Why don't you want to fight Ästrith? She is a remarkable fighter, if you ask me." Eragon seemed personally offended by her refusal.

"I'm sure she is." Arya responded casually and started to walk toward the exit.

She felt him following her.

"So what is it?"

Without turning back to him she said: "I just don't think we are a good match."

"Why didn't you say so? I can find you someone else."

Finally she halted and turned.

"I was hoping to fight you."

"Oh."

"Another day, then?"

He looked at his feet and brushed his moustache, a habit that told her he was uncomfortable. Arya frowned. Didn't he want to spar with her? What was the problem? He used to love it during the times when they were marching across the empire.

Arya stepped closer to him and lifted his chin with the tip of her fingers to make him look at her.

"What's wrong? You don't want to fight me?"

"Arya…" He had an apologetic expression. "I don't fight anymore."

A grunt of contempt emanated from her.

"I'm not asking you to fight in a war, Eragon. It's just a sparring session."

"Even then. I don't do it anymore."

"That's ridiculous. What reasons do you have to act this way?"

Arya was starting to feel unbalanced by all the changes in his personality and behavior. She had welcomed most of them, for they made him wiser and more powerful. But she couldn't understand how there were parts of him that simply made him look like a... She hated to even think this about Eragon, but to be honest with herself, she thought he looked like a coward shying away from a fight. The eminent threat lurking in the darkness in the form of an army of magicians being the main one. It confused her and made her act erratically, by faltering when making a decision or letting out her emotions.

"I have plenty. But now is not the time to discuss it." His voice went low and a dark shadow clouded his earthy eyes.

She debated with herself if it was right to speak out loud what she was thinking. He would be hurt, of course, but the truth could open a new path of understanding between them, hopefully. Besides, she wanted to provoke him, make the old Eragon manifest himself, to act out of impulsiveness and tell her what she needed to know – what were his fears and afflictions.

"I don't know, Eragon. For me, it seems you hiding inside this mountain just turned you into a bureaucrat. A coward bureaucrat." She laid the bait.

As if he had been punched in the guts, Eragon took a step back.

"What?" His voice was faint and shaken.

"You know you will be needed when the time comes. Yet, you refuse to fight. You know you are needed now, for we face uprisings and rebellions all over the land. Yet, you refuse to fight. What do you want me to think or say?"

Eragon shook his head in frustration.

"A coward? You really think I'm a coward?"

No, she didn't. Saying that without lying was only possible because she thought he looked like a coward. Sure he was able to pick up her strategy, right? Well, apparently... No. For he was completely shaken, looking groundless. Eragon swayed on his feet, with a lost stare.

"I thought I had made myself clear before. I'm needed here more than in Alagaësia. And this is not the right moment to speak, I'm teaching." He indicated the training field behind them, and Arya noticed a hesitance in the movements performed by the students, in a way it looked like they were trying to listen to their tense conversation.

"Your fear of fighting will never be clear to me." She stated in a hush voice and turned to leave again. The damaged was done. She hit him where she knew would hurt like nothing else, his sense of righteousness. If they would survive the attack she did not know.

"You shouldn't criticize what you don't know, Arya."

Arya could hear the pain in his tone. It was cold and told Arya she had made a big mistake. Again? What a mess! What's happening to me?

She didn't go back to mend things between them or to make sure they would talk more about it later when their surroundings couldn't listen to their words, as it was the right thing to do. Instead, she continued her march away from him.

He was hurt, but she was hurt too. Arya was mad that he knew the hardships she was going to face when the new enemies finally make their move. She was going to face? No, all the people in Alagaësia were going to face it. Why the others didn't seem as hurt as she was? Clearly Nasuada would want her subject to fight for her, wouldn't she? How about Orik? His foster brother was the most celebrated fighter in the world, and he didn't even consider discussing his absence more deeply? Why was she the most affected by his decision, when she was obviously the most capable among all the monarchs of defending herself and her people? Her head was spinning. It meant more to her than it did to anyone else. It hurt her more deeply than it did to anyone else.

It pained her also that she could be so childish. If he said he had his reasons, then he was in his right to keep them for himself. But no, Arya took it personally, like he didn't trust her enough to share. She wondered if her behavior was justified by how much she expected from him now that they agreed to be… more? Has anything really changed between them after their agreement? They were closer, physically and emotionally, that was obvious to anyone paying enough attention, but it felt to her that they had hit a wall. It's what she wanted from the start, to have limits, ground rules. Or wasn't it?

Argh!

You are acting really stupidly. Again.

Fírnen sounded superior, complacent.

And where were you that you didn't even try to stop me?

I was busy… Letting you make your own mistakes, as a normal person does. And don't try to blame this on me!

I'm not a normal person, I'm a Rider and over a century old. Yet, I find myself doing the silliest things lately. I've been changing my mind and saying hurtful things or sharing too much personal information. And blaming you for my mistakes.

She was disheartened.

Hum, I wonder why would that be. He said in an amused sarcasm.

She breathed heavily.

And I wonder if he will ever stop making me feel this way.

He's not doing anything. You are the one overreacting to him simply being… himself.

Fírnen's humming filled her mind, what made her think he enjoyed her struggling more than she deemed appropriate. He knew he was right, and she did too.


Saphira, do you think I had turned into a coward bureaucrat?

Eragon reclined in his chair at the eyrie, where he had been ruminating his disagreement with Arya.

A little bit. You are even getting fatter.

He frowned and slid the belt around his waist.

I'm not fat.

I didn't say you are fat. I said you are getting fatter. There's a big difference there.

I suppose. He said in a bad mood.

Saphira was laying down on her cushion, resting after teaching all day. She stared at him with her concerned blue eyes.

You are not a coward, Eragon. It takes a great amount of courage to do what you do.

Doesn't she know that?

He was feeling hurt and lonely, for he always thought that Arya understood him completely, better than anyone else.

I don't know why she said that. She's acting weird lately. Saphira sounded concerned.

Right? Eragon raised his pitch. Her mood swings are killing me. Has she always been this volatile?

A little, not much. More strong minded than anything though.

You mean she's stubborn?

She let out a rumble of laughter.

Your words, not mine.

Eragon felt uneasy. Dealing with Arya under the light of their new and complex relationship was like stepping into quicksand. They were both being pulled in and afraid it would end up suffocating them. Eragon knew that she thought he wanted to embrace every opportunity they had of being together, but it wasn't exactly how he felt. He craved being with her very much, but knowing she would fly away afterwards not to be back again in ten years created a huge turmoil inside his heart.

Still, he was willing to try, even though it wasn't at all costs. He wanted her to want it too. He wanted her to stop antagonizing him so much. Before, when he was nothing more than a boy in love, she would just keep her distance. That he could understand. The distance naturally created a clarity to their relationship. He knew exactly where they were at, for better or for worse. But this gray area they had fallen into was confusing and uncomfortable. Knowing her true name did little to placate his anxieties, if it didn't worsened it. Now, he just didn't know how to act, what he could do or say, and how much she was willing to let her feelings for him to develop.

But above all, he wanted her to know him. Actually know him, not the words of his name, but his core. To know that he wasn't afraid of fighting, but instead he was shaken by the idea of cutting, piercing, slashing, decapitating. Killing. Eragon didn't want to kill anymore. Training with the sword only worked to revive the disgust he felt about himself and his horrible acts during the war. Could Arya ever understand that about him? There were hints of it in his name, that she successfully guessed, but she should see it all, not only crumbs.

How will she know that if you don't tell her?

I wanted to, but that wasn't the place to do so.

Something tells me you would not have shared that with her, even if you were somewhere else. Wait. I know what tells me that. It's your mind! I'm right inside of it! How curious.

He grunted.

How joyous must it be to judge and mock your partner's feelings. His sarcasm was a mix of reprimand and hurt.

She didn't respond. They both rested their heads, Saphira on her front paws and Eragon on the back of his chair.

Eragon closed his eyes and expanded his consciousness, willing to enter a meditative state and leave his aching chest behind. It was hard. His dissatisfaction was bubbling up inside of him and threatening to unbalance his mental discipline.

He remembered her words. Word. Coward. He hated it, it made him mad, angered. That word was the pure disregard for all the sacrifices he had made throughout his entire life. The fact that she had said it created an unusual feeling of pettiness in him. How could anyone say that after all he had done? It wasn't fair. He deserved more.

Eragon… Saphira called to stop this unhealthy line of thought.

He breathed heavily and forced himself to go into meditation, fighting his anger. It was almost impossible, and as soon as he opened his mind to his surroundings, he touched the familiar music that was Arya. She was at his door about to knock. Before she did so, however, he used his magic to unlock it and turn the door knob. Slowly, the door slid open in front of her.

As she stepped inside and locked it again, Eragon rose from his chair and walked to stand before his desk. They were facing each other, several feet apart. Arya didn't move to close the distance, neither did he.

"What? You forgot to tell me something? What else do you take me for, besides a coward?"

Eragon… I know you're angry, but this is not going solve your problems with each other. Let her speak.

A fire started to burn his insides and blush his features. As to try to placate the burning sensation, his breathing quickened.

Arya hesitated and shot a look toward Saphira, that noticing her discomfort excused herself and flew away.

Before, she threw a last thought inside her partner's head.

I'll leave you to it, but don't do anything stupid.

I can't promise you that.

Eragon!

Go, Saphira. I'll be fine.

"I didn't come here to fight."

Arya's voice came out low and confident.

"Why then?"

"I wish to apologize for what I said. My behavior was inexcusable."

Eragon narrowed his eyes and shook his head.

"No, I will not accept it."

Arya seemed shocked. She gasped and motioned to step forward, but halted when Eragon moved. He walked slowly toward her, almost like a feline after a prey.

"Your apologies mean nothing, if what you said represents the opinion you have about me."

Losing her confidence at the sight of him, Arya simply shook her head.

"It doesn't? So you were lying before. Or are you lying now?"

"I'm not lying."

Eragon kept moving forward, they were eight feet apart now.

"Which means you were lying. So I need you to tell me, Arya. Tell me exactly what you think of me."

Arya seemed paralyzed, and that passiveness angered Eragon even more. He wanted her to react, to clear things up. But instead she just stared at him, her gem like eyes filled with… fear? No, it wasn't fear, but what was it?

"Say it, Arya." His voice was rough, demanding.

Five feet now.

"I don't think you are a coward."

"Are you sure?"

Three feet.

She gasped again. Eragon saw her chest rising and falling back down over and over, letting the air in and out in small blows.

Arya nodded.

Two feet.

There. He knew what was it. No, it wasn't fear, far from it. It was fire. Her combat fire. Her passion fire.

One foot.

The crushed pine needles crawled inside his nostrils and filled his lungs. He took a deep breath, closing his eyes, and it was like taking a drag of cardus weed. His legs instantly went numb and his head felt light. Eragon leaned forward and supported his weight on his palms placed against the wooden door. Between him and the door was Arya, her face inches away from his.

"You are not a coward." She whispered, her voice cracking by her quickened breathing and her breath warming his skin. "You are the bravest man I have ever met."

They were breathing the same air; their scents were mixing together. Her features seemed out of focus from the proximity, but he could tell she had the most appealing pair of lips, red like cherry.

The heat coming from Arya's body surrounded Eragon in an embrace, enlacing him for herself. As to prove it so, she raised her hands, and they glided from his waist to his shoulders on the velvet of his vest. At the contact, she closed her eyes.

Her fingers dug into his shoulders in a movement that, to Eragon, symbolized an internal debate, between wanting and rejecting. No, Arya was not going to rebuff him again.

Eragon closed the final inches and moved his body against hers, keeping her pressed between him and the door. All of him could feel all of her. He moved even further to increase the pressure on her, and she let out a small groan, but didn't open her eyes.

From the wooden door, his hands slid to her shoulders, then to her sides until the line of her belt. He enlaced his fingers around the leather to keep her there, secure by his touch.

"Arya…" His hoarse pleading made her open her slanted eyes slowly. "Meet me halfway, will you?"

She stared at him intensely, and for a second he considered she was readying to push him away. What she did instead threw him in an ecstasy he had never felt before.

Arya pulled him to herself, as if they weren't already close. Her right hand grabbed the hair on the back of his head, and her left hand went under his arm and around his waist to rest on his lower back. Her breathing started to caress his neck, what was enough to send shivers through his entire body. But it wasn't all. There, on the right side of his neck, Arya laid down the most tender and smooth kisses Eragon had ever thought possible. If her hands weren't firmly holding him, he would've fallen to the ground, melting under her touch.

Eragon felt completely unstable. For someone who could easily transcend his physical body, that small delicate touches created such a wave of pleasure, that it wasn't hard to believe he was completely defenseless before her.

Arya continued the assault to his senses, as he let out a soft moan in her ear. That sound coming from his trembling lips was enough to add wood to the fire. Her grip on his hair tightened, and with the hand she had on his lower back she almost tried to fuse their bodies together. Her smooth kisses turned into a ferocious attack, when he felt her teeth grazing his skin, leaving him out of breath.

He moved his head back to see her; they were both panting. They were both inebriated.

His fingers let go of her belt and found their way to her hips. Eragon's wish was to explore her all over, to memorize every curve of her body with his palms. To mark her as only his. He wouldn't dare, though.

Arya looked like a goddess, however a goddess looked like. If there was a deity somewhere, this was how he thought it would look like, how he thought it would make people feel. No question about it. Her incredible green eyes, angled in perfection to match her high cheek bones. Her lips, so alluring. Her honey skin painted with the lightest shade of pink. Eragon could go on and on about her appearance, but what really mattered after all was that she chose to lock him in her embrace. The goddess chose him.

Again, Arya took the lead. With both her hands on the back of his neck, she pulled Eragon to her one more time and captured his lips with hers. It was fast, and soon it was over. Eragon didn't have time to react, because she did it again. And once more. And again, as if she was taking small sips of a beverage too hot to drink in one gulp. On the fourth time, however, she pressed their lips together and kept them there, breathing heavily. Finally, Eragon felt her relaxing inside his arms, and her lips parting against his.

He was complete.

Chapter Text

Arya agreed to have flying lessons that day just because her partner was really excited about learning from Eragon and Saphira, but what she wanted instead was to have a moment for herself, to think about what had happened the night before. Having Eragon right in front of her like this was not helping her focus at all, as Saphira talked about the different types of air flow and what they meant in terms of wing placement.

They were all atop the hill where Arya told Eragon about Fäolin. It was a warm and sunny afternoon, and the breeze twirled Eragon's hair on his forehead, messing up his brown locks that, she knew now from experience, were incredibly soft.

Arya parted her lips to welcome Eragon's tongue in her mouth, as her hands enjoyed playing with his hair. His soft hair. She suspected it would feel like that, but actually touching it felt ten thousand times better. His kiss was different than the kisses she had had before, for it was somehow warmer and rougher. His beard would either brush her skin or rub on her face depending on his intensity, and the sensation was at the same time new and expected, for she had imagined it all before. She had spent a good amount of time alone during the last decade thinking of how his touch would feel, creating scenarios inside her head where he would show her how much he wanted her. He did exactly that, but being Eragon, he showed her a lot more. He showed she was safe, whatever that word meant.

Fírnen's tail came to poke her on the back.

Pay attention! Saphira will be mad if you keep daydreaming instead of listening to her.

At his reprimand, Arya focused her eyes on the blue dragon as she demonstrated the movement Fírnen should make if he didn't want to be dragged by strong winds coming from north.

Eragon was standing by his partner and held a laugh when he saw Fírnen's gentle nudge on Arya, what made her get her eyes back on him.

His playful eyes in nothing resembled the ones he had the night before.

Eragon's feline walk toward her threw her off balance. She was ready to lay down her apologies in the most rational way she could think of, but his stare of pure fire made her tremble with anticipation. He was getting closer and closer, and her legs were getting weaker and weaker. A heat started to form inside her core...

This time Eragon couldn't hold his laugh and let it out completely, untangling her from her memories.

"Are you all right, Arya?" Eragon asked.

She noticed Saphira had stopped explaining and wondered what was the expression on her own face that made them realized she was far away from there.

Saphira asked you a question, Arya. And you missed it completely. Fírnen was annoyed with her lack of attention, and she noticed he had opened their conversation to everyone.

"I'm fine. I was just..."

Daydreaming. Fírnen accused.

"I'm sorry, Saphira. Could you repeat the question, please?"

Sure. I asked you and Eragon if you wish to stay on the ground and observe or to fly along with us.

Arya had no idea which option to choose. Gladly Eragon came to her rescue.

"I believe we will make more sense of what you spoke of if we stay here, Saphira."

The dragon blinked in acknowledgement and took the skies with Fírnen right behind her. Eragon moved to Arya's side still holding his amused expression.

"Are you sure you are all right?"

"Yes! And stop asking me that."

He raised his hands in surrender.

"Fine, I will. You just seem a little off today. I hope it's not because of anything I've done." His eyes shined with playfulness.

Arya cleared her throat feeling her cheeks starting to burn. She looked to the dragons, faking attention to their maneuvers.

"I wouldn't be so self-centered if I were you." Her words were cold, but the sound of it was barely a shaken whisper.

Eragon took her front and came into her field of view, baring the most splendid smile she had ever seen him bare. She lost her line of thought for a second.

"You don't need to be so disturbed by our kiss, Arya. I promised I would wait, and I will. I even swore I wouldn't ask for more than what we already had. So, I'm glad you took the lead then."

"You did ask. You said Meet me halfway." She did feel disturbed, but not by him, but by herself and her inability to resist him.

"I believed it fits our gray area." He shrugged. "Doesn't it?"

He bent the language just the way she had done the day before. Clever, of both of them.

"Our gray area." She smiled. "It will someday be the ruin of us." Again. Harsh words, soft tone.

"Or our triumph."

Eragon enclosed the distance and pulled her into a fond hug. His lips reached her forehead and placed there a warm kiss.

"Don't worry, all right? We will figure this out with time. I promise."

Arya felt her heart almost explode. How could he be this caring? Part of her wanted to say that it was because he had already gotten what he wanted – her affection. But she knew that in reality his caring demeanor toward other people, especially her, was his true nature. During the war he had placed wards on her even though he knew she was capable of doing it herself. He came to her rescue more than once when nobody else would. And now, instead of being on cloud nine about the recent events, he was trying to assure her that she would be fine. With him by her side, she suspected there was no other way but being fine.

Enlacing her arms around him, she nodded and rested her cheek on his shoulder.

I'm glad you two are getting along, but I wish to continue with my lesson, or is it too much to ask? Saphira called their attention, but she didn't sound too strict. She was merry even.

Fírnen, on the other hand, was furious, but he spoke into the intimacy of their link.

I swear to any of the gods if they exist, Arya, I'm closing my mind to you if you keep thinking about last night nonstop.

Arya grinned and stepped back from Eragon's embrace.

I can't stop. So you better do it now. She dared.

Fírnen actually closed his mind to her, which surprised and also amused her.

"I think someone's jealous." She spoke to Eragon, pointing to Fírnen, high up with Saphira.

He laughed.

"Not possible. I believe he's our biggest supporter."

I am! I just want to learn! And you are being rude to Saphira. Can you please pay attention?

"Yes, my friend, we can." Eragon concieliated and started to engage in the lesson.

Arya wanted to say Speak for yourself, but refrained her tongue. Her dragon was already mad enough with her.


Now, Fírnen... Eragon started with caution, how would you like me to address you, as just a friend or as your teacher?

Eragon and Fírnen had just took off from the hill where they had been having their lessons. Arya and Saphira stayed on the ground, while Eragon showed Fírnen the next part of their teachings. The green dragon was easily gaining altitude, helped by his well-developed muscle mass.

As my teacher, master. I wish to learn all I can from you and Saphira. Fírnen spoke with humility.

Right. Then, this is the last time I'm going to use words with you, just the way I teach the dragons and the new Riders. Understood?

Yes, master.

So, answer me this. Do you feel Saphira through my bond with her? His voice turned strict and emotionless.

Yes, master.

Why is that?

Fírnen hesitated, and Eragon perceived that the dragon thought his question was too obvious.

Because you are her Rider, so you have a bond with her.

Yes. And who is your Rider, Fírnen? Am I your Rider?

No, master, Arya is. His confusion to Eragon's silly questions amused the Rider, but he didn't let it show.

So why are you only connected to me and completely shut down to her?

It was fun for Eragon to meddle in their personal war. He thought it was the funniest thing that Fírnen was giving Arya the silent treatment because of her involuntary thoughts.

Fírnen started and his mind was filled with guilt for letting his Rider out. Immediately, he reestablished their bond, and Arya's annoyed voice spoke in their minds.

Thank you.

Sorry.

Good, now that everybody is included, let's begin.

As promised, Eragon stopped the use of words. Instead, he communicated the instructions through images, emotions and memories, the way he was constantly instructed by the Eldunarí. He found immensely easier to use the innate language of the dragons than translate it into words. For Fírnen, the method could feel overwhelming in the beginning, since he spent most of his time around his Rider and the other elves from Du Weldenvarden. Despite that, Eragon knew he would rapidly grow used to it, because Fírnen had trained under the Eldunarí Eragon had left in Ellesméra, and he was sure they communicated this way most of the time, being part of the instinctive nature of their kind.

It didn't take long to Fírnen get the hang of the lessons Eragon was trying to teach him. From teacher to student, flowed information about the synchronicity between dragon and Rider when in the air, particularly when traveling through the difficult air flows Saphira talked about. He instigated Fírnen to assume the different flying positions Fírnen had just learned and watch how Eragon reacted in the saddle.

In a particularly dangerous maneuver, Eragon's head bobbed uncontrollably missing one of Fírnen's neck spikes by mere inches. Eragon replayed the memory to the dragon, who cringed with guilt for nearly hurting his teacher, and from that moment he assumed an overprotective posture during the turns and falls. Once more, Eragon played a memory in his mind.

He showed Fírnen the battle in Tronjheim, where he was fighting the shade Durza and almost succumbing to his injuries, when the Star Saphire was shattered by Arya, who came down in an impressive speed toward the ground on Saphira's back. Eragon couldn't hide all the pain he felt on his back from the wound Durza inflicted on him, so attached it was to the memory, and Fírnen flinched a little, missing a beat of his wings. The memory was played again, this time Eragon emphasized how steep and fast Saphira's descent was, and how capable of maintaining herself in place Arya was, despite holding an extremely draining spell to keep the shards from hitting Eragon on the ground. And all of that when she wasn't even a Rider yet.

Fírnen's thoughts started to run out of control, what Eragon thought strange, since the dragon demonstrated nothing more than composure and order in his line of thought so far. Being Arya's dragon, discipline was only expected of him. Sending a quiet question through their connection, Eragon intended to search for the cause to such disarray. Almost immediately, their minds were taken by the same memory, but from a different perspective. Arya's. Fírnen showed Eragon what idea he had from that moment, a bloody and hurt young Rider, crimson blade in hand, with eyes of extreme pain, looking up. Then, in a matter of seconds, the blade entering the shade's heart, freeing the spirits from the evil entity's core. Eragon saw himself falling to the ground and felt pity of himself. And for as touching as Fírnen's empathy was, he was diverting the subject. So Eragon cleared their minds and gripped Fírnen's consciousness with iron shackles in order to make it uncomfortable enough that the dragon would let his emotions go and focus only on what Eragon was trying to say.

Little by little, after understanding his master's intentions, Fírnen eased his racing thoughts and replayed the memories about almost piercing Eragon's head with his spike, then taking extra care in his maneuvers, and Arya holding herself on Saphira's back in Tronjheim. Then, he communicated that he understood that Arya wasn't defenseless, and he didn't need to be so watchful of her all the time.

Eragon patted the dragon's neck in approval and started imprinting inside Fírnen's mind the difference between being watchful of his partner's well-being and being overprotective. He explained silently that, sometimes, in battle or in a moment of great danger, both mind and spoken communication could be compromised, so reading the body signs of each other would save their lives. He proceeded indicating that a movement of his feet or a squeeze of his thighs could mean a request to move right or left, higher or lower. Leaning forward or back also meant different things, so the touch of the Rider's hands on the dragon's neck. But he made very clear that each pair had their own unspoken communication, and it was Fírnen's job to read Arya's body signs.

In that moment, a feeling of anxiety crossed Fírnen's mind, that he explained as being embarrassment for training so many dragons and Riders without passing this knowledge to them. Eragon didn't care to respond. He simply signaled for them to get back to the hill, where Saphira and Arya waited patiently.

When he dismounted, Eragon walked around to face Fírnen eye to eye.

"Listen carefully, Fírnen." He felt the dragon's attention solely on him. "You are far beyond average. Sure, you have the advantage of being bonded with an experienced and wise Rider, most dragons don't have the same luck, but regardless, you are far more talented than any dragon I have ever met, except for Saphira."

Fírnen hummed with the compliments.

"What I just showed to you may seem simple, a basic knowledge, but takes many years for a pair to be accomplished in maintaining such synchronicity. It must be practiced intensely between dragon and Rider. Even Saphira and I, we are still learning, despite being raised in the middle of a war, having to improve ourselves in a way faster rate than normal. But you are a child of peace, you have time. There's no need to be anxious or embarrassed about it. All right?"

Yes, master.

"Besides, your job is to give the first instructions, to make sure the students will arrive here safe and in one piece." Eragon smiled and patted Fírnen's snout. "Good. Now, you fly with your Rider and, without speaking to her, you will execute exactly the same movements as Saphira and respond to Arya's body language."

Arya approached her dragon and jumped to his saddle, Eragon did the same to Saphira.

"And remember, keep your mind open to us."

He said that to Fírnen, who agreed and kept the connection, but he also felt Arya's melody sound louder in his mind, being directly connected to him, not only through her bond with Fírnen. He realized that all four of them were merged in one big consciousness, in a way he had never felt before. He saw with his physical eyes as Arya gasped, her eyes darting to look at him.

Do you feel it? He asked her.

This bond, it's… She hesitated.

vast. Fírnen completed. I'm impressed too.

Eragon smiled.

I didn't expect that our minds would connect so well with each other.

No, I think it's unprecedented. Saphira also seemed shocked by their ability to merge together.

And you Saphira, it's like you have an entire forest inside you mind, so rich and precious. I'm impressed. Arya complimented.

Saphira stretched her neck to blow warm air on Arya's hair, which made the elf smile with fondness.

All right, are you ready? Eragon spoke for the last time, before taking off with Saphira. He mixed his perception's with Saphira's, so they could evaluate their students' performance as one, at the same time the open channel with the other pair's thoughts resounded inside his head.

Since they acted as one conscious being, around them all, Eragon raised several layers of protective walls. If someone was to try and invade their defenses, they would be protected, even being so open to one another.

No one spoke a word during their flight. Occasionally, Arya would let it pass – intentionally, he was sure – an observation about the conditions of the wind or how harmonious Saphira and Eragon looked flying together. The pair, on the other hand, didn't let any words pass, they only observed how Fírnen was doing.

After a handful of well executed maneuvers from Fírnen, Eragon nudged Saphira with his right foot, indicating that she should take a turn right and descent into a helix. She didn't take two seconds to respond and began performing the move. Fírnen dove after her, doing with perfection exactly what she was doing, but he also did exactly what Eragon was expecting. In their minds, Arya's exclamation resounded, and Eragon turned his head back to see her body thrown back, hands in the air, completely opposite to his stance on Saphira. He was leaning forward, head down, hands firm on the spike in front of him.

As one, dragons and Riders decided to get back to the hill.

When they all reached their usual spot, Eragon untangled their minds and approached Arya, who was unbinding herself from the saddle.

"Are you all right?" He asked gently but amused at the same time.

Her expression was much stricter than his.

"Will you explain to him what he did wrong?" She jumped down.

Eragon shook his head.

"No, he will."

Fírnen turned to look at them.

What do you mean? I did what you told me to do. I followed Saphira!

"Are you sure?"

Saphira played to Fírnen the memory of Eragon instructing Fírnen about reading Arya's body language, then she showed his Rider holding a very dangerous stance on his saddle.

"Are you sure you did what I told you to? Because I specifically instructed you to pay attention to you Rider's body language. So how can you enter a deadly spin toward the ground without being sure she's in the right position to be safe during the descent?" Eragon was serious, but not malicious. He wasn't trying to make the dragon feel bad.

Fírnen looked from one to another, he seemed betrayed, like they tried to make him fail.

You knew I would fail! He growled.

Eragon sighed and smiled with kindness.

"Aye. I also knew you would never let Arya hurt herself. But I needed you to experience this feeling of failure, of disconnection between you two, so you could value the subtle hints she gives you up there."

The dragon seemed shaken.

"We will do better next time, I promise." Arya spoke in the most subservient manner possible without addressing Saphira and Eragon as masters.

Eragon nodded to her and turned to Fírnen. He waited. After a minute, the dragon seemed to get back to himself.

Yes, masters, we will be better.

Eragon opened a big smile and got closer to Fírnen.

"Of course you will. And knowing the two of you the way I do, I know you will master this technique in no time at all." He caressed the soft spot under Fírnen's jaw. "And we better practice, if we want to go meet the wild dragons."

Fírnen and Arya reacted at the same time. The dragon wiggled his tail and looked from Eragon to Saphira repeated times. Arya dropped her jaw.

"The wild dragons? I thought you said they had found a hidden lair."

"I did. It's hidden to the world, not us." Eragon said casually.

Will they allow us to visit them? Fírnen's excitement could almost be touched.

They will, because you will be with me. Saphira said.

"Saphira is our link to them. She is respected as their elder, so we should be fine. But it's a difficult flight to get there, and there's the possibility of us angering them to the point they decide to use mental attacks on us. That's why I'm instructing you to use body language instead of mental communication."

Arya seemed concerned, opposite to her partner's posture. He was almost jumping up and down.

Eragon smiled to him.

"Now, calm yourself, it's time to rest, my friend. Enough with the lessons for today. Enough with calling me master for today too." He laughed, and the dragon's mood eased under Eragon's affection.

All right. Thank you for the lesson, Eragon and Saphira. I'm looking forward to our trip to the hidden lair.

"Of course." Eragon said gently.

Would you remove my saddle, little one? I wish to fly away with Fírnen. And I suspect you and Arya have a lot to talk about, don't you?

Eragon felt her affection pouring through their connection and went to remove Saphira's saddle. She didn't say it, but he knew that she was as happy as he was that Arya reciprocated his advances.

I believe so. Go, but don't forget about me.

She nudged him with her snout.

Never, little one. Never.

Arya removed Fírnen's saddle as well and went to sit on the ledge of the hill. The dragons took flight, leaving their Riders mesmerized by their incredible beauty.

Eragon took a deep breath and moved to grab a water skin attached to the saddle, before sitting by Arya's side. He drank half of the skin's content in big gulps and offered the rest to her. She took it gladly.

"Do we have to talk more about last night?" He asked.

Arya seemed to think about it whilst drinking the water.

"I don't think it's necessary. It's been discussed already." She closed the water skin and put it aside. "But I would like to address the fact that brought us there. Your refusal to fight."

Eragon didn't expect that. Whenever he thought he was about to have a light and enjoyable time with Arya, things took a difficult turn. He shook his head and looked away to the sunny lands. The Edda River was gleaming under the bright blue sky.

"I don't think I want to. It's not a favorable subject for us to talk about."

"It's only because I wasn't being honest about how I feel when we talked about it before. You weren't either."

Eragon waited to see if she would continue, still looking away. She didn't at first, but moved closer to him, until her arm was rested around his waist and her chin on his shoulder.

"It hurts to think you won't come to our aid when the time comes. That's how I feel." Her words came out on a soft tone, her breath brushing his neck.

"Hurt?" Eragon turned his head slightly to her, their cheeks were almost touching. "Why would you feel hurt? It's not like you're defenseless, Arya. You are as skilled as I am, more even, in many aspects." He was confused.

She sighed.

"It's not that I'm afraid I won't be able to handle the threats or any other pressing matters. But I feel you are leaving me behind, just like you did when you left Alagaësia."

Eragon noticed she was trying her best to be honest about her feelings. They rarely talked about feelings rather than their opinions, and he felt it was a good opportunity for them to get even closer.

"You feel that I'm letting you out of this decision too?"

Arya nodded, without moving her face away from his.

He took a deep breath and looked forward.

"I never mean to exclude you from my decisions. But I don't know how much of my life do you want me to share with you. Because this is a life decision, not a strategic one. And this is how I feel."

"Why don't you tell me what made you choose not to fight anymore? I want you to share it with me."

Eragon sighed. It was possible that Arya would think he was weak minded. That indeed he was a coward for letting the ghosts of his past haunt him like that. Possibly she would think his hardships weren't as bad as hers, for she went through loss over loss, imprisonment, torture, more loss, self-sacrifice and endless challenges that he didn't even know about. But since she was asking, her interest in his feelings seemed genuine. He decided to open up about it.

"I'm too busy most of my days. I don't have time to think about my feelings or how my past experiences affect me today. But when everything is silent, when I'm alone at night, I see the things I've done, and they won't let me rest."

Eragon felt her free hand enlacing his waist as well, as it went to meet her other one.

"I know they were war acts and all that I did was justified. That's what I tell myself, at least. But it won't stop my mind from racing from dead eye to dead eye, blank expression to blank expression. All of them lying lifeless on the battlefield. I don't want to fight because I can't handle its outcome, not the way other fighters do. I rather stay back, working the strategy instead of wielding the blade myself. Even a sparring blade can make my head hurt from all the memories."

Arya kept quiet. What if she was judging him? She had seen how his mind was more disciplined and powerful than before, surely she judged him weak for not taming his stray thoughts. Well, he judged himself for it. After all the work he had done in the last decade, he still wasn't able to block the images of death and gore inside his mind. Why not? Glaedr once told him that maybe he wanted to see it, so he wouldn't do it again, or it was a form of self-punishment. Either way, it was torture, and he wanted nothing to do with all the actions that triggered such self-destructive thoughts.

"Say something." He pled.

Arya moved away and held his hand.

"I do it too." She whispered. "I keep torturing myself with images from the past, just to see how much I can take."

Eragon stared into her eyes. He was grateful she didn't judge him, but was worried that she was going through something similar. Arya didn't deserve it.

"Are we crazy?" He asked.

She smiled gently and brushed his beard with her other hand.

"We are hurt. Hurt people do crazy things, don't they?"

Eragon knew it too well.

"Do you think we will always feel this way? I don't want to be a coward for the rest of my life."

Arya's look turned into a strict expression as she grabbed the both side of his face.

"Don't say that! You are not a coward. I only said it to provoke a reaction in you. It was crazy and stupid." She softened her stare. "But I was hurt. I felt lost before your constant changing."

"And hurt people do crazy things." He smiled kindly, which she responded in the same manner.

"We will learn how to deal someday. But that day is not today. Our pain is still fresh inside." She stated and retreated her hands.

"We can help each other, right?"

"We must, for I fear there's no one else in the world that understands it better than us."

Eragon agreed. He looked away again, thinking of how much pain they both had combined between them. Both lost their parents, both knew loss very early in life. They fought, killed and cried. Their hearts were severed more times than he could count. But still, they were making themselves available for new feelings to grow, even when reason said it was wrong.

"So…" Arya started hesitantly. "Does it mean you will never want to spar with me again?"

Eragon felt the pressure fleeing his chest. After all they said, she was still concerned about his refusal to train with her?

"And that's the most important thing you got out of our conversation?"

She laughed, and he could feel the pressure exiting her as well.

"It is important. So, what do you say?"

Eragon hesitated. He wasn't sure how much of a trigger sparring with her would be, for he remembered having a lot of fun in the past, so maybe it was worth a try.

"Maybe. It might do some good, after all."

Arya smiled, like a child that was gifted with candy. She leaned in to him, and placed a delicate kiss on his lips.

"I think I want to spar with you all the time if this is the reward." He teased.

"Silly." She said, but kissed him again.

The taste of her mouth was incomparable to anything he's proven before. But it wasn't just her taste that locked him in a haze. It was her smell, the touch of her hands through his hair, the pressure of her body on his. There was also the little sounds she made when he's mouth would get too eager on hers. When he thought the whole experience was too much for his heart to handle, her left hand let go of his hair and reached behind her back. In a second she unlocked the door and slip through it into the dark hallway.

"Good night, Eragon." Her soft voice echoed inside his head and put him to bed that night.

Maybe Arya wasn't the only one distracted by last night after all.

Chapter Text

The four of them had set on a pleasant routine on the following days. Training the Riders in the morning, flying in the afternoon and long talks in the eyrie by night after dinner. The only black cloud in their skies was Arya and Fírnen's departure only a few days away. Eragon avoided bringing up the subject and noticed the others didn't want to be reminded of that either.

Finally the day they agreed on taking the trip to meet the wild dragons arrived and it promised to be intense. By then, Fírnen and Arya had created their own unspoken language, what was quite impressive, since they had little time to practice, but their experience and talent were all they needed to speed up the process.

The Hidden Lair, as Fírnen liked to call it, was half a day away on dragon back, to the southeast, by the ocean. So, they had the Edda River in sight pretty much all the way there, which was a great joy, for the sun cast its light on the surface, that appeared to be made of liquid gold, because of the current shifting and beaming.

During the entire flight, the four minds were intensely combined in a vast consciousness, where they shared every impression and emotion. At one point, Eragon saw a group of wild horses running along the river, and that was the strangest thing, because his eyes were focused on the horizon. What happened in fact was that Arya had seen the horses, and through her eyes he saw them too. He also felt sensations that wasn't his and heard sounds he would never perceive if it weren't for their connection. It was unsettling at first, but he tried to relax the grip around his notion of self, and in no time, he didn't quite know how far the boundaries of his own mind went and where the next individual begun. Being so open to his fellows like that provided the perfect opportunity to share a lot of the knowledge passed to him by the Eldunarí. Saphira also started to stream information through their bond. Words were scarce.

At midday, they stopped for lunch; they were still two hours away from the lair. Coming to himself completely for the first time, Eragon finally felt the effects of sitting in the saddle for too long. His back and legs were killing him, so was the part of his skin unprotected from the sun. Eragon knelt by the river and splashed his face with fresh water, feeling an instant relieve. He threw some of it on the back of his neck as well, and felt a few drops running down his spine under his tunic and traveling cloak.

Coming back to the others, he saw that Arya had already settled under a tree, with their provisions laid down in front of her, and Saphira and Fírnen were drinking from the river waters, but soon they joined their Riders on the grass. Eragon sat down, and they started to eat. Arya seemed lost in thought the entire time as she ate, and he wondered why was it.

"Are you worried?"

Arya woke up from her thoughts.

"A little."

"About the wild dragons?"

"That too."

Now he was really intrigued.

"Do you want to share?"

We went to see the witch last night. Fírnen spoke.

"Angela? And what did she say?" Eragon bit into a piece of bread.

"That she is waiting for you. You said that you both needed to talk about the army of magicians, but you never came to see her."

"I know. But I was hoping to have some quality time with you two before you go back home. I didn't want to worry about it now."

"Are you able to do it? Not worry?"

He pondered.

"I find it easier when I'm in special company."

Arya showed a small and flattered smile.

"Anyway, I think you should go talk to her, as soon as possible."

"After you leave."

"Eragon…"

"After you leave, Arya." He was firm.

She seemed displeased, but nodded in agreement. It was only three more days after all.

"But I don't think that's the reason you're worried, is it? The fact that I didn't go looking for Angela."

Arya frowned and looked away. She bit the apple she was slicing. Eragon waited patiently, taking the chance to study her. That way, worried and distant, she looked too much like the stoic elf he had fallen in love with. No traces of the fiery woman he held in his arms a few days before. The latter he also loved.

"She threw the dragon bones to me."

Eragon almost choked on his half-chewed bread.

"What?!"

Her disgust could almost be touched.

"She insisted."

Eragon was speechless. From all the people in the world, Arya was the least likely to believe in such mysticism, as she would describe it herself. He managed to retrieve his jaw but the words failed to come to his brain.

"I don't know what to say."

"So don't."

She's ruminating what Angela said, like she's believed it. Fírnen's tone was of mockery, and it made Arya roll her eyes.

"She better! Angela's readings aren't something to be taken lightly." Now Eragon was worried. "Was it bad?"

Arya looked at him with a warning.

"I'm not asking for you to tell me." He defended himself. "That's you're fortune, not mine. But the way you seem concerned, I can't help to feel a little anxious too."

She took a deep breath before answering.

"It would not be unfounded of you to do so. It's your fortune too, even if indirectly." She said and glanced to Fírnen, as to seek support. "At least part of it."

Eragon couldn't stop being baffled.

"Me? What do you mean? Am I going to die and you'll have to take the leadership of the Order or something like that?" He was joking, but her look was horribly upset, like he had beaten her in her favorite game.

"Oh for the gods! I'm right, am I not? I am going to die."

Arya sighed in exasperation.

"Probably, one day. But that's not what she said. Now calm yourself!" He took a deep breath, but felt the anxiety taking over him. Eragon was very curious to know what had transpired between Arya and the herbalist, but it would be rude of him to ask, even if they had mentioned his name. "Now, answer me this. What do you mean Angela's readings aren't something to be taken lightly?"

"That she had read my future before, of course."

"And? Did it happen?" Her concern marked her forehead in a frown.

"Aye, it did." The crease got deeper. "At first, I didn't put too much thought on it, but then the things she said started to happen, so I realized it would be wiser of me not to doubt her prophecy."

"Is there anything in there that is still to happen?" It appeared that Arya was investigating to find out what could happen to her in the future or if she could change what was predicted to her.

Eragon pondered. Him leaving Alagaësia already happened, such as his love for someone of noble birth. But was still too early to know if he was gone forever and if this love would outlast empires. So far, it outlasted only one.

"In a way. It's a long-term thing." He said casually.

"And you think you can't change it, because you're bound to it." It wasn't a question.

"Well, yes. It's my destiny."

"Eragon, I'm sorry, but that's not how prophecies work. I'm not entirely sure how they work, but the future is not set in stone. It changes."

"I know, I've heard that before. But the fact the we know it now only brings us closer to what was predicted. I thought you shared this belief."

Arya considered what he said by staring deep in his eyes. Unable to hold the stare for long, Eragon looked vaguely to the beaming waters. He had spent too much of his time trying to interpret what fate wanted from him. Angela had said when she read the dragon knuckles that he was one of the few who had the chance to choose his path. But since he had found Saphira's egg, he felt like following someone else's plan. He could count on one hand the choices he's made during his life as a Rider, and most of them were taken to avoid a worse outcome, like when he decided to pledge fealty to Nasuada as the leader of the Varden. It was either attaching himself to her or to the council. In both ways, it was very clear that he wasn't free to do as he pleased. Looking at it from this light, it seemed that freedom was only an illusion, not only to him but to everyone. Some were freer than others, but in the end, they were all debtors of fate, or whatever held them accountable.

"Honestly… I don't know what to think." He laughed. "I only know that even if our future is set in stone, we just have to live a day at a time. And hope for the best. If it isn't, then we just have to live a day at a time and hope for the best." He shrugged.

Arya resumed eating, not displaying the same humor he did. In fact, she seemed lost in thought, more so than before.

Don't dwell on it too much, Arya. Saphira advised. It will it eat your insides.

Eragon let out a snort in amusement.

"She's right. Just let it go. Even if indeed what Angela saw was my death."

Arya didn't seem pleased at his joke.

"Stop saying that. You should know how words have power."

Eragon thought that her behavior was disproportional to the situation. He was only joking!

"Arya. What is it? I'm only joking."

She sighed and rose up to her feet to go clean the knife in the water. When she came back she looked a little less concerned.

"You are right. Both of you are. I'll let it be and forget it for now."

Eragon gave her a slight nod. He hoped she really did.

The last part of the flight was the difficult one Eragon had talked about on their first day of training. The wild dragons decided to mate and nest on the top of a mountain range by the ocean, a few miles from the point where the Edda met the sea. He personally had not been there yet, but he watched Saphira as she flew there before, and he knew how particular the place was. It had its own microclimate and was almost as tall as Arngor. Tall enough to shelter the dragons and their eggs, between a peek and another or deep in a valley. The mountain range formed a wall of stone punished by the raging waters.

The difficulty was in fighting the air flows and the torrential rains brought by the sea. For some reason still to be investigated by Eragon, there was a hot current pushing them up against a cold one, that pressured on them, making the dragons exhaust their wings trying to gain altitude. That collision and difference of pressure caused heavy rains all summer long, and even crueler winds in the winter. The same happened along the coast, but not as intense as in that particular spot. If it were like this where the river met the ocean, he would never see the possibility of navigating during both seasons. And if was up to him, he would've chosen to fly there in the spring, when the land would start to prosper after the rains of summer. But their schedule would never allow it.

The solution was to approach the peek from a higher point and fight to maintain leveled with it, riding the hot flow. After that, they would have to dive, taking advantage of the pressure to take them down rapidly. It wasn't easy, however, so Saphira and Fírnen had to be as focused as possible if they didn't want to be dragged down. That, of course, if the rain didn't devastate their defenses.

Eragon involved the four of them in a protective spell, to keep them warm and dry, and hoped it would hold.

The approach took about two hours. It was straining to beat the wind and the pressure, besides the rain, but Saphira and Fírnen were well prepared. Arya clutched Fírnen's neck as her life depended on it, and it actually did. By the time the mountain range came in sight, the wild dragons were already taking a fighting position on the ridges. Eragon spoke inside their bond for the last time.

Lift your mental walls now, all of you. Follow the plan and protect yourselves.

The plan was Saphira would go ahead and land first, so the dragons could see her and allow her entrance. After that, if Fírnen was allowed to do so, he would follow her and land as well. But before Saphira presented herself to the others, Eragon would have to jump onto Fírnen's back, for she needed to be alone, in a way they didn't startle the owners of the range.

He had asked to the Eldunarí once if the wild dragons of before were as ferocious as these ones, because it seemed problematic to him that the dragons he helped bring to life would turn against him so easily. The elders simply showed a memory of a dark red dragon attacking a bonded one and his Rider for casually flying over her nest. That was his answer. They had an entire species to protect, so of course they would be fierce when doing it.

At his command, he felt the others closing their defenses, and Saphira started to work her maneuver. She spun backwards while Fírnen flew under her. For a moment, Eragon was completely upside down, his head only two feet from Arya's, and the two pairs looked like mirrored images. Before Saphira could finish her loop backwards, he dropped from her saddle and forced a spin forward, so his legs were able to mount the green dragon. He landed on Fírnen's saddle and let out a pained grunt as his groin and the inside of his thighs hit the leather. Eragon lost balance because of the pain and was almost falling to his death when Arya's left hand shot back and grabbed the front of his tunic to keep him in place. He moved closer to her and held her waist.

"Thank you!" He shouted so she could hear him over the wind.

In response, she patted his thigh and pointed at the straps he should fasten around his legs. As quickly as possible he did what she wanted and together they watched as Saphira dove down to meet the wild dragons.


In all her life, Arya would never think she would see something like that.

After Saphira asked permission for her companions to follow her to the home of the wild dragons, Fírnen landed on the ridge and the Riders dismounted. It was still raining and the winds did not give them a break. But they didn't stay there for too long, because shortly after they landed they were led on a pathway down, made of rocks, that took them to a valley, hid between two mountains. The peeks were very close to each other, which created a shelter against the elements.

The dragons jumped down and landed by the pond formed by the constant dripping of rain water. The area was green of moss and vines, and was populated by colorful young dragons and their parents. Arya could count about thirty of them, grown and hatchlings, all looking curiously to the two Riders that descended slowly, taking in the historic scene they were watching.

When Arya and Eragon reached the ground, coming from the pathway, they stood by their dragons. The elf could notice that a conversation was happening between Saphira, Fírnen and the one that appeared to be the leader of the wild dragons. So, following Eragon's instructions, Arya stepped back and let the majestic creatures decide what was going to happen next. She reached for Eragon's hand, who looked at her with affection. They stood there holding hands, waiting, until she felt the attention deposited on them suddenly disperse and the gazes divert elsewhere, like Eragon and herself were no longer interesting.

Come on, let's take a look around. Saphira called, and the four of them followed the leader, a brown male.

She was happy to be finally connected to Fírnen again, but didn't initiate a conversation, noticing he was too immersed in wonderment.

The leader took them to a cave, a big one. It was deep too, and there, all around the ground, from wall to wall, were the eggs. Many eggs, just waiting the moment to hatch. How many of them would turn into bonded dragons? Arya couldn't know for sure, for it depended on the agreement firmed by the dragons. But she hoped there were enough to bring Alagaësia to a time of prosperity never seen before.

Among the eggs laid there in the valley, there were the ones brought by Eragon and Saphira from Vroengard. They had decided that no one would protect them and raise the hatchlings better than their own kind, when there were enough of them to carry on with their species. In Mount Arngor, there were only the eggs selected to be bonded with the Riders, and not all of them had hatched yet, so there was no need for them to claim any more. They were only there as visitors. The only ones this place have ever had.

Open your mind, Arya. Lador wishes to communicate with you. You too, Eragon. Saphira said, and Arya allowed the brown dragon to enter her consciousness.

Without speaking any words, Lador, how the leader was called, filled her mind with gratitude. He showed her – and she believed Eragon was receiving the same message – the memories of Galbatorix's defeat. He also imprinted sorrow to Shruikan's death, but she understood that he didn't blame her. It was quite the opposite, he praised her for freeing the crazed dragon from the shackles of an unnatural bond. Arya felt grandly humbled, and for the first time, redeemed. After ten years, the burden of killing a dragon was lifted from her back. Taken by emotion, she let go of Eragon's hand and dropped to her knees, shedding a tear, as Lador kept pouring gratitude inside her mind. She was free! Finally free of guilt. She was forgiven.

It was dark when they settled on the beach for the night. It was an intense afternoon. Lador spoke to them for a long time, with images mostly, but managed to use a few words. He showed how they had established that place as their home and how in the beginning the weather was mild, with normal alterations during the seasons, just like the rest of the coast, but not long after they had set their home there everything changed. It was clear that their magic had changed the place and created a natural challenge to those intending to do them harm, there was no other explanation. Arya watched as Eragon's features became intrigued and his eyes filled with questions. She knew that if it were up to him, he would spend the entire day asking millions of questions, just to quench his curiosity. And to be honest, she would too.

After that, they agreed that Saphira and Fírnen would spend the night at the valley, preparing for when her time to lay eggs would come. They didn't know when would that be, or even if it would even happen, but Saphira was determined to keep her bloodline alive. The wild dragons wished to show them some rituals older than time itself, rituals that the bonded dragons had only seen in the memories of their elders. Therefore, Arya and Eragon would have to find a place to sleep, away from there.

Saphira and Fírnen took them to the beach a few miles away, where the rain and the wind were no longer a problem. In fact, closer to the Edda River, the weather was quite pleasant and the sand still emanated a comfortable warmth from the sunny day. They decided that it was warm enough for them to stay on the beach. Eragon went to pick up wood for a fire, since he wished to cook some food for supper, as their partners bid them good night and left to stay with their kind, cutting their mental bond almost completely. Fírnen was still a faint light inside her consciousness.

They sat and ate in silence by the fire for a while after the food was ready. They were both restless, but she watched as Eragon lay down on the sand, hands on his chest, eyes closed. He seemed to be meditating, and Arya thought that it was a very good idea, but she didn't imitate him. Instead, she observed him for a while and a silly grin appeared on her lips, she didn't know why. Then, she took a deep breath and raised her chin, taking in the breeze coming from the ocean. The sound of the waves was enough to transport her through her memories. What a memorable day! What a beautiful night! With her eyes closed she recalled everything that had transpired, their encounter with the wild dragons, their flight there and the talk about the prophecy she had with Eragon and Saphira.

Going to see Angela was a mistake, she knew that in the moment she had left the herbalist's chambers. Like Eragon, she's been looking for answers, a way to understand the unsettling news about the evil lurking around her land. She didn't expect, however, to have her future bared in front of her. She insisted, Arya claimed to Eragon. Well, she insisted, but it wasn't like Arya couldn't refuse. The possibility of acquiring clues of how to deal with the unknown part of her life, such as her feelings and desires, not only toward Eragon, but also toward her people and enemies, was too tempting. If she knew about what could happen to her, then maybe planning her moves would be easier. Big mistake.

Angela told her how she was each day more susceptible to the influence and desires of others, being almost impractical to break free from it and walk her own path. The only way to break the chain was to truly commit to something or someone, letting go of control.

To commit? Even more? What else was expected to her than the sacrifices she had already made? How much would she have to lose?

The herbalist proceeded saying that love in her life did not mean the same as it meant to other people, and it would transform her in many ways. A woman turned into many. It would bring many joys, but pain was going to be a constant companion. And what concerned her the most was that a bad decision making could be deathly to her love.

About that, she was left wondering if by love Angela meant the feeling or the person, the object of her love. When she questioned the other, Angela simply shrugged and said "Is there any difference in the end?"

There was also a part about betrayal. It would come from the place she had always suspected it would come, but the individual responsible for it would never be punished, and that would be a grudge she was bound to carry forever.

A long life was expected for her, but that wasn't a surprise being Arya an elf. And that was all. Enough to make her head throb painfully. It didn't help, for she could not work around her problems having this new information in hand. It was worthless in terms of planning, but very effective in taking her peace away.

Arya's mind was racing with all she had seen that day and the terms of her prophecy, so resting was out of question for a while. The same could not be said about Eragon, who was now resting his head on his left hand while the other clutched Brisingr's hilt with unfounded force. He appeared not to care about getting his clothes dirty, for his sleeping bag was completely forgotten with the rest of his belongings. She noticed he was deep in his sleep-like trance.

Suddenly, Eragon started to stir and grunt. The knuckles on the hand that held Brisingr were pale from the strain of gripping it so strongly. Arya realized he was having a bad dream.

She came close to him, kneeling by his side, and put a hand on his chest. His pulse was out of control. He was panting heavily, all the peace and calm achieved during meditation completely gone. However, by her contact, he eased his expression slightly and the grip on Brisingr resided. She reached for his sword and freed it from his fingers. Very softly she spoke in his ear "It's all right, Eragon. You can rest now."

He didn't react to her words, but his restless movements stopped. No longer he had a frown on his face, but his lips were pursed.

That was the moment when she realized he felt uneasy when sleeping alone now, which made her suspect that Saphira only agreed spending the night away because Arya was there with him. If that was the case, she wouldn't let Saphira down.

Arya put Brisingr on the ground by Támerlein. Then she went to fetch her sleeping bag and blankets. First, she unrolled the bag by Eragon side, then covered him with the blankets. Arya lay down on her right side to face him. She placed her left palm on his chest again and watched as his breathing slowed down. Taking care to not fall into his traps, she pushed her mind inside of his. He didn't resist her, so she carefully picked the bad memories, that were incredibly gory and overwhelming, and locked it away. She hid it under layers and layers of mundane thoughts, such as walking in the sunshine or swimming in a lake.

At peace, he lifted his right hand and placed it on top of hers, covering her skin with his warmth. They rested together all night, sharing dreams of sunny days and gleaming waters.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 13 — A Poem and a Map

Saphira cast a big shadow on the hill, where Arya saw Eragon taking shelter from the hot summer morning that was their last day together. He was sitting on the grass, legs stretched forward, leaning back on his elbows, his strong arms were bare in his short-sleeved shirt. He had his eyes closed, enjoying the breeze that was blowing in his face, brushing his hair back. His pale skin was gleaming softly in the morning light. He laughed at something Saphira said, what made the skin around his eyes wrinkle a little, in a charming and charismatic way. Even from that distance, her elven eyes were able to perceive his glory. Arya sighed, he looked beautiful.

Fírnen was buzzing in her mind with merriment, as they were flying together to meet the other pair.

They both do. Beautiful creatures, indeed.

Arya smiled. Since Fírnen hatched for her and even before meeting Eragon, he got enchanted by the image of the sapphire dragon and her Rider he saw in Arya's mind. He wanted more than anything to meet them. Maybe because it was surrounded by her own affection for them and the expectation of meeting the only female of his kind, but Fírnen loved them from the start. He would frequently fill her mind with images of both of them, usually together, but it wasn't uncommon to watch as memories of Saphira or Eragon alone would appear behind her eyes. His favorites were very simple ones, not the ones of great glory in battle or undeniable skills. Those memorable deeds he let to people who didn't know them like he did. Fírnen loved to remember them in a calm scenario, with soft expressions. Saphira looking ahead at the horizon with Arya by her side, the dawn just ahead and the first rays of sun making her scales gleam in infinite blue stars. She was a lot smaller then, but looked fierce and majestic as always. Arya smiled. She knew why he chose that memory. It was because in addition to her mesmerizing beauty, the blue dragon and Arya had just had an important conversation on their way to Ellesméra from Farthen Dur that would bind them together. She had never mentioned it to Eragon and believed Saphira never had as well.

Another memory Fírnen cherished immensely was the one from Roran and Katrina's wedding ceremony. He would show her the part when the doves Arya had enchanted carried a crown of flowers and placed it on Katrina's head. Eragon's surprised face would always bring joy to her dragon, and she suspected he had altered the memory to show the colors of the twilight dancing around Eragon's figure, surrounding him in an breathtaking frame of light and power.

Don't be silly, that's exactly how you showed me. He resonated in her mind.

Is it really? She asked confused while they approached the hill.

He laughed, his body shaking midair.

Yes, my darling. It really happened that way or that's how you perceived it. But nonetheless, it's a beautiful memory that I keep with me very fondly for when I miss our friend.

She smiled and caressed his neck.

I know. And thank you for showing it to me from time to time. It's one of my favorites too.

She allowed him to continue imprinting the scene in her head. She saw Eragon's surprised expression turning to gratitude when he turned to her and asked if she was the one who had done it. His smile when she confirmed was pure and reminded her of times when she was carefree and joyous, from before the war.

Do you know why this memory is my favorite and why I hold Eragon so dearly in my heart?

She nodded even though he couldn't see with his physical eyes.

It's because of the way he made me feel.

The way he makes you feel. Like a child again, eager to live and learn. No one else does.

Arya took a deep breath and exhaled.

As they closed the distance to the hill, Eragon stood up and Saphira sat on her hind legs sniffing the air. Fírnen landed with a thud, forcing Arya to clench her jaw to stop her teeth from hitting together.

She jumped swiftly off Fírnen's back and went to meet Eragon and Saphira.

"Hello, Eragon, Saphira." She smiled at them and pressed her fingers on her lips, and watched him do the same.

Eragon proceeded to fetch two packages from Saphira's saddle. One was a big wooden cylinder and the other one looked like a book with brown leather cover, bound with green and blue silk laces.

"I wish to pay the bet." He smiled and handed her the book, leaving the cylinder on the ground beside their feet.

The book wasn't voluminous. The cover was no bigger than her open flat hand and it didn't hold more than fifty pages. But it was a beautiful artwork. The leather was decorated with engraved flowers, leaves and branches on its edges, and a well worked handwriting in the Ancient Language marked the title of the book The wind, the sea and the woman.

She looked at him and saw him smiling at her. Arya opened the book and flipped through the pages, catching a glimpse or two of a narrative poem.

"I wish to read it to you sometime."

Her eyes widened. She knew fiction could be written and also read, by rarely out loud, for it required speaking untruths.

"How? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I had the impression it features a female character in first person. It wouldn't be true."

His smile grew larger.

"Isn't it? The beauty of art is to tell the truth even when it appears to be completely made up." He came closer to her and caught the book from her hands. He opened it on the first page and pointed at a verse. She read silently: My story is an everyday story, as true as it can be. She looked up to him and he nodded at her. "Keep going." A marvelous story or an unoriginal story? Maybe just as unique as me.

She started to understand. The story was true, because fit pretty much every individual as long as they believed their story to be worth telling. Everyone believed to have a unique story, but was it really? That was what the character was referring to.

He talked again.

"See, it is true. Maybe it's not my truth in its entirety, but that's the purpose of storytelling, finding someone's truth so true that it could easily be ours. And don't convince me otherwise or I won't be able to read it to you." Eragon gave her the book once again.

He saw his way around the magic of the Ancient Language once more, a spell so powerful that compelled every single being to abide by its rules. How elven of him to speak around in circles; but at the same time, how human of him, to bend the rules so shamelessly.

"You truly are a unique creature." Arya said in a complimentary tone. He laughed and bowed his head slightly.

"I will take it as a compliment."

"You should!"

She studied his brown and warm eyes under a pair of dark brows. "If you wanted you could walk among my people without the fear of being recognized as an outsider." He brushed his moustache with his two first fingers of his right hand, the new habit of his. "But if any of them decided to spend no more than a minute in your presence, they would have to acknowledge your different nature. And it's not a bad thing. My people are strong and wise, magical in its essence, but what we lack, you have in abundance, original and unconventional thinking."

He shifted in front of her and looked a bit embarrassed by her analysis of him. She realized he was not used to her complimentary words toward him neither to her admiration.

"If it's true now, it wasn't always like this, was it? I was small-minded, prejudiced and impulsive."

Arya smiled and put a hand on one side of his face.

"You are too severe with yourself. Yes, you were all of that, but they were the result of ignorance. We've all been there. However, when you were provided with knowledge, even a little bit, you flourished into a creative and brilliant young man."

She frowned and started to pay attention to the different shades of his facial hair, tracing it with her fingers. Some of them, not a lot, were light brown, almost blonde, in the middle of all of the dark ones. There were even a few red ones. They looked like a perfect mosaic against his light skin tone.

"It's a shame I cannot watch up-close what you will become next." Arya stared up at him and saw his sad eyes.

He forced a smile but it didn't reach his eyes.

"It's the life that we chose." He imitated her and raised a hand to play with her raven black hair that rested on her shoulder. "And the world is a better place because of it. At least that's what I tell myself to find some comfort when the night is quiet and I can't stop myself from thinking of you." His voice was a whisper and it sent shivers down her body. "But I'm grateful. How many farm boys can say they went through all that I've been through?" He smiled faintly. "What other farm boy can say he can have such a beautiful, strong, wise and noble woman within the reach of his fingers? While he is within the reach of hers?" His warm breath brushed her skin.

She was tempted to get closer to him, to break the distance.

Arya observed him fighting to swallow something painful in his throat.

"I swore I wouldn't ask for more, and I won't. But I wished you promised me one thing as well."

It was only fair that she would give in to at least one request of his. So, she nodded, and he turned to speak again.

"Promise that after you're gone you will not retreat, that you will not take back all that's been said and done between us. If I can't ask you for more, then you can't offer me less."

She shook her head and smiled gently.

"I wouldn't do that."

Eragon didn't seem so sure though.

"They will pressure you. They will ask you questions and make you feel uncomfortable. Away from me you will see how preposterous a relationship with me looks like."

Arya felt Fírnen stir inside their bond. He wanted her to swear to Eragon that she was willing to be with him. But she couldn't do it. Not so soon. And that was because Eragon was right. Her counselors would try to meddle and advise her on the contrary direction. The opposition would try to use it against her. In reality, a relationship between them was preposterous. There was no reason for them to be together. None. However... How could she take back everything they lived together? No one in the world was closer to her apart from her dragon. She would not retreat. The ground they conquered she would defend, at all costs.

Arya grabbed his face with both hands very firmly.

"Listen to me. I said more than once that I trust you to do what's right. Now it's your turn to show some faith in me." His eyes widened and he tried to say something, as to defend himself and tell her he did have some faith in her, but she was faster. "I will not take it all back. We are what we are, it won't change. At least not for the worse, that I can promise."

He nodded faintly, finally believing her.

"And maybe one day, it can change for the better." She said with a soft smile.

"But not today, right?" His eyes were pleading.

She hated herself for keeping them floating on the surface, without never swimming into deeper waters. And she hated that he kept creating these situations where she had to refuse him.

Arya… Fírnen called with sweetness. Don't beat yourself up. You have already taken the first step. How did you help me to fly? Did you pushed me off the cliff or you gently held me up so I could grow accustomed to the height? A thought of understanding passed through her mind, but he didn't stop. Showing love, true love, doesn't come naturally. It means great sacrifices, a selfless act. You already started holding yourselves up so you grow accustomed to the height before jumping off the cliffYou're good for now if you don't want to commit.

Eragon didn't wait for her to say anything.

"It's all right. I know it's not the right time." With that he got out of her touch and caught the cylinder he left on the ground before giving her the book. "I have a present for both of you. I imagined you will have a great use of it."

Eragon looked from dragon to Rider as he distanced himself. "Well, come on. Don't you want to see it?" He waved his hand so they would join them on a plain patch of grass where a big flat boulder lay. He opened the wooden case that was as long as his stretched arm and from its inside he retrieved a big rolled up parchment.

When he unrolled it on the flat surface she gasped from its size. If one side was as long as his stretched arm, the other one was as long as his both open arms, from fingertip to fingertip. There she saw a map. But it wasn't just a map, it showed every city and every village, with symbols of their most valuable products, like animals and plants, all drawn with care. He painted different terrains with different colors and added information about their fauna and flora, both in drawing and in written text. It was Alagaësia the way she had never seen before.

She looked at him and saw expectant eyes.

"I figured you would want it to teach the Riders to navigate Alagaësia, also how to get here in safety. Not all of them are completely capable of doing so without losing their way." He chuckled, and she remembered that more than one of their students got lost in the way to Mount Arngor.

"It's amazing!"

It really is amazing, Shadeslayer. You did a great work.

"Thank you, Fírnen. A compliment about my ability of crafting a map coming from a dragon, the race that watches it all from the sky, means a lot." Eragon smiled when the green dragon blew a warm cloud his way.

Arya traced the route he drew on the map for the dragons to follow when travelling east. She followed it from Ellesméra to Mount Arngor. From her home to his. And suddenly they didn't seem so far away from each other. Coming back felt more and more certain than ever.

She noted he added the hill on the map. There was no particular reason why he would do that, it was a small cliff, unimportant, but she traced it with her fingertip as well. Above the tiny drawing of the hill, there was its name. She didn't know what to say.

Arya looked at him with a surprised expression, and anticipating anything she would have to say, he spoke. "So you could have some kind of familiarity when looking east and wanted to come back." He shrugged in humility.

Arya had wonderment in her eyes.

"I didn't need it, I already wanted to come back." She whispered to his joy.

From that moment, the small hill by the Edda River would be called Tialdarí Hill, a piece of her home so far away from home.


They spent a little more time on the hill. He told her that every morning before leaving his chambers to start his day, he would work on her poem. It didn't take long to write it all, but crafting the cover was a big endeavor. To accomplish his goal, he asked Rílven to help him, the most talented leather craftsman he knew, despite being an elf. Rílven looked for a good portion of leather from a dead deer he found in the woods near the mountain and instructed Eragon on how to engrave the patterns he wished on it. It wasn't easy to become as good as Rílven, but it was easy enough to create a decent drawing. Arya would have to forgive him about his mediocrity on leather craftsmanship.

He also showed every single detail featured in the map, that served more like a guide. Eragon was delighted that they seemed impressed with his work. Even Saphira, who watched him creating it from scratch, displayed surprise. It took him many months to finish the map, and he was extremely proud of it.

The rest of the day Eragon and Arya spent under the trees by the Edda River at the foot of the hill. It was a beautiful sward of grass where he laid a blanket and they sat to eat and talk. Saphira and Fírnen flew away to enjoy the last scraps of time they had together.

Eragon told Arya about his plans for that place, the verdant field by the river. He wished to build a garden, a big one, of flowers and fruit trees. And maybe raise horses like the magic ones from Du Weldenvarden. She agreed it was good idea and stated that she would like to see it next time they met. He assured her that it would be ready for her next visit.

The lazy afternoon was a perfect goodbye. The perfect last day of their companionship. Eragon felt the warm breeze mess his hair, but he didn't care, it was a good sensation, ideal to block the pain of the farewell. He closed his eyes to enjoy the feeling, but felt Arya's hands on his shoulders, pulling him to her. She carefully brought his back to rest on her chest and circled her arms around him, like she was cradling a young child. He felt safe inside of her embrace and almost felt like dozing off, if she hadn't started to trace his ear and neck with her nail.

Eragon flinched and laughed.

"Stop! It tickles." He said amid the laughter.

Arya laughed as well and retreated her hand. They stayed silent for a while, enjoying that sweet embrace, until Eragon brought up a matter he's been willing to discuss with her.

"I was wondering..." He started. "If you could you do me a favor?"

"What is it?" The fact that she didn't say yes amused him. Cautious as ever, Arya wouldn't commit to something she wasn't capable of understanding completely.

"I was thinking that Avelina should go with you to Ellesméra. She's far too advanced in her studies and still two years away from graduating. There's nothing left for me to teach her and Runalla that you and Fírnen can't do it yourselves. They already know about the Eldunarí and advanced magic. Avelina's skills with the sword are only comparable with Renir's, and honestly that's the only area where he surpasses her."

Arya stirred, and without seeing her face he could tell she was intrigued.

"She's welcomed in our city whenever she wishes to come, so is Runalla. But why do you ask that?"

Eragon sighed.

"I want to separate her from Renir for some time, a year maybe. He's too destructive right now, and I fear that if she stays within his reach she will get terribly hurt and forget about him."

Her hand patted on his chest and she said amused. "Aren't you a romantic?"

He laughed a little.

"It's not about the romance, although I am a helpless romantic, you know well." Eragon was serious again. "He needs all the help he can get. And she is the only one that has some effect on him. She can't give up on him, or I fear he won't have anyone else by his side. Also, Avelina is the oldest human student Rider, people will have great expectations about her. She can't break. And of course, I don't want her to get hurt."

Eragon waited as Arya pondered. Deep down, he knew she was as compassionate as he was, and rescuing people from terrible fates was something they shared.

"Of course. If she agrees, she can come with us. Now, are you sure this is the best decision?"

"I'm positive. He will be mad at first, but he's always mad, so..." He laughed again and she followed.

"I hope it works." Arya said in his ear, which made his body shiver.

Eragon swallowed and nodded, almost forgetting what they were talking about.

"Aye, me too."


Fírnen and Arya said their farewell early morning in the next day at the main hall. It was formal and bureaucratic, the way a queen and an elder should be treated. The population of Arngor got to their usual activities as soon as Rider and dragon headed to the outside, followed only by Eragon and Saphira.

There, where nobody was looking, she stepped close to him and enlaced him in an affectionate embrace. She caressed his hair and the back of his neck. Then she backed away, but didn't go very far, staying inside his arms, apart just enough to cup his cheeks with her hands. They stared into each other eyes, and he saw sorrow. She bit her lips, a failed attempt to keep them from trembling.

"Maybe you could stay." He whispered unsure, looking away from her beaming pair of green eyes.

He expected her to be annoyed at his insistence and leave without another word. Instead, she whispered back at him.

"Maybe…" He looked up to stare at her. "Maybe one day, Rider. One day."

That was enough to break his heart even more. He nodded and tightened his arms around her waist. Without closing her eyes, she came so close he could hardly focus on her features. Light as a feather, she brushed his lips with hers, in a sweet caress.

With that, she let go of him and turned to leave.

His goodbye got stuck inside his throat and he wasn't able to say it. Perhaps, it was for the best, for he feared he would tumble to the ground if he had to speak what he least wanted to say in the whole world. Goodbye.

Arya never looked back. She never waved. And like that she was gone, on Fírnen's back, into the skies of summer, not to be seen again for the next ten years.

Chapter Text

Saudade  part I

Or

the Coldest of Times

"You're late." Eragon Said emotionless when Renir met him in the eyrie the day after Arya and Fírnen had left.

In the morning, he had felt lazier than he had in a long time. And it had nothing to do with the coziness of his bed, or the need for more hours of sleep. His elven constitution allowed him to be awake and energetic at first light, so it was quite clear that his reluctance in getting out of bed was purely emotional. He felt drained. But forcing himself to move, he stretched and got to his feet, beginning to perform all four levels of the Rimgar.

When he was finished, his mood was a little better. He stepped closer to the window and lost his gaze on the landscape of that land, so far away from home, but so much like home for him. His deep longing seemed to never have an end.

Feeling nostalgia stirring inside him, his eyes caught a glimpse of white flying in the distance. He forced his eyes and was able to make sense of what he was seeing. It was Blagden flying west. What a curious creature. If Eragon was to be completely honest, not knowing where that raven had been all those days since he last saw him during the Games was an itch he didn't know he had, neither why, but once in a while it would make itself noticeable, afraid of the unnatural sapience that Blagden possessed. So, watching the bird fly away brought a sense of relief he didn't know he needed.

After that, going back to his usual routine wasn't so taxing as it was before. And that's how he scheduled his meeting with Renir for after lunch at the eyrie, when they crossed paths in the training area.

About an hour after lunch, there was Renir in the eyrie. Hearing his master's accusation, the elf pursed his lips and a disgusted expression appeared on his face.

"I was with Avelina." He didn't apologize, which made Eragon frown. "She told me she was supposed to leave with Queen Arya yesterday, but had unfinished business to take care of first, so she will fly to Ellesméra in three days."

Eragon nodded. He was glad Renir and Avelina were in speaking terms again, but it didn't change his resolution of separating them.

"That's right."

Renir's disgust grew larger.

"She said that you told her to go. It was an order coming from you!"

Eragon was right when he said to Arya that Renir would be mad with his decision.

Renir came closer to Eragon's desk, where he's been working on some papers. The master rested the pen and calmly answered to the accusation.

"It's true, I did. Who else would give her an order if not me?"

"And may I know why?"

"Avelina will benefit from the company of her elders. Besides, Queen Arya is the only example of female Rider she has. She can learn a lot from being close to her."

Renir seemed he was nearly spitting at Eragon's feet. Well, he wouldn't be the first.

"These are mere facts, common sense, not argumentation. I asked you to explain."

Eragon exhaled heavily and got up to his feet, feeling annoyed beyond his limits. He wasn't the type of teacher that demanded obedience and discipline at all times. He was more inviting than demanding, but Renir had the ability of testing his patience.

He headed to the door, but when he passed by his student, he stopped, lowered his tone of voice and said with authority. "Must I remind you, Renir, that I don't owe you any explanations whatsoever? Now compose yourself and follow me before I say something you don't want to hear."

They walked in silence, their feet echoing on the stone of the hallways. Eragon noticed his apprentice's rage would take long to subside, so he kept the silence all the way to Angela's chamber's, a few levels above the dragon niches and the Riders' apartments. It was beneficial to both of them, since his student put him in a foul mood as well.

When they got there and the herbalist opened the door to greet them, Renir's curiosity took the best of him, making him break the silence.

"What are we doing here?" He asked in the common language to include Angela.

"I have matters to discuss with Angela, of course. And you are accompanying me."

"Now get in, boy. I won't keep holding the door forever." Angela said with impatience.

Eragon followed Renir inside and took a seat on an armchair, by the coffee table. Angela sat opposite him and offered Renir a stool. He took it, but it was clear he wanted to be anywhere else in the world but sitting there with them.

"Are you sure you want him to be present during our conversation? I don't mind, of course, but you seem keen in having your secrets." Angela never missed a chance to tease him.

"Oh, I am the one full of secrets, huh?"

She simply shrugged with a casual movement.

Eragon shook his head about her incoherence. "I'm sure. He can stay."

"He is right here. But doesn't want to be." Renir was indignant.

"You stay, Renir." Eragon's firm voice settled the dispute for the second time that day.

Solembum, who was a mere spectator at that point, jumped from Angela's bed and rubbed his face and torso against Renir's legs, with his tail raised in the air in the shape of a hook. At that, the young elf eased his expression and Eragon could almost perceive a smile on his lips. He bent down to scratch the werecat's back, what made him purr and lie down on the carpet by Renir's feet. Odd, very odd.

"Hello, Solembum." Eragon greeted, to which he only received a slow blink.

"All right. Let's get to it then." Angela spoke.

For the next hour, the herbalist and the Rider discussed the dark forces forming somewhere in Alagaësia. The young apprentice never said a word, but listened carefully. From time to time, Solembum would add to what Angela was saying, a detail or another picked up by the others of his kind.

The werecats were sure that the mysterious land up north was the setting of some strange movement. Angela and Solembum concluded that the vision Eragon had about the army that was forming at the frozen forest was current, therefore the only possible location for it was the cold north, since the rest of the land experienced an exceptionally hot summer. The north was still unknown by the greater population, but considered dangerous by many.

Eragon still questioned Angela if she was completely sure it was Alagaësia the place he saw, and she quizzically, in her customary way, asked what was Alagaësia really, if not a convention? A portion of land that only responded to itself alone and was independent from people's designations.

"Is that a yes?" He asked in confusion.

Angela shook her head and grumped about his stupidity.

"If you need the convention, then yes! It's Alagaësia."

Whatever she meant by the whole convention theory, the important part about it was that once again Alagaësia was in danger. He had said to Orik and the others as they met by the fire during the Games that he was sure that place was part of Alagaësia, but he wasn't. He said it only to compel Orik to accept his proposition. Now that Angela confirmed what he only guessed, he felt better for not lying to his friends.

"Have you heard from Elva lately?" Eragon asked.

"I have not, since we separated. But it doesn't mean I'm not keeping my eyes on her."

Renir contributed to the conversation after the entire hour they had spent there for the first time. "It's exactly what it means. If you haven't heard from her or seen her, how can you keep your eyes on her? And how strange is this expression, keeping your eyes on someone. It's imprecise and subjective."

"I haven't heard from her, not about her."

Angela kept a pair of amused eyes and turned to Eragon.

"He reminds me of someone, I wonder who that is…"

She was right, in Eragon's opinion. Renir behaved like an angry and misunderstood young Eragon. Being so similar in age, the two of them developed in very different ways, having two very different upbringings. Also, Eragon was considered a grown man for more than ten years, while Renir was still a child in the eyes of his people.

Wanting to soothe Renir's confusion and avoid more dissatisfaction between the two of them, Eragon ignored Angela's teasing and said. "I would like to know how are you doing that as well, Angela."

"Whispers, obviously. The land whispers, lads. It's alive, so are its drunken, corrupt inhabitants. Or I've heard."

Renir was appalled at what Eragon thought was her imprecise ways of using the language.

"Is she always like this?" He asked Eragon, who felt they had formed an alliance against the herbalist's strangeness.

"I thought you had noticed already. But yes, she's annoyingly vague and secretive." With that last part, he stared at Angela, in a serious gaze.

"Peace, Shadeslayer. I'm on your side. Anyway, if you worry that the individual responsible for what you saw in your vision is Elva, you can rest. She became a calmer person after the time she spent here under your tutelage, ten years ago. I heard she's been roaming around, using her skills for money, never to hurt anyone though. The last whisper that came to my ears spoke about her learning the ways of the sword under a swordsman in Ceunon."

"Ceunon? It's unnervingly close to the frozen north, don't you think?"

Angela squinted.

"Will you ever stop doubting her motives?"

Eragon felt bad, but there was nothing he could do to placate his troubled feelings toward the strange girl.

"I don't think I will, although I would like to very much."

Her expression lightened and she seemed proud.

"Good! It means you are learning something after all."

Eragon could spend his entire life trying to interpret what her insinuations meant, and still he wouldn't get to the bottom of it.

"What do you know about Bachel? Could she be the one I saw?"

Angela seemed displeased and on edge.

"I don't know about her."

"Angela..." His tone was of warning. "Don't hide it from me."

"I'll hide whatever I feel the need to." She said in a severe manner. "But I really don't know much about her. I know exactly what you told me about Murtagh's adventures."

He didn't know if he believed her, but it did not matter. She wouldn't say much more.

"Well, is that all?"

"I believe it is, which isn't great. I told you I didn't know much."

"Aye. But I needed to hear from you, even if it was just to put us two on the same page."

"What does it mean, to be on the same page?" Renir interfered again.

"To agree on something." Angela answered casually without bothering to look at him. "Now, Eragon… I must warn you. If you try to act impulsively like you normally do, you will condemn us out to destruction."

In rare occasions, Eragon knew exactly what Angela talked about. And that was one of them.

"I won't. I promise. I wish to be sure of their motivations and our abilities to face them first. I told Arya I wouldn't try to figure this out, but I have to, it's my job to do so."

"It is. It's good that you were enlightened by such notion."

He nodded and moved to leave. Renir moved too, still looking confused by all of the information he heard there.

"Thank you, Angela. I'll come to you if I learn something new and I expect you to do the same."

"I wouldn't expect much if I were you, Rider." She went to open the door for them. "It may take years before the next piece is moved on the board."

A shiver ran through Eragon's body.

"Even then. If you…"

"Fine!" She interrupted him and practically pushed him out the door. "Go now. I have people to see, things to do."

When they were out of her chambers and the door was almost completely shut, Eragon called her again.

"One last thing."

"Yes?"

He lowered his voice after instructing Renir to go ahead and wait him in the main hall.

"Arya told me what you did for her."

She shook her head and raised her hands.

"If you expect me to tell you what I read for her in the bones, then you can take your pitiful puppy face away from here."

"Of course I don't! I just want to ask… Why would you even consider offering something like that to her? And she said you forced her." He put his dissatisfaction in his words.

Angela smiled grandly, which intrigued him.

"She said that? That I forced her to hear her fortune?"

"Not exactly." He softened his tone in embarrassment. "She did say you insisted."

"Yes, I insisted. Just like a did with you the second time. But did you take up my offer? No, you refused, and I didn't force you to do anything. The same goes for her. Now, don't you wonder why was she so curious to know about her future, and what she might have heard of it coming from the dragon bones?"

She was provoking his curiosity shamelessly, knowing very well he was a deep pond full of questions.

"It's none of my concern. I just wanted to tell you that this offer is dangerous. It almost ruined me."

"I would like to hear how I almost ruined you, and how you managed to thrive despite that, but I don't have the time. You can write me a letter, how about that?" The herbalist's sarcasm was her least annoying feature to Eragon, but it was very annoying nonetheless.

He said his grumpy goodbye and left to reunite with Renir.

"What now? And why am I following you around? You said you had an assignment for me."

"The assignment is to follow me around. And now we are going to work on a garden."

"A garden? What?" Renir was beyond confused.

"A garden. By the river. We can run there, what do you say?"

"Stop!"

Renir placed a hand on his master's arm to stop his advance, what made them stand in the hallway facing each other. They had stopped by the workshop to grab some tools that Eragon thought they would need, but Renir had no idea why.

"What are we doing exactly?"

Eragon sighed.

"I said Avelina will benefit from Arya's company. Well, I think you will benefit from mine. We both will." He shrugged.

"Are you really comparing yourself to the queen?" His mockery was offensive. But he had a point.

Another sigh came out of Eragon's mouth. He tried to work on his patience.

"I don't expect you to understand. At least not now. For now, I just need you to obey. So we run."

And they ran, from the main entrance of the mountain until the foot of the Tialdarí Hill, carrying all the tools they would need for the job in two big sacks. By the time they got there, Renir's mood wasn't any better, but Eragon was starting to be entertained by the other's reluctance.

"Here's the plan, every day, after lunch, we will work on this piece of land. I wish to build a big garden here, and I'm going to need your help. I heard you have quite the talent for singing to the plants." The subtle compliment seemed to work on Eragon's behalf.

Renir puffed his chest, and shrugged.

"I do well. I'm still learning."

Eragon almost smiled. Fake modesty? That's quite the advance for the first day of his method.

"Good, me too. We'll study together then."

Renir was interested, but tried his best not to show it, as Eragon perceived.

"But isn't this activity a personal matter of yours? What does it have to do with my training and lessons?"

Eragon turned away and walked around, inspecting the grass and the trees.

"I just have a good feeling it will teach us something useful. And first lesson..." He faced his student and gestured the number one with his right hand. "Learn to just go with it." An amused grin appeared in his face, which made Renir frown.

"Go with it? It's such an empty expression. Vague. Again! Only a language poor and deficient as this one could produce something like that." They were still using the common tongue, and Eragon decided to keep it that way, since he wanted Renir to really know him. His vocabulary and Palancar Valley accent should be part of the deal. As a plus, he would also catch a glimpse of how humans communicated and functioned in society.

Eragon laughed.

"Lesson one still needs more practice. Noted."

They worked practically together for the rest of the day. Practically because Renir would only take direct orders, refusing to build his autonomy. First, they walked around, measuring and taking notes about the type of ground and vegetation they were working on. It was more taxing than Eragon anticipated, for the extension of land he was considering for the garden was bigger than he initially imagined. Then, they started to clean the area of undesirable weeds. Renir would use magic whenever he could without draining his energies, and Eragon didn't oppose, but taught him the farmer's way, the way he was taught as a boy, just in case he wanted to try. With a hoe, Eragon removed most of the dead plants and weeds he could find, but there were too many, hidden in between other healthy plants that he intended to keep. So, he started to use his hands and almost didn't notice that Renir was on his knees picking the weed a few feet away from his master. Second victory of the day? He thought so.

"That's enough. We take it from here tomorrow." He announced, and Renir didn't express any reaction.

Silence is better than anger, right? Right?

Renir's silence lasted for months as they worked the land, until it was winter, and soon they had to pause their endeavor, for the air and the dirt were too cold for them to be outside.

When the first snow came, Eragon approached Renir at the breakfast table to announce their hiatus, and for his surprise the elf's face darkened with disappointment. However, he simply nodded and turned back to his food.

"I have an alternative for our gardening." Renir looked at him with a petulant curiosity. "Every project needs its planning. Winters will be for studying and planning. You take today for yourself, but tomorrow after lunch I expect you in the eyrie. If you have any books you think will help us, bring them. We have a lot to learn yet."

And that winter they studied together every day, as the snow storms punished Mount Arngor, stopping completely the trading, isolating them from the rest of the world. It was atypical and horrifyingly relentless. He walked around every free minute he had, making sure people were warm and well fed. If they could carry on with their work, despite the trembling hands and running nose, then they would, because if they could not, then Eragon would order them to go back to their chambers and rest. He also exhausted himself with spells to keep as many people as possible protected from the cold, and asked Blödhgarm to intensify the work on the heating system, that consisted on feeding the fireplaces constantly and letting the steaming waters flow in the underground. The elves moved the most vulnerable residents to the lowest levels of the mountain, so they could be close to the thermal waters.

How long they could take without new supplies and help from the exterior he knew not. But he was sure that that year's winter was a lesson well learned, to never be repeated again. Eragon was determined to double their production and stock up as much food and wood as they could for next year. Also, they had to start selling to other territories. They had the best rice, and he thought that the land he was working on was fertile enough for other types of production. Maybe barley? They could make their own ale and sell as a high-class product, wanted by all the lords and ladies in the west. He added that idea to his studies.

It was the middle of the winter, and the coldest period, when his relationship with Renir took its first big turn. And it was because the elf had found a common ground with his master. Their broken heart.

The day had begun the same way as the previous cold ones. Saphira and the other dragons were working all night to keep the fire alive in each of the fireplaces of Mount Arngor. Eragon went to meet her at the training hall, where she would sleep while he trained the students, so they could spend at least a bit of time together, even if their minds were only faintly connected through her slumber. Eragon had argued that the training hall wasn't comfortable and the Riders were too loud. She ignored him and did it her way.

They greeted each other, and Eragon sat by her side in silence, his back pressed against her body, while she quickly fell asleep. He was waiting for his students and the elven spellcasters to start the training, but was approached by Ästrith, who announced that Rílven had fallen ill, so Renir wouldn't had a sparring partner for the day.

Eragon considered partnering him with the oldest students, but that wouldn't be a challenge for Renir and he would probably act rebellious and difficult, like he did whenever he felt bored. The only way he saw was if one of the other elves or Eragon himself worked as Renir's sparring partner. It wasn't an easy choice, but he decided to do it himself, for as draining as it would be for him. So, he climbed back to the eyrie in big strides and grabbed Brisingr.

When he arrived back at the training area, the students were already sorted out in groups, with the exception of Renir, who performed fighting stances on the sidelines. Eragon felt bad for him. Despite his difficult nature, Renir didn't need to be treated as an outcast. Avelina was the only one who enjoyed his company, and even her was away from him. It was then he came to the idea that it wasn't Renir the one refusing to work with others, but it was mutual. He refused them because they refused him first, or maybe it was the other way around. He couldn't quite tell.

The master called, and Renir looked his way. When he realized what was about to happen, his eyes beamed with anticipation. He would finally test his skills against the great Shadeslayer. The hero, the legend! Eragon shook his head trying to wipe away the thought. He despised how he was portrayed in many songs and stories featuring him and Saphira.

Eragon felt Brisingr heavy in his hand. But it didn't last for long, because Renir, eager to prove his worth, attacked as soon as they took position to fight. He performed a number of intricate movements that Eragon was completely capable of stopping, without big concerns. The master didn't motion to counteract, which made the student keep advancing, hitting his sword against Eragon's, in a brilliant display of ability.

At some point, Renir's attacks started to become slower by the slightest, but it was enough for Eragon to pick up that he was beginning to tire. When the elf's sword descended to cut Eragon on the head, he used a delicate twist of his wrist to divert the other sword's trajectory to the side, what made Renir lose his balance and tip forward, while Eragon was free to go to his back and press Brisingr against his throat. An angered snarl came out from Renir's mouth.

They started again, and again Eragon was able to gain position on Renir's back. The fight ended like that, with the master submitting his student from a move to his back, at least ten times after the first. Renir wasn't fighting to prove his worth anymore, his motivation was pure anger. Armed with that intense feeling, Renir prepared to end the confrontation once and for all. Eragon noticed that Renir wanted to hurt him, so he let him, hoping it would teach him a lesson.

When Renir raised his sword diagonally and deferred the blow to Eragon's head more quickly than the human eyes could perceive, Eragon didn't defend himself, he only moved slightly back and let the dull blade pass, missing the left side of his head but hitting his brow instead. He felt his bone cracking and his sight immediately going dark on his left side. He didn't feel any pain in the moment, but knew it would come soon.

Eragon! Saphira's scream resonated inside his head at the same time as her roar echoed through the hall.

Silence followed as Eragon stumbled back and fell on the ground.

I'm fine. He grunted, but tried to hide the first signs of pain.

I'll shred that elf to pieces!

Saphira, please! I know what I'm doing. I appreciate your concern, but let me take care of it.

She roared again, lower this time, and sat back. There were small columns of fire rising from her nostrils.

Fine!

Eragon wiped his face on his sleeve and sat up. The aching area was pulsing under his touch now. It was a relief, though, to realize that his vision was only clouded by the stream of blood running down from his brow instead of being caused by some real damage in his eye.

The elves surrounded him to help with his injury, but he declined it and stood up. He could take the pain of a broken bone and a split brow. He could fight with blood in his eye, he had done it before. But what he was completely incapable of doing was letting his student fail in become the best Rider he could. Or at least a decent person.

"You got me. That's one for you and eleven for me. Let's keep going."

He raised Brisingr while the elves stepped back reluctant. Renir had a shocked expression on his face and seemed paralyzed. Maybe he had never thought what would it feel to actually hurt someone instead of only trying. Maybe he would drop his harmful intentions for good after that, Eragon hoped. And he was right.

Renir dropped his sword and shook his head, he was wide eyed.

"Renir, your training isn't finished. Pick up your sword." Eragon commanded.

Very slowly he did as he was told. Eragon looked around and saw all the others watching the confrontation, and felt bad that Renir would suffer even further humiliation by being massacred in front of his peers, just to make the mistake of injuring his master. So, he decided to change his approach, he would teach his student how to win in an honorable way.

Every once in a while, after their sparring resumed with a lot more caution from Renir's part, Eragon's sword would lead his opponent to a position that Renir could easily transform into a powerful attack. At first, the young Rider seemed confused, probably thinking his master was getting tired from the pain and allowed such 'mistakes' to happen. But his eyes crossed with his master's and soon he realized he was being taught without the use of words.

After that, it was easy to perceive that the positions led by the movement of Brisingr against his own sword started to flow by Renir's own action. It was easy for Eragon, because he was sure that their audience thought that the teacher was being surpassed by his student. Good. Maybe they will want to increase his status and allow him in their groups next time.

Finally, Renir managed to poke Eragon's hand with the tip of his sword, which made Brisingr escape from Eragon's grip. It was predictable, since Renir performed the movement he was silently teaching him, but Eragon didn't stop it, and let himself being touched on the throat, in the way that Renir learned the outcome of such maneuver. They used spells to dull their blades, but still he felt constricted by the pressure.

"Enough." He commanded, and Renir backed away. "You did good, Renir. Well done." Eragon touched his lips with two fingers and greeted his student, who was too impressed to respond.

Eragon collected his sword and ordered the training to continue, as he retreated to the eyrie, followed closely by Saphira.


The wind was howling outside the eyrie, and the cold was almost too much for him to stay there without Saphira's warmth. She had left to start her night duty with the fireplaces, and he was ready to leave too after organizing his work on his desk, for he feared the fireplace and his blankets wouldn't be enough to keep him warm that night. His brow was completely healed, and he looked perfectly fine, if it wasn't for the black cloud on his head that was the problem of Renir's temper.

As if commanded, the elf knocked on the door.

Face to face with his master, the student seemed to falter. Eragon felt his sympathy grow. He knew from his own experience how bad it feels to make mistakes out of impulsiveness and ignorance.

"Hello, Renir." He said gently and watched as the other had a permanent pained expression on his face.

"I apologize, master. For hurting you."

"I forgive you. Is that all?" Eragon wanted to be inviting, to get Renir to talk, so they could finally work on their differences, but he didn't know how to do it.

Renir looked away, letting the wind resonate between them for too long.

"I… I am constantly angry. And I don't know how to stop it, or even if I want to stop it." His lips were trembling, because of the emotion or the cold, Eragon didn't know for sure. At that moment, even them being almost equally young, Eragon felt extremely paternal.

"Come, sit here."

Eragon led him to a chair by the fire and sat across from him.

"Do you know why do you feel this way?"

"I do."

They stared at each other, and Eragon thought that Renir would continue talking, but nothing else came out from his mouth.

He reclined in his chair and put on his most patient mask to allow Renir to feel comfortable to share.

"All right. Take your time."

As the elf reunited his courage to speak, Eragon watched as his face was gaining a dark shade of red and his brows came together. He was on the verge of another outbreak of anger.

"I'm angry with... I... hate... I hate humans. They took everything I had." Eragon sat up straight and put his elbows on his thighs.

"Renir..." He tried to sound calm and composed. "Who hurt you?"

Renir's lips turned downwards, forming a grimace.

"Barst..." He spat the name. "Galbatorix. You."

Eragon had an idea of why he was included in the list. Rumor had it that Renir expected to become Saphira's Rider once, and for that he held a bitterness toward Eragon.

"Go on." The master encouraged.

"My entire family died in the war. Mother, father, brother. I have no one else. War that you induced, against that mad man. And Barst, with his mace, wiped my entire bloodline that lasted for centuries. All gone. Because of the inability of humans to stay out of trouble. It seems misery always keeps your kind as company and drags everyone else with it." His speech was filled with disgust. "I hate everything related to humanity. Their horrendous language, their weakness, their habits."

"I see." Eragon was speechless.

He didn't know how to work around the problem of hatred and strong prejudice against different kinds so deep into his home. The races in Mount Arngor lived together in a regime of tolerance, not exactly holding each other in fondness though. There were exceptions, in which friendship sparkled and even love. There were the negative exceptions as well, when quarrel would arise among them. But this kind of hate? In Arngor? No, that was totally new for him.

Renir diverted his gaze, and his emotion changed. His heated features turned into a sad expression.

"The worst thing is..." He looked back at Eragon. "The kindest people I have encountered in the last decade... The one's who truly cared about me, and now I see how much, were Avelina..." He forced gulp down. "...and you. And I hate it. I hate you even more for not hating me back."

Eragon felt divided. He wanted to scream at Renir, to say he was being irrational, that few didn't speak for all. But at the same time, he understood. He was also wronged by terrible men. He also felt the bitterness of loss taking roots inside his chest.

"Listen..." He began softly. "It may seem that we are very different from each other, but you heard when Angela compared the two of us. She wasn't wrong. I've always seen a lot of myself in you, but until now I wasn't sure how much."

Eragon paused because Renir looked like he wanted to object. He didn't, however. Instead, he expressed his confusion. "You think we are alike? I can't possibly conceive this notion."

The teacher smiled kindly.

"That's because you don't know me at all, Renir. And that's the reason why I wanted you to be my shadow. To spend time with me. So you would know me, and with time, finally accept me as your teacher."

Renir scoffed.

"How would that change the way I see you? Do you think I would feel sympathy for you, just because you are kind to me and because you lost people too? I've read about you already, I know you."

Eragon held a sad look. He hated how the stories about him would always paint a perfect picture of heroism and courage. They wouldn't tell about his nightmares, his mistakes, his impulsiveness, his prejudice. They wouldn't tell about how many times he hurt the people he loved. Renir hated Eragon because he knew the hero, the farm boy turned legend. And for that, he didn't know Eragon at all.

"No, my friend. If you only read about me, you know nothing. I'm not a character in a story."

"What is it, then, that makes us so much alike?"

"I'd rather just keep with the plan, than trying to convince you of anything. Just know that I'm not giving up on you."

The student seemed even more confused.

"Why not? Why do you insist?"

"Because I would be giving up on myself too. Now go rest. Tomorrow you will be back here so we can continue with our studies." Eragon sat back and watched Renir stand up to leave.

With his hand already reaching for the doorknob, Renir spun around and faced Eragon.

"Master... I am sorry for hurting you." He used the Ancient Language for the first time with Eragon since they started to work together. "I realize now that I don't want to cause you harm and I regret what I did." He seemed like was struggling to say those words, even being as truthful as they were.

Eragon smiled and nodded.

"You are forgiven."

Renir left, and Eragon felt strange. Suddenly he felt too conscious about all the lives he touched, even without knowing. How many children lost their parents in the war? They fought to protect or to kill Eragon, either way, it was because of him. His chest tightened and he felt sadness taking over. Indeed, misery likes to make humans its loving company.

He stood up and walked to his bookshelf. Between a large volume about the updated history of Alagaësia given to him by Jeod and a guide to the wildlife of the Beor Mountains, sat the original copy of the poem he wrote for Arya. It had a simple leather cover, without all the drawings he made for her. The pages carried his erratic handwriting and blots of black ink, instead of the careful calligraphy used only for her, but the content was the same. The story of a character navigating through the mystery of being alive.

He grabbed the book and sat on his bed. He took a deep breath and his eyes fell on the dresser, where the fairth Arya made for him was placed beside the one of his mother made by Brom. He felt his eyes sting. In the end, the story of love and loss he held in his hands was the story of his own life. But it was also the story of Renir's life. And Arya's. And Brom's, Selena's, Roran's and many others. It was about being alive. And longing.

Chapter Text

Saudade  part II

Or

The Place Where Time Comes to Die

Autumn that year was particularly beautiful, as it seemed that all the seasons were being intensified lately. Summer had been too hot for her taste, but now that all the heat was gone, the agreeable temperature, combined with the pretty colors, made Du Weldenvarden the perfect place.

Arya very often walked through the forest barefoot, her chin up and arms open. She liked to feel the energy emanating from the trees, the flowers and all the living creatures crawling unseen under all that myriad of colors. Such scenario could almost make her forget her problems. Almost.

If most of her subjects lived their lives in the lightest way possible, contemplating the landscape for several hours during the day or dedicating all of their time to pursue beauty and excellence, her reality was far from that. If the other elves would lose track of time inside the forest, she counted the minutes. When would the next egg hatch? When would the council take the decision they had been considering to take for months? When would she have time to fly away with Fírnen just to feel free again? How many hours fit in a year? How about in ten? She just kept counting.

It was dark already when she arrived on the Crags of Tel'naeír. The meeting with the noble houses as always had been taxing, especially because she had to refrain herself constantly not to offend any lord or lady. They were too stiff, narrow minded. Stuck up, as Eragon once called them in a moment of irritation. She laughed a little just to think of it. How interesting would be to see the Rider dealing with the council in her place. Of course, he would never be in her place, but still, she could imagine his face turning red as he tried to keep his composure to avoid punching them in their faces.

Still with an amused grin in her face, Arya met Avelina outside Oromis' old hut, her temporary house for the next year. She had prepared dinner for the both of them and waited for the queen to arrive so she could set the table. It was the perfect evening to dine outside.

The young woman greeted Arya in the elven way, who responded accordingly. Arya found Avelina's company a treat, so pleasant and easy they were becoming fast friends. It was easy because the girl wouldn't rush to fill the silence between them or judge when Arya expressed a different preference or opinion on something. She was kind, but too smart for her own good.

When scrying with Eragon in their first scheduled appointment after her return from Fell Thindarë, Arya felt saddened, even if his pleasantries made her smile. He was warm as always and told her in details how the start of his work with Renir had been. She noticed he was excited to finally achieve progress in dealing with his rebellious pupil. That too made her smile. Then he spoke about his conversation with Angela and all the things he thought about it. How Elva was suspiciously quiet and Angela's odd reaction when he mentioned Bachel. The latter being the most concerning in his opinion, and so he explained to her why. He asked her opinion, to what she could only say she agreed with him in everything and he should keep watching the land how he had been doing so well. What else would she say? The whole truth? How she wanted him to come see for himself about Elva and Bachel? It would only sadden him as well, and she refused to cause them such discomfort.

When saying his goodbye, he kept his warmth but didn't show too much affection, after all that was an official scrying session, not a personal one. She followed his lead and ended the spell. Avelina was on the corner of Arya's study during the entire time, but Arya didn't mind that she had heard it all, Eragon didn't as well, for Renir also accompanied the master constantly. It was a strange arrangement, but Arya trusted in Eragon's methods and hoped those two would be the bright future of their order. What Arya minded, however, was how Avelina was able to read her expressions like an open book.

"Why don't you arrange to have a personal mirror in your chambers, so you two could have more privacy, your majesty?" Avelina questioned in a casual voice.

"Why would we need more privacy?"

"If you allow me to say it, your majesty, but you seemed to want to speak more freely. I was wondering if it would be beneficial if you kept constant contact with master Eragon, that isn't bound by formal means."

"It would be inappropriate to break the rules of the forest in self benefit." Arya was severe. "This mirror is an exception to the protective spell because it's strictly needed. Otherwise, no scrying inside our limits is allowed."

"Don't you think this is an old and outdated rule? What do you need it for? Elves walk free around the land again, among humans and dwarves. Even the urgals are seen more often. You don't have to hide here anymore, the war is long over."

Arya pondered. She had the same idea for a long time, but decided not to act on it, for she feared she would be accused of being too open and liberal. Caution was in order for the time being.

"Perhaps. But it's not a decision to be taken lightly. It requires long consideration."

Avelina nodded and kept quiet, while Arya studied the reports delivered by her scouts.

"Excuse me, your majesty, but I would like to say one more thing." Arya gestured so Avelina could keep talking. "I understand what you are going through and I am sorry." She had a soft and empathetic voice.

"What I'm going through? I don't understand." Arya leaned forward to place her elbows on her desk as Avelina came to sit opposite her.

"With master. It saddens you, and I'm sorry."

Arya's jaw dropped and she felt her cheeks warm.

"What do you mean?"

"You both are so different and so distant in the world. I understand it, since Renir and I have a similar problem."

"Eragon and I are not..." She failed trying to find the right word, for she didn't know what they were not, she didn't even know what they were. "…like you and Renir."

"I see." Avelina diverted her look, apparently concerned she had stepped on unstable ground.

Arya didn't want to embarrass her pupil or to make her fear saying something to her, for she was fond of the girl.

"It's a... It's a difficult situation, because of the motives you mentioned, but for others even greater too." Arya didn't deny the girl's suspicion which didn't go unnoticed.

They stared at each other. Arya saw curiosity in that pair of brown eyes. They were a different shade from the ones she was so familiar with, instead of a rich shade of wet dirt, hers were softer, almost like hazelnut. It went well with her pale skin and sandy long hair that she braided almost always in intricate designs tight on her head. She was a beautiful twenty-year-old woman, but her beauty wasn't her best feature, it was her intuition.

"It's a secret, isn't it? You and him. I imagine why a relationship between you two would be a problem."

Arya would feel inspected, with her privacy violated, if it was anyone else making those assumptions. Her intuition wasn't her only great quality as well, for her charisma could open many locked doors, such as Arya's intimacy. That day was the day when Avelina became Arya's confidant, and Arya, Avelina's. They shared a lot of their lives with each other with time, but trusted that the other would keep it all between them. Arya would keep her royal matter a secret, however, and Avelina kept protected her role as the daughter and heir of a rich lord as well. They were surrounded by the entangled strings of politics, but refused to let it be an issue in their new found camaraderie.

The food Avelina cooked was amazing. It was a family recipe from her ancestors, old inhabitants of her birthplace, Bullridge, taught from mother to daughter, but adapted to the meatless diet they both followed.

"I received a letter from Renir." Avelina started. "He said Eragon and him had finished with the first part of building the garden. Next, they will start planting the seeds and singing to the plants, which he expects to take several months, if not years."

Arya swallowed and said. "It appears they want to be thorough."

"I believe so." And a malicious grin took her lips.

"What is it?" Arya narrowed her eyes.

Avelina shrugged.

"I can only imagine why master Eragon would want to put so much effort on a garden."

Arya almost rolled her eyes at the insinuation.

"That's Eragon. Everything he does he must do the best he can."

"Yes, but I saw the map..."

"And?"

"No matter." Avelina waved casually with playfulness. "He gave you an entire hill, of course he would give you a garden. I wouldn't be surprised if the next time you arrive there, the river itself would be renamed after you."

Arya laughed at the exaggeration, it really was an absurd image.

They talked amenities during dinner, waiting for their dragons to return from hunting. Fírnen and Runalla were good friends and enjoyed each other's company very much. For Arya, it was a relief to have someone to take her dragon out of his boredom, since she was so busy with her work all the time.

The politics of the elves were as complicated as it could be. It moved slowly, but at times, very rarely, it would explode in intrigue and betrayal. They all feared those moments, so the players considered many times before making their moves. Arya was a inexperienced player, but a powerful one, still to be proven as feared as her mother and as respected as her father.

Ellesméra, being the Elven Capital, was the place where the most important moves were made. There, the lords and ladies, members of the council, would meet regularly to discuss what Arya thought to be the same matters over and over again. A little detail, for insignificant as it seemed, was debated restless until an agreement was reached; the queen's word being the definitive opinion on the matter. Not a single leaf would drop from a tree in Du Weldenvarden without the discussion of the council and the approval of the queen. Right at that moment, they were analyzing the possibility of starting to produce lavender themselves instead of buying from the Kingdom or Surda. But that was only one decision on that matter to be taken; they still had to discuss where would it be, who would be allowed to produce it, if they would sell it and how much of it would go for trading and how much would stay inside the forest. They were even to choose the type of lavender, and also if magic would be used or not, and if the answer was positive, how much magic? Because there was the issue of weather. And with all that, there it went at least five years of relentless meetings. Someday, maybe, the elves would be proud producers of their own lavender. But it wasn't going to be so soon.

Arya hated that part of her work, she hated how much her people kept themselves from actually living, for the sake of a long and slow life. She had lived among humans and dwarves for long enough to grasp the true meaning of living life. They didn't wait, especially humans. If they wanted something, they would go get it. If they had an opinion, they would say it right away or forget about it completely in fear of hurting someone's feelings, but never give little hints of it for decades until the others could finally have the full idea of what it was about. No, humans were opportunists. For better or for worse

With that notion in her mind, Arya evaluated the young individual in front of her. She was a great opportunist. In seven years as an apprentice Rider, she went from a child even in human standards to a grown woman, intelligent and powerful. Avelina was skilled as rarely was seen among human Riders. She was strong too, physically, which was a great surprise to those who would see her slender form, but also mentally. Especially mentally. Arya considered Avelina to be an opportunist because the young Rider would eat up her masters' words, eager for learning. She would make question after question and spend hours immersed in a good reading. If a challenge was proposed to her, she would take it gladly and only rest when it was completed. Avelina was the best kind of opportunist.

After they finished eating, Avelina went inside to put the dishes away and grab the game of runes they were using to practice wordless magic.

Ever since they arrived from Arngor, Arya was determined to be as proficient in that special kind of magic as Eragon was, not for the competition, but to offer him support when dealing with the new threats the all feared. Well, maybe she was in a competing mood just a little, but mainly she wanted to be ready. Avelina, being advanced in her studies for being so dedicated, was completely capable of keeping up with her elder in training under Arya's guidance. She had Arya's discipline and Eragon's creativity, as she was crafted from both of their essences in perfect harmony. How curious.

Moving the runes on the board had become easy for both of them, but actually wining the game was Arya's specialty. Avelina failed every single time in trying to beat the queen, that marveled in noticing how the young Rider was resilient and resigned in accepting the defeat, only to want to go again. She hardly got angry or frustrated, and it was easy for Arya to realize she just wanted to play. She loved the game more than she loved wining. And that might have revealed one of Avelina's flaws. Would her be too passive? In that, she wasn't anything alike her masters, for she wasn't impulsive like Eragon, neither fierce like Arya.

Arya put an end to their mental battle when Fírnen and Runalla landed on the crags, bidding Rider and dragon goodbye. She was exhausted from conferring all day, but relaxed after a good time with a friend. Still, a good night of rest was most needed. And that was the way Arya spent almost all of her autumn evenings that year.

Time passed, and they moved on to bigger challenges as they progressed on their studies. Arya was careful not to put her student in danger by demanding more than she or even Arya could handle. She had the help of some of the best spellcasters of Ellesméra. They instructed them both, and supervised their experiments. Arya and Avelina meditated every morning before sunlight to expand their mental power and practiced wordless magic. It was a straining but satisfying routine. It kept time running for Arya. Not running exactly, but passing.

Winter came, harsh as promised. The magic of Du Weldenvarden kept most of the severity of the winds and snow at bay, but still it wasn't easy for its inhabitants, who hid inside their homes. On the other hand, The Kingdom and Fell Thindarë had it worse than Surda, Farthen Dûr and the elven cities.

In that sense, the scrying sessions with Eragon worried her and the other leaders of Alagaësia to no end, because Fell Thindarë had locked its entire population inside, isolating them from the rest of the world. Not exactly isolated, since the dragons could still fly, and the dwarves had dug through the entrance, but traveling east had become impossible if not by dragon wings, and supply shipment had to be cancelled. Sending aid was impractical. They were on their own.

Arya had asked Eragon what could she do to help. He smiled sadly and said "If you were a believer I would ask you to pray for better weather. In this case, just… Hope for it."

And so she did.

For her, life went by the same for the following days, until Vanir arrived from The Kingdom carrying a note. It was a request from the Earl of Palancar Valley to meet and discuss the deployment of elven healers to the area. It was a request for a meeting between leaders, not a mission to the Rider. Even so, she would fly to him as a Rider would.

"What should I answer, your majesty?" Vanir was waiting by her desk.

"Tell him I will travel to Carvahall and meet with him."

"Your majesty? You will go to him? Why not require him to come meet with you here? You are the queen after all, and he is just…"

"Roran is a friend, Vanir." She interrupted. "Tell him I will arrive in a fortnight at noon."

"With a retinue?"

"No. Only Avelina and Runalla are to accompany Fírnen and I."

Vanir's face turned to a grimace, but he didn't protest.

"Yes, your majesty."

"You may go now, Vanir." The Ambassador turned to leave, but Arya called him again. "And Vanir!"

"Yes, your majesty."

"Next time you must refrain yourself from calling someone, anyone, as just… whatever you think they are. That's all."

She waved to have him leave. Vanir was visibly embarrassed, but didn't protest. It seemed to Arya that he still had lots to learn about tolerance.

It was a bright winter day when Fírnen and Arya sighted Carvahall at a fair distance covered in snow, and if Roran had waited for too long he was polite enough not to mention after their landing. Arya and her companions were shamelessly late. She would normally keep quiet about her troubled relationship with time, but since she was in the position of a leader addressing another authority, she thought it would be the right thing to apologize.

Roran smiled gently and said he understood and even predicted she would take a little longer to get there. His smile caused the skin around his eyes to crease softly, almost exactly like Eragon's. Arya had never noticed that similarity between them before, but in that moment it was all she could see.

"Welcome back, Arya Dröttning, Fírnen. And you two must be Avelina and Runalla." Roran greeted them.

"It's an honor to finally meet you, Roran Stronghammer." Avelina said graciously.

"The honor is mine, to meet the first human Rider after Eragon. You bring pride to our kind." She smiled grandly and made a little courtesy. He pointed to the building behind his back and said. "Come inside! Katrina and Ismira are anxious to see you all."

Roran's castle was impressive, and Arya admired the building every time she visited them. It wasn't luxurious in any way, but strong and gigantic like a fortress, big enough to shelter the dragons. It sat atop of a hill over Carvahall watching it all from above. Arya knew that the family would prefer to live in the farm, but Roran was needed there at any time of day, so was rare the opportunity they had of spending free time outside the city.

City. Carvahall wasn't a village anymore. The heroism of its people caused curiosity throughout the land and migration was inevitable. Eragon would never recognize his hometown anymore. But he would feel at home, however, if he arrived at his old farm, rebuilt exactly as Roran remembered. And that's why the fairth she gave to Eragon painted his family sitting in front of his old home, exactly as Eragon would remember it too.

Inside the castle, they met Katrina and their daughter Ismira. She was almost a copy of her mother, the same red curls and sparkling eyes, in the frame of a girl in her first decade of life. Katrina was about to give birth. That was the reason Roran called for a meeting. She was in good health and the pregnancy had been as expected, not troubled at all. But Roran worried. It was not only about his wife and child, but the other women of Carvahall, who had perished in child birth. Arya had sent her healers years before to aid not only the people there, but to all corners of Alagaësia, with little to no results whatsoever. Humans were still suspicious of elves, despite their alliance during the war, and it would take the return of the Riders to begin to change that image, if it would ever change.

"You don't have to worry, Katrina. We will be here for the birth of your child." Arya spoke when the woman explained that unlike her fellow citizens, she trusted the elves to bring her child to the world without complications. They were sitting around the table at the conference hall.

"You?" Katrina was surprised by the offer. "I appreciate, your majesty, but I believe you are needed more in Ellesméra, isn't it right?"

Arya smiled gently.

"Please, Katrina. Call me by my name. And no, I'm needed more when my friends require my attention."

Arya could see how touched Katrina seemed, even Roran showed small signs of emotion, with a proud look and puffed chest, that in nothing seemed arrogant.

You make them feel important. Fírnen stated.

They are.

"Thank you, Arya." Roran said, to which she only tipped her head. "But I'd like to discuss the possibility of sending the healers to us again permanently. I wish to convince the population to take your help once more. Maybe after years since the first time and seeing that Katrina is comfortable with your spells, they realize how well intended you are and accept your aid. Please, Arya, could you consider my request? The valley doesn't have much to offer, but I'm sure we can reach an agreement to favor both of our peoples." He was apprehensive.

Avelina looked at her with expectation, certainly waiting for the moment she would be introduced as an alternative, like they had discussed before.

"I have been dwelling on it and thought of a solution, it won't require any formal agreement between us, don't worry. Of course, I do not have the authority to make this decision on my own, but Eragon himself gave his approval."

"Oh? What is it?" Roran looked excited by an alternative to his dilemma.

"Avelina is the oldest human student Rider. She is a year away from graduating and at this point she is highly efficient in healing besides all else. So, my idea is to place her here in Carvahall with the possibility to tend to the population of the valley. She can also serve as a teacher in her spare time. That last part is a test Eragon wishes to perform for when Queen Nasuada accepts the reform on the magical laws."

The expression on Roran's face was relieved to say the least. One last problem, apparently.

"I don't know how to thank you, Arya."

"I hope it works for you. It's an offering from the Order of the Riders to your valiant people." She was being most sincere.

Arya grew to admire that hardened men and women, who fought each day for their existence. If they were prejudiced against her kind, it was the result of ignorance, that she hoped Avelina would succeed in placating.

That night, she slept in the farm house. Roran had offered her the main bedroom, that was exactly where his father's old room was, but she politely refused. Instead, she lay on a much more comfortable bed than the young Eragon had growing up, but at the same spot where his used to be. She looked outside at the starry sky and knew somehow that the stars she was seeing were not the same he saw at that moment from his mountain. They were apart in distance, but could as well be apart in time.


"You should have not gone alone." Lord Däthedr paced in front of her desk.

In the very instant Arya had crossed the gardens of Tialdarí Hall in the morning after her arrival from Carvahall, Däthedr intercepted her with a grave look. She motioned for him to follow her to her study where she gave an account of her time away.

"I wasn't alone." She said calmly.

"Without your retinue. You know what I mean by that." He had a controlled expression, but she noticed he was reaching for some kind of familiarity between them, but failing in the midst of his judgmental tone.

"No, I don't know."

He smiled in a condescending manner, as if he was speaking to child.

"You went as a Rider, when the occasion was for the queen. And you offered him a solution only a Rider could, instead of working on an agreement that would be favorable to our people. Did you know they have a good production of potatoes? Great quality."

"Of course, I do. We trade with them."

The demand for a separation between her two roles was making her insane. All the little remarks between an argumentation and another were just... It surprised her that her counselor was being so direct with her about it, because the rest of them were anything but direct. Couldn't they see that she was only one?

Still, he was challenging her intelligence by implying she was oblivious to their commercial alliances.

"Yes, we do, your majesty. And this meeting with the Earl of Palancar Valley could have resulted in a much more beneficial agreement than the one we currently have. Smaller prices, better product quality. If only you could separate the Rider from the queen..."

"I'm afraid I cannot separate the two, you imagine why, I'm sure." She stood up and went to look out the window, with her back to him.

"I'm afraid as well." His tone made her turn to him again. It was concerned and almost desperate.

"Däthedr?"

He threw his hands in the air and sighed heavily.

"If you cannot be only the queen when it's required of you to do so, then you are not serving your people the way you are supposed to serve."

Arya narrowed her eyes. That bluntness would have cost him his life, if her mother was still alive.

"How dare you question my motives or my behavior?" She spat the words with haughtiness.

"Your majesty, that wasn't me talking, but the council. It was their voices, not mine."

"That's absurd. I did nothing but sacrifice myself to stand here where my ancestors stood and do what they did. Conduct our people to its glory. Or do the good lords and ladies of the council forget how in only ten years our kind is again seen throughout the land as the fair and wise people they are? How freedom made us all thrive again? Ten years, Däthedr. And there's much more to come for us, if only the council stops reprimanding me." Her voice was low and menacing, reflecting the turmoil inside.

"I don't forget, of course. Neither do they. They simply wonder who's to take credit for this achievement, the queen or the Rider." He took a defensive stance — palms raised, chin down.

"I don't understand! What is the difference?"

"The queen doesn't take orders from anybody. But how about the Rider? In the end, if you can't separate one from another, then the queen isn't really the one who's ruling, is she?"

Arya couldn't believe what her ears were hearing. Was he really implying that Eragon manipulated her? It was outrageous! She was free to make her decisions. The only Rider who had such privilege, since Eragon avoided giving her direct orders, for he respected her too much to do so. She knew of her responsibilities and Eragon trusted she would take the right decisions. A simple agreement, informal, but efficient. A scheme to manipulate her in her royal duty couldn't be this far from Eragon's intentions, since he wouldn't even listen to her tellings about her day to day like if involved her pollical affairs.

"And that is a common belief in the council?" She was so angry she heard her pulse in her ears and felt her chest move up and down from her racing breathing.

"It is, your majesty. I told you how your proximity with the Shadeslayer could be dangerous."

"Why now? Why did you wait ten years to tell me?"

"I didn't, for I had nothing to tell you. Before, it was just whispers, because the fact that we were ruled by a Rider was a reason for all to take pride, not to fear."

"No. Before they thought they could manipulate me, did they not?" If he could be direct, so could she. And he didn't even know how much she had learned from humans when the subject was bluntness. "My supporters wanted to manipulate the Head Rider and the Order through me, and my opposition wished to have me lose my way when ruling our people because I would be too distracted with my duty as a Rider. Two different ways to make me fail both my roles. Am I too far from the truth?"

Däthedr widened his eyes. Arya had caught him by surprise. Probably he thought she wouldn't figure it out by herself, but she did from the start. The insistence for her to take the crown from both sides was the first sign. She refused, for her desire to dedicate herself entirely to raising the dragons and training the Riders, but when she realized that was a rotten agenda behind her nomination for the throne from both parties, she could not turn her back to it. It was her duty to protect her people first of all, but also her parents' legacy. They worked tirelessly to maintain peace, but she feared that if another one donned the mantle of regent they would cave to the demands of a few who dreamed of domination upon others. Her opposition, though not its entirety, was very keen of the idea of the elves being superior than others, and were still bitter about losing cities and territories to the humans. For Arya, they didn't represent the Älfakyn identity. They were not true elven citizens. They were a liability.

"You read the subtleness with great attention, my queen. I'm impressed."

"I see. It's true then." She faked a perfect tranquility. "You may notice I have much to think about. So, you may leave now, Däthedr, thank you."

Apparently upset for being rushed out, the noble man bent his head but didn't leave.

"Excuse me, your majesty, but I fear this subject is far from over."

Her patience levels were terribly low at that point.

"How so?"

"I believe you did not fully understand the implications of what we are discussing."

"You underestimate me. Wasn't you who just said I read the subtleness with great attention?"

He bent his head again.

"Pardon me, but I only wish you well, my queen." His soft voice when addressing her made her skin crawl. It bothered her like nothing else, the way he used affection toward her through that two little words. It was not the right way for him to speak with her, it was too familiar.

"Then say it already. What are the implications?"

"You have been urged to take your mother's place as queen by those loyal to your family and who were strong believers of your righteousness, despite what you believe, that you have been manipulated. They are… We are on your side, for everything, except one matter. "

"Say it, Däthedr."

"If your ruling is not yours anymore, then enemies will come together like it only happened a numbered of times toward a common goal. To get the dominance back to our kind."

She's read the subtleness very well. If she didn't cut ties with the Order, or at least minimize it, then all those who were on different political ends would join forces to take the power from her. In her ruling, they had already come together at least once, when choosing her as queen. But apparently, they would do it again, to take her down from the throne. How poetic.

"My ruling will always be mine, for no one controls me, not the Head Rider, nor the council. And neither do you, Lord Däthedr. And I must remind you and whoever is having thoughts of overruling me that conspiring against your queen is treason, punishable by death."

For the third time, the lord lowered his head in submission.

"I would never conspire against you, my queen."

She took a deep breath. Arya had had enough.

"And Däthedr? Quit calling me your queen, I know you want me to fall into your graces when you do that. I don't appreciate it." He had allowed bluntness into their conversation, so she would use it freely.

His eyes darkened by her reprimand. Arya wondered if he had ever felt this offended before.

"As you wish."

"Is that all?"

"No, your majesty. There is another concern brought to me by the noble houses, which is the matter of your succession."

"A lot had happened in my absence it seems! And to think I was gone for only two days." She returned to her chair and sat back. "What about my succession? I don't expect to die so soon, or to be overthrown for that matter."

"It didn't happen in your absence, I'm only informing you due to the frank tone of our conversation. Again, there are whispers, rumors. People talk, your majesty, and this time, it comes from commoners as well."

"Go on."

"It's not about the throne, but your whole house and nobility. They fear you might have an unfit man for a mate, and it would break your royal lineage."

"Unfit? Lineage?" Her fingernails dug into her palms, almost drawing blood. "Who they consider unfit? Eragon?"

He seemed surprised that she actually named him.

"As I explained, it's just whispers, but in fact, yes. The people dislike the idea of you mating with a human man. For as important as he is, he is still unfit for you."

Arya could spit fire from all the rage inside her chest. She stood up and walked slowly toward the elf, who seemed to fear her wrath.

"And who do they consider fit for me, may I ask? Is it you, Däthedr? Are you fit for me?"

She saw him swallow a lump in his throat.

"Any lord would be fit for you, my que… your majesty." He tried his charming voice, but it cracked under her scrutiny.

She spared him a cruel smile.

"Gather the council, my lord. They are in need to be addressed properly. And spread the rumors that the queen doesn't appreciate when her private matters become public."

"I must warn you…"

"Just do it. Now!"

Arya felt an urge to tell Eragon about it, and if it weren't for their agreement, she definitely would. How curious that the very behavior her critics feared the most was the one she wanted to have. When they feared Arya and Eragon's proximity, her desire was to fly back to Fell Thindarë and enclose the distance in definitive. Or to bring him into her life, to break her lineage, a thought that hadn't crossed her mind yet until that moment. They treated her like a reckless little girl, and it only served to arise the rebellious teenager inside, defying all expectations.

Instead, she had to be this composed monarch, rational and smart. Even cunning, sometimes.

The silence inside the conference chamber was deafening and it lasted for an uncomfortable amount of time. Not a single sound could be heard, not a voice, a movement, a deeper breath, nothing.

Arya considered they had suffered her silent treatment for long enough.

"I fear we have a communication problem among us, my good lords and ladies." A well trained ear would capture the sarcasm in her speech without trouble, despite her smooth voice. "You have your opinions about me, and I have the illusion to be free in my personal affairs. It's time to solve this miscommunication once and for all."

A silver haired lady opened her mouth to speak, but was shut by a movement of Arya's index finger.

"I speak now."


Arya rested her head on the scaly surface that was Fírnen's body. They were enjoying the evening on the Crags, just the two of them, away from all the troubles, since Avelina and Runalla stayed in Carvahall to fulfill their duty.

I am proud of you, my dear. He spoke fondly inside her mind.

For what?

For standing up for yourself today. You may have made new enemies, but they all will think twice before opposing you again, old and new adversaries. I believe that was exactly what they were looking for, you imposing your limits, so they could know you wouldn't falter before an adversity.

Arya let out a heavy breath.

I'm done with trying to soothe the tension among the houses, and mainly between then and me. If they want to fight they will fight, whoever is their enemy. But if they think I will accept their meddling in my personal matters, they are severely wrong. Although, I fear you are being too optimistic. They weren't only testing my resolution.

Maybe. But again… I am proud of you. His affection poured through their mind connection.

Thank you, Fírnen. She ran her hand on his scales.

Will you tell Eragon about it?

What good will it do? He will only be angry or even feel guilty. I wish to protect him from hurt.

Fírnen turned his head to look at her and give her a wink.

It's good to hear that.

For I was the one causing him pain in the past? Is that what you want to say? Her tone was playful despite the inquisitive words.

If that's what you got from what I said…

Arya laughed a little and shook her head.

I think you're right.

Her expression was serious again as she continued.

I never wished to cause him pain, but the fact that I did nevertheless pains me deeply.

Calm yourself, my dear. Those times are gone now.

Are they? I believe I'm causing him the same amount of pain he is causing me, if not greater.

She brought her knees up and held them against her chest to try to comfort herself.

Neither one of you are to blame. What you both are feeling is a deep longing, caused by the designs of your duties, not the pain of an intentional heartbreak, like it was in the past.

Pain is pain.

The dragon raised his head to the night, sniffing the sudden cold current that blew from the east.

Fair. But doesn't it feel less straining to know that you have someone waiting for you, with open arms and no grudges toward you?

Arya couldn't help to bare a sad smile for painting the image inside her head.

It does. But it still hurts.

I know, my dear.

There's still so much time to pass until it happens again.

Less each second. The good news is… time only goes forward.

Chapter Text

Eragon looked expectantly to the sky. It was the last day of winter. Soon, the spring would cast its warmth and colors on the land and the fields would finally come to life. At least he hoped they would. Mount Arngor needed that. That winter had been hard, almost like the hardest one they had ever had, five years before. It was when the citizens were all trapped inside the mountain by the cruel weather. This one, for as straining as it was, was still manageable, they were stronger and wiser.

Mount Arngor had grown in a way he would have never thought it would. In the attempt to make the place self-sufficient, or at least strong enough to deal with most of its needs by itself, the mountain had become more than just a dragon hold. By the river at the docks, there was a true trading post, with a market, stables, a few shops, an inn and even a tavern, where their own ale was sold abundantly to traders and travelers. On the other side of the river, it was possible to notice a few houses of those who worked at the docks or on the farms and didn't want to go back every night to the mountain. In fact, the hold was starting to feel small, almost insufficient for all its population. Therefore, expanding to the outside was only natural.

Eragon and the elves were careful to evaluate each one of the new residents and cast protective spells around the area. It was a demanding work, and Eragon was happy he could count on the experienced help of the spellcasters, otherwise he would be lost, trying to control the growth in population by himself. The Eldunarí provided a very welcomed vigilance around the land and alerted him or Blödhgarm when something seemed out of order. Crime and violence were concepts almost too vague in Arngor, still Eragon worried.

He worried and sometimes he had to get away from the agitating life inside the mountain. He loved to work on the farms, especially the one he helped bring to life, such as the barley crops. Eragon would work side by side with Renir and the human men and women, having dirt all over their clothes and hands, exchanging opinions on important and unimportant matters. Still, he worried. How could he not.

His steps on the white ground by the river were muffled by the snow that had fallen through the night. In the morning though the sun had already started to melt the ice on the trees, and the droplets fell on his neck and back like a cold drizzle. Maybe the last day of winter had brought the last snow also. Who could tell?

Happy birthday, little one.

Saphira stepped out from her shelter where both of them had spent the night and came to touch his forehead with her nose.

When Eragon decided to build a house by the river, near the hill, the first thing he planned on doing was the dragon shelter. It was a big stone dais, seven feet tall, fifty feet wide, covered by a tall roof made of an intricate pattern of braided vines and leaves on a stone structure. Renir helped him make it by hand, like he was doing with everything else. It took them several months, but they weren't on a rush.

If someone had told him five years ago that his most rebellious student would become his closest friend, he would have laughed out loud, until his belly ached. But there he was, flying on Vance's back, coming from the mountain just to aid his master, and friend, with the task of building Arya's gift.

Thank you, Saphira. He scratched her chin.

I'm excited to spend the day with you and work on the house.

It was on a spring day almost half a decade before that the idea came to him from Renir's lips, and it was the second big turn in their relationship. They had resumed their gardening work after much planning and studying over the Great Winter — as that terrifying season came to be known — , when Eragon was asked about the hill. Renir wanted to know why they were working there specifically, at the foot of the hill. It was a reasonable question.

"It's a special place." Eragon answered vaguely with a shrug. They were placing the last seeds in the ground to be sung to, like they were already doing to the older ones.

"But why?"

Eragon didn't want to say that it was because of Arya and the moments they had spent there. He had to admit to himself that he was afraid of the judgement so he just tried to think of something, anything, that would ease the other's curiosity, but Renir didn't give him too much time.

"What is the name of this hill? I don't think I had ever seen it on a map before."

"You wouldn't have. It's too small to be on a map of Alagaësia. And it's newly named as Tialdarí Hill."

Renir's eyes shot straight to him, and his hand dropped the bag of seeds he was holding.

"I thought the rumors weren't true. But they are! You and the queen are mates!"

Eragon frowned, mostly for the rumors part, but also because of the uncertainty that was his situation with Arya. Of one thing he knew for sure, however, they weren't mates yet.

"We are not mates. What we have hardly qualifies as a relationship. And... Don't pay attention to any kind of rumor." Eragon tried to be severe and stop Renir from speculating.

"How so? What do you mean you don't have a relationship?"

He grabbed the bag and restarted to work, although his attention never left his master. They were both crouched on the field, sticking the seeds in the soil.

"It's frowned upon. And only recently she was one of our own critics." He laughed humorlessly. "You can imagine how difficult my situation is, seeing her only for a month every ten years, trying to fight the adversities."

"She didn't want you." It wasn't a question, but a mean observation. True, but mean.

"I found out that she did eventually, for a long time, but didn't want us together. At least not yet."

"How about you?"

Renir's incessant questions reminded him of himself indeed. Angela was right.

"I wanted her from the moment I first saw her."

Eragon didn't see the other's reaction because he had to turn to reach a patch of soil to his left and Renir was to his right, but he suspected that it was a big one. He turned back to see his student on his knees with a sad expression. Renir was so much alike the humans he despised with all his unmasked emotions that Eragon wondered if he knew that in fact what we dislike in the others can also be found in us. He also wondered if the influence he feared Renir had over Avelina wasn't as intense as the one she had over him. Certainly, Renir was closer the be human than Avelina to be an elf.

"It was when she was being held captive in Gil'ead, wasn't it?"

Of course his story was in the world's history books. Everyone knew about the story of the young human Rider who allied himself with the son of Morzan to save the Elven Princess. All the elves knew it, all the humans knew it. The people all over the land knew it. But it wasn't all.

"I didn't see her for the first time in Gil'ead. I saw her in my dreams first."

Eragon saw a look of disbelief and a sarcastic grin emerge from Renir's expression. He shook his head.

"You really are a poet. I read several of the poems you wrote, those in the library, and this is exactly what I would expect from you. A romantic remark."

Eragon smiled.

"I told you, Renir. If you only read about me, you don't get to know me. When I say I saw her in my dreams it's exactly it. We made contact mentally, so I actually saw her."

Eragon felt that that was the moment when his many layers started to peel off in front of his student. Sure he had other students, but they only knew the teacher, for they didn't need any more than that. But Renir, he was one of a kind. He needed familiarity, he needed to be in control of every situation, to know every bit of information. It was a tiring way of life, in Eragon's opinion, but it wasn't his job to question people's personality, only adapt.

"It must have been hard for you, to be by her side without ever knowing if you would ever be with her." Empathy? That was new, and also a victory! They were getting closer, Eragon could feel it.

Eragon spared him a sad smile.

"What makes you thing I know now?"

He sighed happily the cold air by the Edda. Ever since him and Arya had become closer than friends, Saphira started to support their relationship without reservations. It was like she had tested the elf to see how much she was fit to be with her Rider, and Arya finally was approved.

Good! We will need your help immensely today.

She hummed under his touch.

Renir and Vance landed near the pair, and the young elf dismounted. He rid Vance from his saddle and put it aside.

"Good day, masters!"

"Hello, Renir. Good day to you to. Vance." Eragon greeted.

Good day, master. And happy birthday. The light blue dragon spoke in his mind.

"We brought a gift." Renir said and handed him a little wooden box.

Eragon was surprised. He was used to receiving gifts, but usually people would give him items of first necessity, independently from the occasion. Ästrith was the one that gifted him the most. She would sew him new clothes whenever she saw he needed to renew his wardrobe. Katrina too was very generous in clothing him. Even Rílven would make him new pairs of boots or leather belts using his technique of working pelts he extracted from the dead animals he found in the woods. But this present didn't seem like a necessity.

He thanked Renir and opened the box. Inside, he found a gem. An emerald. It was the size of a walnut and it was attached to a base made of gold that Eragon noticed worked as a brooch. It was engraved with beautiful patterns.

"It's a pair. You see…" Renir explained as he retrieved a package from the saddle bag. "Rílven made you this," he pointed at the package, "so I thought I could work on something to complement it."

Eragon fetched the package. He already knew what type of gift Rílven would give him, so he wasn't surprised when he saw the leather belt made especially for him. He was surprised, however, by the level of detail with which the elf worked the leather. It had engravings of dragons and flowers, beautifully drawn. It had an empty space of two inches approximately where he figured the brooch went.

Renir approached his master and took the gem from his hand. He reached the belt and attached it to the leather.

"Put it on. Let us see if looks good on you."

Eragon removed his own worn out belt and put on the new one. It felt great, comfortable and flexible, without feeling too fragile. Brisingr would be secure there if he needed to carry it with him in the future.

"It's protected by magic. It will always look new. The stone can never be removed from its place and the belt can't be unbuckled by anyone else but you." Renir explained.

Eraron felt touched.

"Thank you. I really loved it." Renir bowed his head. "And I must thank Rílven as well. His work on this is beyond beautiful."

My gift to you is inside the gem, master. Why don't you try to access it? Vance sounded proud.

Curious, Eragon extended his mind to engulf the emerald and he almost lost his breath when he touched its core. There was an enormous storage of energy, just as abundant or even greater than the one inside his ring Aren, put there by Brom.

"Oh!" He gasped. "How long have you been saving your energy inside the emerald, Vance?"

Since the day I first heard about you, seven years ago in Ellesméra.

Seven years? It was nothing when compared to the time Brom had spent stocking his own energy in Aren, what made Eragon thing that Vance really applied himself to the task of providing his master with all that power.

"He was impressed by your story told by Queen Arya in our first lesson as Rider and dragon. I had found this gem years before in my hometown, and kept it. So Vance, without anyone teaching him how and without my knowledge, started to put his spare energy in it for you."

Queen Arya said you could only defeat the Egg Breaker because of the energy lent to you by the others. At the time she didn't mention the Eldunarí, for it's an advanced lesson. But all I wanted was to provide you enough energy so you won't need to borrow from anyone else if the time comes. My instincts told me how.

"I'm speechless, Vance. You're very generous and talented. Thank you."

Eragon felt his eyes water. He was taken over by emotion.

It was a great gift, that he would wear proudly from that moment on. And it was only fitting the gem was an emerald. That way he would always have something to remind him – and everybody else – of her. It was Arya's color after all.

"Why don't you ask her to come live here? After all, being the queen and a Rider at the same time can only bring trouble." Renir was trying to solve his master's problem, as Eragon could see, between a seed and another placed in the ground.

"I asked her already. I believe I ask her this all the time, if not with words then in other ways. She won't come. This is not her home, these..." he indicated the mountain in the distance "are not her people. She won't come." Eragon repeated and lowered his head, looking down.

"Why don't you build her a place where she can call home then?" Renir said in a casual way like it was so obvious. He was focused on following a perfect straight line with the seeds, so they would grow in a harmonious formation.

"What do you mean?" Eragon was intrigued.

"Well, you just said, a month every ten years hardly qualifies as a relationship. What if she had a home to come back to instead of a temporary housing. Maybe you two would be able to establish a kind of a steady relationship, even if it's only once in ten years."

Eragon looked around.

"Do you think she would like to spend time here, with me?" His eyes gazed the area were his garden was coming to life by the river. Not too far, the crops could also be spotted, young and promising.

"I don't know her personally, for me she is The Queen and an elder, but probably, if you make it the way you know she will like. What does she like?"

Eragon smiled fondly. It was an easy task to tell what her likings were.

"She loves flowers, art, poetry. Everything that's beautiful."

"Like almost any other elf." Renir mocked.

"Almost. Have you ever seen another elf being as direct and blunt as she is? She is not like any other elf."

Renir's smile grew larger and he raised his palms.

"Calm down! I am not trying to offend your queen. She is special, I understand."

Eragon sighed and smiled a little. He was joking, but did he really know how special Arya was? Did the rest of the world know? Eragon had read the history books, and if they got several aspects of his own life wrong, about hers they were almost never right. Perhaps it was for the better, since her personality and intimacy were only his to know. It created a pleasant sense of exclusivity.

"Would you help me sing it to the trees? The house?" Eragon sounded like a child asking for a new toy.

Renir displayed a cruel smirk.

"Only if I'm exempt from farming."

"I can't exempt you from your duties. This is a personal favor, not an official task, so I just thought you..."

"Of course I'll help you." Renir interrupted. "I was just teasing you."

Eragon smiled back.

"Thank you, Renir. I appreciate it."

"You are welcome, master." He bowed his head lightly. "Now, start planning the house. We have a queen to seduce."

He was exhausted. Working the land around the tree where he was singing the house was a laborious task. Too many roots and frozen dirt. They had to stop the spell each time it would reach a rough patch of dirt and rearrange it. At least Saphira and Vance were there to dig the ground and stir the dirt, breaking and tearing chunks of wood and persistent roots. Renir also suggested that they built a pipe system, just like the ones in Ellesméra that brought the water up to the trees, but Eragon was uncertain, for he wasn't completely educated in the elven building style. They decided to let it aside for the moment. The human way would have to be enough for now.

Eragon's eyes started to feel heavy as he smoked by the fireplace. Saphira was already in the eyrie, so he would have to climb the stairs instead of flying to the top. Deciding to gather his courage to do so, he said goodbye to his companions and begun his ascend. He dragged his feet, but his exhaustion didn't cloud the feeling of accomplishment. Eragon was content for working with his own hands to build something beautiful.

That was when he felt his necklace vibrate slightly and the hammer pendant warm up against his skin. Since he arrived in the east, he decided that the old spell put on the necklace by the dwarves were no longer ideal so he changed it. Now, it warned him when someone on the other face of the scrying mirror intended to contact him, instead of avoiding the contact whatsoever.

It was late at night and he didn't have any scrying sessions scheduled for the day. That could only mean tragedy. He shot his mind up to Saphira at the same time he forced his feet to move fast. It was painful, but he blocked the ache in his calves and shins and kept running up the stairs, as fast as his elven abilities allowed.

Saphira! Who's scrying us? Is there a problem?

She didn't express any emotion.

I don't know. You better come see for yourself.

That vague answer only made him speed up even more.

When he arrived in the eyrie, Saphira didn't seem bothered at all, lying with her eyes closed on her cushion. Eragon, on the other hand, felt his heart jumping out of his throat.

He got closer to the mirror, trying to catch his breath. Sitting on a chair on the other side was Arya, with a calm smile on her face.

What's the tragedy? Why is she smiling if she's in trouble?

"Greetings, Shadeslayer. You seem a bit tired."

Still breathing heavily, Eragon pulled a chair in front of the mirror and dropped himself on it.

"That's because… I… ran."

She laughed. Her melodious laugh filled his ears with joy.

"So, what's wrong?" He asked.

Arya shook her head.

"Nothing is wrong. Why would there be something wrong?"

Eragon frowned.

"It's late and this is not a scheduled scrying session. I thought there was an emergency."

"No, no emergency." She smiled gently. "I just wanted to congratulate you on your birthday. I apologize for the time, though. I didn't have a chance to do it earlier."

Eragon was surprised again. What had happened that year that people suddenly started to know the date of his birth?

"Oh. I didn't know you knew about it."

"Roran told me."

It made sense.

"Of course." He smiled. "You two have been closer now that the bond between the people from the valley and the elves is stronger."

"Indeed. They are more welcoming of us since Avelina has been educating them."

"I'm glad." He was as proud as someone could be. Avelina and the people under her tutelage were the proof that education works, and magic is just a detail for a strong and well-educated mind.

"So, how did you celebrate your special day? Roran told me how it used to be in Carvahall when either of you had your birthdays. It sounded like a lot of fun."

Remembering those days was both a joy and a heartbreak. He missed his days as a carefree boy, walking around his little town with dreaming eyes. Sure he was poor and struggled for survival, but that didn't take away his reasons to be merry living a simple life.

"Those were good times. But I'm not complaining about today. It was a good day. Saphira, Vance, Renir and I worked on something special to me all day long." He gave her a mysterious grin.

"Really? Is it the garden? I would love to hear more about it." She tried to control her curiosity, but failed.

"In five years you will. And you will see it as well."

Arya frowned.

"Five years? That's not fair."

No, it wasn't. It was the most unfair arrangement someone had ever made in the entire history of civilization, he thought. But it was all that they had.

When he opened his mouth to speak of it, a memory entered his mind. It was Gleadr infusing his thoughts in Eragon's.

He saw a baby. An elven baby, being held by Oromis in the Crags of Telanair. The child was crying as Oromis swayed his own body back and forth.

"I guess I'm not made to parent a child, after all."

"Don't be silly, Rider. No one knows how to do it, until we have to." The voice was coming from a male elf. He was tall and regal. Eragon recognized him from the many memories the dragons showed him. It was King Evandar. And the baby was Arya.

"Maybe so. But I'm glad you came to visit us." Oromis handed the child to Evandar. "Since her birth, I'm willing to hold her in my arms. It's such a joy to have a child coming to this world."

The king bared a proud smile.

"It's my pleasure. But you could have come to us if you wished." At the sound of her father's voice, Arya opened her bright green eyes and stopped crying. It was like she was attentive to Evandar's words.

"I didn't want to bother. Besides, it's spring. There's a lot to do around the forest. I've been busy."

"You and Glaedr won't ever bother us. But you are right. There's no busiest season than this. How curious is that her birth happened on the first day of spring?" His proud smile grew larger.

Oromis couldn't help smiling as well.

"Perhaps Arya is the hope we needed after all, your majesty."

Eragon focused his eyes back on the mirror. Arya looked at him with a mix of curiosity and concern. He grinned gently to ease her spirit.

"Another memory?" She asked hesitantly.

He nodded.

"A good one this time. You never said you were born on the first day of spring, Arya. I guess I owe you congratulations as well."

Arya widened her eyes.

"How do y…"

"Happy birthday, Arya."

She took a few seconds to take it in, but eventually relaxed and smiled back at him.

"Happy birthday, Eragon."

Chapter Text

Blödhgarm wouldn't let Eragon out of his sight. It made him stir uncomfortably.

"I told you I'll be fine. You don't need to come to the docks with me every time, Blödhgarm."

They were waiting for Oswald's boat scheduled to arrive that evening. Twice a year, the sailor traveled east from Alagaësia, bringing letters, packages and an occasional passenger. Many others made the same route, but Eragon always thought that Oswald was the one that brought much more than just the mail. He had information the others didn't.

"We have the same conversation for sixteen years now, master. And the outcome will always be the same. I will always accompany you to meet with the merchants."

Eragon snorted in amusement.

"Remind me why again?"

The wolf-like elf shrugged, looking at the boat that had just arrived.

"Precaution."

"Right."

"You are very young, master, and inexperienced in many things. One of them is to know the cunning nature of men. And women." He pointed with his chin at the red-haired woman landing on the docks.

"I believe I can handle myself very well." Eragon said in an offended tone, but faltered at the sight of the woman.

"And this belief only proves my point. I'm staying."

Eragon was mad for being treated like a defenseless child, but rested the matter. He had more important things to think about at the moment, such as the return of the woman walking toward him. Helena sought refuge in Mount Arngor many years before, for she was an unregistered magician in the Brodding Kingdom. Eragon had offered her shelter and a position to work in the kitchens or on the farms, or whatever job she liked, except the one she used to have when living in Galbatorix's Empire and later in Nasuada's Kingdom. She had taken the offer, but not long after that he found out that she was back at selling herself to the residents and the merchants at the docks. Eragon could not allow it, so he had to send her away. Now, she was back, he wondered why.

"Such a welcome committee! I feel honored." She smiled at him and bowed provokingly.

Eragon felt his cheeks burning. The first time they met, Helena treated him as potential client, but at his refusal she thought it was the funniest thing to make him uncomfortable by her advances. She was obviously beautiful, the kind of beauty that made a person wonder what kind of hardships she had in her life, for it wasn't impressive or nearly perfect, but tired and real. Her forms were voluptuous as expected, but her appeal came from the way she carried herself, as a free woman. A few times, Eragon felt himself at the verge of caving in to her alluring game, just for the sake of pleasure. So maybe Blödhgarm was right, maybe he really needed help keeping away from trouble.

"We are not here to see you, woman, but it's curious that we met you." The elf said. "Why don't you wait for us at the tavern?"

"A tavern? I heard this place had improved over the years. It's a surprise to hear that you even included a spot where I could do my job." She came closer to Eragon after dropping her bag on the floor. She was so close he could feel her breath on his face. "How I missed you, Shadeslayer." She whispered. "And I must say, you look absolutely amazing." Her eyes traveled through his entire body and back to his face.

He gulped and tried to untangle himself from her seductive stare.

"Hello Helena. I can't say I'm pleased to see you."

She faked a hurt expression and smirked with malice.

"You say that now..."

Eragon sighed and stepped to the side.

"The tavern is over there." He pointed to the village by the river. "You can order yourself dinner, it's on the house."

"Gentle as always. I really missed you." Helena laughed and followed the direction he pointed at, her red hair swaying on her back.

Blödhgarm looked at Eragon with a frown that screamed I told you so very loudly.

"Let's just meet with Oswald and end the night." The Rider said.

"In fact, you didn't have to come. I can receive the mail by myself." Blödhgarm replied.

"I like to hear about the news he always brings, you know that."

They walked to the boat from where Helena had just landed and looked for Oswald, the merchant and messenger. They called his name, and he appeared coming from the stern of the boat. With his only hand he carried a big bag that Eragon knew to be the mail coming from west to the people of Arngor. He raised his own hands to catch the bag as the man threw it to him.

"Good evening, Shadeslayer, elf. How are you both faring?"

"We are fine, Oswald, how about you?" Eragon asked as he handed the bag to Blödhgarm.

"A little bored, you know?" His gaping smile brought familiarity to Eragon, and he smiled back.

"Aye, I know, I know. The river is not like the sea, I get it. But you will be traveling south to the coast soon enough. For now, let me pay you a drink. How does that sound?"

"It sounds bloody perfect, sir. Lead the way!"

Oswald jumped off the boat and patted Eragon on the back.

"I've been meaning to talk with you, anyways. I've heard rumors, you know? Bad news, you know?" He lowered his voice, so the people walking by them wouldn't hear, as he passed his arm around Eragon's shoulders. He was at least three inches shorter than the Rider, so the embrace felt like being pulled to the ground.

"I figured you would have heard something. We'll talk."

They walked through the paved way that led the newcomers to the little village. Oswald grabbed Eragon very closely and spoke in his ear, his breath felt hot and wet.

"Rumor has it that the queen is in deep, deep trouble."

"Nasuada? Why?" That was news for Eragon, since he hadn't heard of any threats or uprisings against her lately. The land has been quiet for years.

"Oh, no, Shadeslayer. Not our queen, the other one." He nodded in Blödhgarm's direction, lowering his voice even more, probably not knowing that the elf could hear him perfectly well.

Eragon stopped his walk and looked at the man in shock. His heart was racing.

"What kind of trouble?"

Oswald looked around, but mainly he seemed uncomfortable with Blödhgarm's presence there, so he grabbed Eragon's arm and spun him so their backs were turned to the elf.

"They speak of treason. A horrid affair, you know?"

"Who speak? Oswald! Tell me!"

"Their kind." He indicated Blödhgarm again. "They conspire against her."

Eragon knew that Arya's situation as queen must had not been easy, for she worried all the time. It didn't mean, however, that he suspected of some sort of conspiracy against her. It unsettled him tremendously though. He wanted to talk freely with Oswald, so he ordered Blödhgarm to go ahead and start the conversation with Helena. The elf wasn't pleased, of course, and protested as he could. But then he saw the look in Eragon's eyes and relented. Alone with Oswald, Eragon pulled the man to a far spot in the darkness, away from the pathway and the come and go of the people. To add more security to their conversation, he cast a spell to block the curious ears.

"Tell me everything, Oswald. What kind of conspiracy? Who is betraying her? Is she in danger?"

Oswald frowned and wiped his brow.

"Listen... I don't know much. The elves aren't big talkers, but now and then they let it slip, you know? They think I'm stupid and are too full of themselves to consider that I'm capable of understanding their language. I learned how to listen to their riddles in their tongue, you know? It took me some time, but I'm proud of it." He was rambling, and Eragon was losing his patience.

"Aye! I know! Now spit it out, Oswald!" He almost shook the sailor.

"Calm down! I didn't know you'd be this disturbed about this. But it makes sense, history speaks of your friendship with the queen, so…"

"Oswald!"

"All right! I'll say it." He scratched his head and looked around before adding. "I don't know how, when or where, but there are two or three elven lords that want her out. It's not like everyone that disagrees with her ruling conspires against her, no, that's not the case, they even respect her. But there's a select group, very dangerous people, that plot her downfall the same way they did to her mother, and her father before that. They both died before it happened, so you can imagine for how long they are planning the coup."

Eragon felt sick. His voice came out trembling when he spoke.

"What do you mean by downfall?"

"Well… assassination, of course."

His stomach sunk. They planned on killing Arya for power. A handful of elves, or not even that many, would rather see their queen dead than to live peacefully under her ruling. It was startling to realize that the darkness inhabited even the fairest of creatures.

It was his time to grab Oswald by the shoulders.

"Oswald. How… how… did you get to know about this?"

"I told you! They speak!"

"You are not allowed in Du Weldenvarden. And I doubt that an elf would willingly share their secrets with a stranger."

Oswald shoved Eragon's hands away and furrowed his brows.

"Are you calling me a liar?"

"Of course not! But I need to know for sure before I take any measures. This is of most importance, you must know that."

"Look, that's what I heard, all right? The elves don't stay hidden in their forest anymore, they roam all over the land. Alagaësia is not the same place you left behind, you know? Some would say it's a whole new land altogether. You would be surprised."

Eragon reflected. That story was plausible, but not necessarily true. Why would an elf openly discuss the matters of their people to a human man? He didn't see it happening.

Unless...

Unless they wanted the message to reach Eragon's ears. Maybe it was a cry for help.

Or a trap. Saphira said through their bond.

"Do you know the person who told you that?"

Oswald shrugged.

"They all sort of look the same to me, except your friend, the wolf-elf. And the ladies…" He smiled. "The ladies are something else, huh?"

"So it was a male? The one who told you about this?"

"Aye. He sounded noble. Looked like a prince too, with black hair, long and straight. But again, they all look noble, don't they? I guess he had blue eyes, but I couldn't know for sure, I didn't see his face very well. It was dark at the tavern and he was wearing a cloak. Besides, I may have had one too many, you know?" He laughed, but Eragon was not in the mood. "You know… There's one person who might've seen his face pretty well, better than anyone else."

Oswald's talent for suspense was starting to enrage Eragon.

"Who?"

The man pointed at the tavern where Blödhgarm and Helena were waiting for them. Without any hesitation, Eragon ended the spell and strode toward the place.

Helena was leaning toward Blödhgarm, speaking in a hush voice. Being a magician, she certainly had protected herself from his enticing smell, so Eragon figured she was trying to entice him instead. He cleared his throat to announce his arrival.

She backed away from the elf and stared at Eragon.

"I thought you had forgotten about me."

He pulled a chair and sat in front of her at the other side of the table, leaning on his elbows. Oswald sat beside him and helped himself from the jar full of ale on the table.

"Oswald just told me an interesting encounter he had with an elf. He said you were also there, so I need you to describe the elf for me."

"I don't know what are you talking about. I don't remember any elf." Her amused eyes turned into a casual expression, carefree.

That had to mean she knew something. Oswald snorted.

"Of course you do! Two months ago at Hedarth, the cloaked elf came to the trading post. I thought he would send a letter to one of his kind here in the east, but he just wanted to play runes. He paid me a drink and played, we had a bet, I lost. We talked a lot, until she…" he pointed at Helena. "...came to offer her services. I refused, I'm married, you know? But the elf seemed interested."

Eragon's jaw dropped. He didn't remember to ever hear about elves requesting the services of prostitutes. That story was more shocking by the minute.

"He did? I can't imagine that!"

"I'm telling you, Shadeslayer. The land isn't the same as the one you once knew." Oswald patted on Eragon's back and laughed out loud.

Helena smiled softly and took a sip of her ale.

"Oh, that elf? I remember him well."

"And? How did he look like?"

"Why? Are you jealous? I swear he didn't look a bit as good as you." She laughed.

"Helena, focus! You can tease me later, but this is important. I need to know how he looked like and if he said something to you."

She became serious and Eragon could perceive a certain stance of someone who wanted to negotiate.

"What do I get from telling you what you are asking?"

"My gratitude?" He tried.

"Not enough."

Eragon sighed and rubbed his temples.

"What do you want?"

Helena slid her hand until she was touching his arm.

"You know what I want."

His ears were in flames. He brought his fingers to brush his moustache as he thought about the situation.

"Not that. Ask for something else."

She retrieved her hand and raised her shoulders.

"I was hoping for a roof to stay under. They are hunting me again." Her voice was low, and Eragon noticed sincerity for the first time in her speech.

"All right, you can work at the tavern. How does it sound?" An equally sincere smile lit her face. "But as a server! You don't have to sell your body here, you don't need money when you work in Arngor, for we provide everything you need. You can stay if you wish. Is that enough?"

"And you won't kick me out again?"

"Don't cause any problems and you can stay." He repeated.

"Deal." She shook his hand.

"How about the elf?"

Once that her fidelity was his, he expected to gather more information. To be honest, he would have offered her a place to stay even if he didn't need her to talk.

"He didn't say much the whole time we were together. He was polite and treated me with respect, but other than that he didn't talk. I don't even know his name."

"Is there anything you remember that could help me identify him? A mark, an accent, anything?"

Helena looked away and bit her lip. A line appeared on her forehead.

"I guess there is… Let me see... His eyes were blue, and he had a long and straight black hair. His face was very angular, particularly angular, not like most elves that I've seen. Oh! And he said something about his age."

"That's good. What did he say?" Eragon encouraged her to continue.

"Well, I joked that I probably was with a man many years older than me but could never tell how much. He shook his head and said that his face matched his age pretty well, since he wasn't as old as most of his kind."

"He's young!"

"He didn't look much older than you, or even me."

He had just turned thirty-three years old and knew that Helena wasn't forty yet. Eragon looked at Blödhgarm.

"What do you think?"

"He's most likely forty or fifty. I would say he has just come of age, at thirty years old, since that's the moment when our aging slows down to the point where it's almost unnoticeable. However, I don't know any elves that are young like that. I think Renir is the only elf I know that's in his thirties."

"Renir! He must know this man. They're both young, they must've stayed in line together to touch the dragon eggs." He jumped to his feet. "Thank you, Helena. And remember our deal. You will work as a tavern keeper and that's all. You can talk to Oby over there and he will give you a place to stay and show you everything there is to know about the work."

She tipped her head and let her malicious smile appear on her lips once again.

"I will remember not to sell my body, Shadeslayer. From now on I'll only give it for free. Just so you know."

Eragon pursed his lips as she laughed. Oswald also seemed entertained by her statement. In the end, even if it went against Eragon's morals, he thought that it was a healthy solution for their predicament. And again, he would have to learn how to accept.

He bid them farewell, ordered dinner for the newcomers and ran to the mountain with Blödhgarm on his heels.


He's not in his apartment, little one.

Saphira said as he climbed up the stairs searching for Renir.

Can you find him, please?

I'm trying. Now calm yourself!

Saphira… You heard Oswald.

The entire time he was away, Saphira kept herself vigilant, but quiet inside his mind, except when she pointed out that he might be falling into a trap. That was how they usually dealt with their daily activities. They were each other's silent companion.

I did. But you forget who they're planning on killing. It's Arya!

Exactly! How can I be calm?

You're not thinking! Arya is probably the most skilled warrior alive, and she's a Rider! Do you really think Fírnen will let anything happen to her? Besides, the man said they are planning this for centuries, so what makes you think it's about to happen now?

Fírnen is not invulnerable, neither is Arya. And the fact that the information came to us can only mean urgency. I believe someone is trying to warn me, even if it's a trap, I can't ignore it.

Eragon could sense her frustration about his anxiety, but he couldn't help.

I can't find him.

What? Impossible! He's here somewhere.

He halted.

Renir certainly don't want to be found and is blocking me. You're going to have to wait until tomorrow to talk with him.

Search for Vance.

She paused and he could feel her mind looking around the mountain.

He said Renir is busy.

It doesn't matter. I need to see him now!

Eragon resumed running.

Eragon, you will wait until tomorrow.

I can't wait!

Yes, you can! What difference will it make if you know who the elf is? You're still miles away from Arya, you can't protect her.

Eragon widened his eyes. She was right! He couldn't protect her from half-world away. He had to go to her! Speeding up his steps, Eragon ran to the Hall of Colors. He needed to confer with the elders.

So you wish to leave? Umaroth's voice sounded concerned inside his mind.

Eragon was sitting on his heels in the Hall of Colors, after telling the Eldunarí about the news from west.

I do. I have to.

Why?

She needs me!

Why wouldn't anyone understand his urgency? It was his responsibility to keep Arya from harm, even if it demanded that he left his life behind. He had to go!

Does she? It appears to me that she is very capable of taking care of herself. The old dragon was calm, almost cold before Eragon's affliction.

She doesn't know about the conspiracy, how would she be able to protect herself?

What makes you think she doesn't know? Have you contacted her already?

He sighed in frustration. The more they talked about it, more dangerous it was for Arya to be alone in Ellesméra.

No, and even if I had she wouldn't tell me anything. We have a pact of confidentiality.

It appears then that you wish to go to fulfill your own desire, if you don't know the real proportion of the problem.

Of course I desire to go to her, that's clear! But I also want to keep her safe. Eragon's mind voice was almost desperate.

You are acting in self-interest.

How is that self-interest? I'm trying to save her!

Are you completely convinced she needs you, specifically? If you are, you can go. Your oath won't hold you back.

Eragon hesitated.

What do you mean?

You made an oath as a Rider to use your position only in benefit of others, never in self-benefit.

I know. So?

So, if you are the only solution for her problem, you won't be breaking your oath. But if there is another way and you are just trying to ease your own longing, then you cannot go, for it would require you to abandon your duty here to fulfill a desire.

It's not fair. Am I not free to come and go? The others seem to move around without any problems.

Often times, he was the one to remind others about the implications of being a Rider. The sacrifices and hardships. It was disconcerting to be reminded of that himself, being Eragon the one who helped to forge the wordless oath, which was so powerful that the Ancient Language wasn't enough to bind the Riders to their duties the same way.

You are not like the others. Your duty requires you to stay. Their duties require them to move.

I can't go to her? He was sad and beaten.

If it means you are relinquishing your duties to do so, then no, you cannot.

It's not fair.

I believed you knew about this already. Why the surprise, child? Umaroth left the coldness behind and spoke with affection.

He's not surprised. Glaedr spoke. He's heartbroken. It will pass.

His master knew him well. Eragon was heartbroken, and has been for the longest time. He felt his chest aching, and his eyes watered.

What if I am the only solution?

Are you? Umaroth asked.

He hesitated again. No, he wasn't. Even in that same instant he could think of at least three other ways of keeping Arya safe that didn't include him flying to Ellesméra.

No. But what if I was?

Then nothing could stop you, for you would have a duty more urgent than guarding us and teaching the Riders. Your oath wouldn't hold you back, as I said before, for you would be abiding by it.

I must be really needed somewhere else then?

And only believing you are is not enough. Umaroth warned.

Eragon nodded and rose to his feet.

I understand.

Glaedr filled his mind with his empathetic voice.

I am sorry, boy.

What if... He started but felt the words stuck in his throat.

Yes? Umaroth encouraged.

What if she... What if she dies? And it was my duty to go save her all along, but I didn't go, causing her to die?

Glaedr intensified the amount of affection he poured through their connection, which was startling to Eragon, since the dragon wasn't the most prone to such expressions of emotion.

You know what is your duty. And you know it is not in Alagaësia, it's here. You know that. Make peace with it once and for all, for your own good.

After sixteen years since his departure from his homeland, Eragon still struggled with his new purpose in life. Every once in a while, he would think twice and force himself to see logic in the choice of leaving. He always did, and everything would fall to place again, just to be stirred one more time a little later. For everyone else, he was sure of his decision, but inside certainty would come and go, and anxiety filled his core.

I will, don't worry.

In the next day, Renir told him that he couldn't think of anyone specifically that fit the description given by Helena. In fact, in his words "dark-haired blue-eyed male fit a fifth of the elven population", so it was useless to try to find the man at that point. Eragon was devastated and feeling lost, but not enough to stop looking for the ideal solution, until he found one that was almost infallible.

He looked in the scrying mirror and watched as the young woman at the other side considered his proposition. She didn't say anything for several minutes, and Eragon started to feel restless.

"Please, Elva. Please, keep her safe. I'll do anything." He pleaded once more.

Elva was an exotic figure, with her black and wild hair and a pair of violet eyes, the Gedwëy Ignasia shining on her brow.

"Anything?"

How dangerous was to promise that to a powerful being such as Elva? Eragon shivered at the thought, but he felt it was worth it to see Arya alive and well for a long time.

"Just ask. If it's within my reach..."

Elva's amused smile sent another shiver through his body.

"I know what I want. I want to be Dragon Rider."

Eragon widened his eyes.

"I don't have the power to decide who will be a Rider or not. The dragon inside the egg makes the choice."

"Do you think I'm stupid, Shadeslayer? I know that." She said with bitterness. "I wish to be introduced to all the eggs, and the new ones too, until one hatches for me."

"It may never happen to you."

"Still... I would like to have as many chances as possible. Is that something you can do?"

I hope my eggs never get touched by her...

Eragon gave Saphira a side look. They were in the eyrie in a bright spring morning.

You decided to give both of them to the Order, they will have to be offered to her if I accept the deal. What do you say?

He felt her hesitance.

"Is it, Eragon?"

Is it, Saphira? I won't do it without your approval.

Saphira didn't respond with words, she simply showed an image of Arya inside his head, the one in which the elf was holding Eragon in an embrace during her lesson on navigating the air flows. He understood the message.

"Aye, it is. You will touch all the eggs, as many times as you wish."

Satisfaction filled her eyes.

"Tell the queen I will arrive in five days."

"Thank you, Elva."

Arya won't like it.

Eragon thought of commenting that he would prefer an angry Arya with him than a lifeless one, but refrained himself. He was exhausted, mostly because he felt like a prisoner trying to rid himself of his shackles — the more he stirred, more hurt and tired he got. Actually, he had been in that position before in the tunnels of Dras-Leona, and in both cases, there was the feeling of utmost horror and fear of losing her. He would do anything within his reach, of that he was sure. No doubt about it.

Chapter Text

Arya watched the commotion from the balcony of her chamber on the last floor in one of the emerald towers in Ilirea. She was there with her royal retinue to take part in that year's annual Games. Also, it was a good opportunity for the leaders to finally sign the agreement on the new legal code regarding the magical practices throughout Alagaësia. Down below, King Orik and his own retinue paraded among curious citizens, who waved and greeted the dwarves on their arrival.

She smiled. Arya liked Orik. They were incredibly different, but Arya felt that with Orik she could talk freely, with no concerns of being misinterpreted, although she knew she would be. And when that was the case, he was reasonable enough to listen to her explanations, or to leave it behind them. The other way around was also true, after many years of comradery. His quarrel with Eragon almost ten years before was a good example of such flexibility, if the dwarves could ever be claimed to have that quality. He exposed his predicament and listened when a solution was presented. Of course he became enraged and cut ties with his foster brother, but once he was convinced of a better alternative, Orik was reasonable enough to change his mind. In her opinion that was how all arguments should be, even if anger took the best of her sometimes as well and flexibility was the last thing on her mind.

Arya stepped away from the balcony and entered her room. She stood in front of the tall mirror placed on the corner. Her reflection appeared fair and regal. She inspected herself. A light blue formal dress clothed her slender torso down to her ankles. It looked flattering on her, like it was sewed directly on her body, respecting her curves and measurements. A mantle hung over her back, much lighter than the one bore by her mother, made of swan feathers. Hers was a sober cut of green velvet. The bright diadem over her brow completed the look. She was quite an image, admired by all, no exceptions, and she knew it. Men would frequently follow her steps with a hungry stare. It was a habit for her to ignore it completely, but it hadn't always been like that.

In her early years with the Varden, she would avoid being seen in public. Then, she received an advice that changed everything for her. A human middle-aged woman that took shelter among the Varden once told her that Arya had a big advantage in life, she was capable of making men do or say whatever she wanted them to. All it was needed was for her to carry herself around proudly and use the attention against them. Arya understood what kind of business that woman conducted and judged her for that. How could she sell herself that way? How could she use her body as instrument of other people's pleasure at the same time she would manipulate them to give her information she could sell later? Arya was disgusted by the lows the human race was willing to reach. She would never do something like that. Arya gathered all her politeness and thanked the woman for the advice, but refused to act so manipulatively. The old beauty smiled kindly, took Arya's hand between hers and said in a loving voice.

"Then you must ignore them, my darling. Live your life like nobody's watching. One thing you should never do, though, is to hide from the stares, because then you will be erasing your own existence. And you have quite the existence."

From that moment, Arya would stride among people with her chin up, trying to keep an unaltered expression of stoicism. The stares still followed her, but it was easier to keep herself from noticing it with time. All it took was practice.

A bitter grin changed her expressionless feature while watching her own stunning figure. Even then, looking like the live painting of perfection, she was sure her mother would have a malicious comment to give. A correction to make. A strand of hair out of place, or a wrinkle on her mantle. Maybe even the wrong shade on her lips or piece of jewelry around her wrists. She was always unfit, always inadequate by her mother's eyes.

With a sigh, Arya started the spell on the right time that would connect her mirror to the one in Fell Thindarë.

The surface of the mirror quivered and Eragon's image appeared. He locked eyes with her and failed to greet her first. There it was, the stare. She decided to give him time to come to himself, as she would usually do to everyone else. But he wasn't like everyone else, was he? No, his eyes didn't normally travel throughout her body, lingering on the most inappropriate spots, although she noticed he was trying his best to keep himself respectful of her. In reality, his eyes were continually greeting hers, beaming in longing. She realized then that his stare was never like the others, even if it traveled downward now and then, and that was the reason she couldn't keep him away from her life for too long, for she craved that kind of attention. His attention.

When he told her about Elva and how he had designated the girl to be her protector, she became a furious force. She was close to smashing the scrying mirror just to tear off the image of him, to see him in pieces. How bold of him to assume she was defenseless and incapable of taking care of herself. Would he always try to shield her from harm even though she didn't need protection? Didn't he remember who she was? Arya thought he would know her better by then.

Her self-control won the battle in the end, and all she had done was to give him a death stare and end the spell on the mirror. It took a lot of reasoning from Fírnen for her to get in contact with him the next day and hear what he had to say. His narrative about the elf, the merchant and the red-headed woman did nothing to placate her fury. On the contrary, she cursed him for mixing with those individuals, that were far more experienced in manipulating people than him. His last words, on the other hand, spoken in a suffering voice, swept her off her feet.

"I would do anything." He said.

She blinked and tried to understand what he had said. Anything for what? To protect her? Well, clearly he could do more, and that was only another reason for anger.

"Except for coming back home." Her voice was harsh and bitter. He flinched, like he had been slapped in the face.

"I tried… but the oath…" Eragon was obviously hurt.

In Arya's head a chord snapped. She had promised herself she wouldn't hurt him anymore, but there she was, demanding his return even though she knew it caused him pain to think about it.

"What about the oath?"

"I cannot relinquish my duty here to go to you, for it would mean I would be breaking the Rider's Oath. Umaroth pointed out to me that I would be acting on self-indulgence if I traveled west, and it isn't allowed." Eragon was sad, and she hated herself.

Arya wasn't ignorant about the oath since she took it herself in the presence of the two Eldunarí Eragon had left in Ellesméra before leaving forever. She knew how binding it could be, so she started to understand the extension of his affliction. Her anger toward him became an anger toward the entire situation. Death threats against her, someone clearly trying to manipulate him, his bindings attaching him to Fell Thindarë and her own duty keeping her in Ellesméra. And now Elva.

Arya brought two fingers on her lips and saluted him first. Eragon smiled and shook his head, but completed the elven greetings accordingly.

"Will you ever let me start?"

"You are too slow, Rider." She joked and returned his smile.

Eragon put his palm on his chest and bowed.

"You are right, it's my fault. Pardon me, my queen." His tone was playful and filled her heart with nostalgia. She missed the days they had spent together nine years before.

"You know I am not your queen, do you not?" It wasn't a reprimand, because she enjoyed the words coming out of his mouth, so familiar and so close to her heart. She simply meant he wasn't her subject.

Her insinuation caused him to look at her in a fiery meaningful manner, the corners of his mouth curving slightly upward.

"Are you sure you are not?" His words came out in a raspy voice.

Her heart jumped inside her chest. Eragon had learned with time how to play with her emotions in a way that Arya herself couldn't understand completely. It was a look, a smirk, a hand through his hair or a scratch on his beard. Little details that could unbalance her, just like she did with her admirers. Just like she would do to him. Now it was his turn to shake her. The only difference between them was that she almost never intended to do it on purpose.

She let out a heavy breath and raised her chin in defiance, trying to conceal her reaction to his provoking game.

"You are not my subject."

"You are right, your majesty. I will let another one call you like that, then."

It was a challenge for Arya to decipher if he was only teasing her or not by the way he mentioned Däthedr in between the lines. By the possibility of being the second case, it caused her an unexpected heartache.

Of the heated discussion with her counselor four years before, the fact that she hated how Däthedr called her my queen was the only thing he was told about. Arya would question herself on why she had spoken of it with him. Maybe it was a silent plead for him to take on the habit instead of Däthedr, if she enjoyed the words rolling out from his lips so much. Nevertheless, it was an impulse to share that part of herself so hidden from him, it was so unlike her to act that way. Oftentimes, he would tease her about it.

Eragon might have noticed her discomfort, for his typical gentle smile made an appearance combined with his equally typical warm eyes.

"It was only a jest. You are my queen."

So vainly satisfied with his devotion, she tipped her head and smiled back at him.

"I will allow it."

His loud laugh echoed in the eyrie and in her chamber too.

"Always in command, aren't you Arya?"

"You know me well."

He really did. No one else apart from Fírnen could say that. Not her people, not her friends, especially not the council. They all had preconceived ideas of her, but no one could actually get it all right the way he did. He had been wrong about her in the past on the early moments of their friendship, but it was only because he wasn't paying enough attention. Now that she could barely keep herself from reacting to his gaze, it was easy for him to read her. She was practically bare in front of him. Doubting his knowledge of her was only a reflex, urged by moments of discontentment, caused mainly by his rash decisions or disregard for prudence, although she had noticed those moments became rarer with time. Accusing him of not knowing her when he placed Elva in Ellesméra to be her shadow was a superficial analysis of the situation. He knew her well and probably had feared her reaction, but as he had said himself, he would do anything for her.

He breathed heavily and the seconds passed without them saying a word. They just looked into each other's eyes. How long would it be until he broke the silence? She couldn't know, she was certain of one thing though, time can only move forward.

Losing a battle against his better judgement, Arya watched his eyes sliding over her dazzling figure. She wouldn't be humble to herself, it was dazzling, she knew it.

"I know this is an official scrying session, but I must say, Arya…" He swallowed something painful in his throat. "I miss you terribly." His eyes grew dim.

He said something, but meant a lot more, she was sure of it, for her mind would fantasize about him as well.

Arya stepped a bit closer.

"And I, you. I don't think I have ever felt this way before about anyone else." And again, an impulse made her open up to him.

Her pain only aggravated his. She could tell he had darkness in his eyes.

Arya forced a smile and held a conciliating expression.

"Only a year now."

He nodded and tried to better his mood by unlocking himself from her look.

"Let's get to the point of this session…" Eragon said, as he played with a strand of his beard on his chin. "…the agreement. Do you know when Nasuada wishes to hold the meeting about it?"

"Nasuada wishes to wait for King Orrin to be present. The problem is… He refuses to come to Ilirea."

She watched as his eyes widened in surprise.

"Is it a boycott?"

"I believe it is. Orrin is afraid of the power your plan of education would bring to the Kingdom. At least that's what we take from his refusal, because his official reason not to come is an indisposition of Queen Manuella."

"But if he signs the agreement then he will have the same benefits. His people will receive the same education as Nasuada's magicians. Murtagh assured me that he made it clear to the king that all the territories would be treated the same, so I don't understand."

Eragon seemed distressed. It was as the king had doubted the Riders' competency in forming well taught minds. For Eragon, Orrin's actions were personal.

"He doesn't see it that way, since his kingdom is smaller, less populated. It would create a lesser force. Orrin can be competitive."

A bitter frown took Eragon's expression, which caused Arya to think that he would punch the king's face if they were in the same room.

"Arya, as a queen, I can't tell you what to do, but as a Rider, you must pressure Nasuada into signing the agreement. Murtagh is carrying the negotiations since the beginning, almost a decade ago, but your voice resonates louder than any other."

"Trust me, Eragon. You have my support, as the Queen and the Rider." She said with confidence, which made him sit back in his chair.

"Right. Thank you."

"What do you suggest we do?"

"A deadline could help." He shrugged. "We cannot drag this any longer. If Nasuada proposes a final date for Orrin to make up his mind, let's say a month, then he has to sign it or exclude Surda from the agreement. One way or another, the matter will be settled."

"Nasuada fears a conflict."

"He should be the one fearing anything." Eragon said with coldness.

"Would you order the Riders to fight in a way against Surda?" Arya was surprised with his feral stance about the surdan king.

"I can't do that, but the Riders would have to mediate any kind of conflict, you know this. If they determine that Orrin is the cause for such disagreement, then the Order would have to hold him accountable. It's our duty."

Arya nodded and concluded. "He better sign the agreement or be quiet about it."

"That's my opinion as well."

They were interrupted by a nock on Arya's door that she quickly identified by touching the visitor's mind as being Elva waiting for her to go join the others for the festivities.

The strange girl's company has become a constant in Arya's life. She would rarely walk around Ellesméra without Elva's steps following her own. They were quiet and vigilant companions for each other. Arya realized that Elva would keep her witty remarks for herself and would rarely comment on one's affliction. It happened only a handful of times, and once it was a pain that Arya was feeling on her back that she couldn't figure out the source and it made her get up from her chair like an elderly human and walk with cautious not to start an attack of pain. A simple spell to help with the pain was only a temporary fix; she had yet to cure the cause. After seeing the queen roaming around the palace in a curved posture, Elva finally pointed out a knotted muscle on her lower back that passed unnoticed, and that knowledge helped Arya to fix what was wrong. The occurrence was mundane, but it was the perfect example of how Elva treated her power — discreetly, silently, even cruelly when she wished it to be a weapon.

"Elva is here. Should I tell her to wait?"

"No, you may go."

Arya smirked.

"Who's in command now?"

Eragon laughed and bid her farewell with his fingers pressed on his lips.

Luxurious as usual, the ball in Queen Nasuada's castle was a clear display of wealth. With time, the celebrations around the Games became more and more selected to the rich and powerful of Alagaësia. Aristocrats of all races and territories were there, parading their intricate outfits and jewelry. Arya despised such waste of resources when there were people still living in misery inside their borders.

Not only her advisors were invited by the human queen, but other elven ladies and lords, princes and princesses, were there as well. Some of them relished in the luxury of the place, but most felt as uncomfortable as Arya. They were stepping on a different kind forest. A dangerous one.

Besides the aristocrats, the guests also included the Riders and their dragons, being Murtagh and Thorn the highest authorities among them. The youngest followed their lead and behaved as they instructed. Fírnen and Arya were the only ones above their command, which made the pair feel quite vain for having the special treatment.

Arya watched the dancers glide around the hall from Nasuada's table. Along with the two queens, Orik, Nar Garzhvog and Grimrr Halfpaw with their mates kept a polite and friendly conversation. The human queen turned to Arya with curious eyes.

"Were you scrying with Eragon earlier?" Nasuada asked in a low voice just for Arya's ears to pick up.

"I was. He exposed his frustration about the agreement taking too long to be signed."

Arya was frustrated as well, but she knew that Nasuada would take his opinion in consideration in a way she wouldn't do with anyone else.

"I imagined he would."

"He suggested a definitive solution." She started and watched as Nasuada looked at her with interested eyes. "That you give Orrin a deadline to come to Ilirea and sign the agreement. After that, he will be excluded from the document."

"An ultimatum?" She laughed and shook her head. "Eragon's solution is to give the King of Surda an ultimatum?"

Arya smiled.

"I believe he was being moderate. His opinion about Orrin is harsher than that."

"Good thing he's away, then, for I fear he would've started a war by now."

Arya nodded to humor the queen, but in all honesty, she agreed with Eragon. She too wished to punch the king in the face and run her army over his own. Caution would tell her otherwise. And no, she would never be glad Eragon was away.

"Is Eragon that wrong? If Orrin fears your might if the magicians get proper education, then why not use this fear to put him in his place? He is purposely stalling the agreement, he's not interested in keeping the peace."

Nasuada seemed surprised and even amused.

"Are you agreeing with Eragon? How curious."

Didn't she usually agree with him? Why was Nasuada so surprised?

You two agree only after almost going for each other's throats. Fírnen said.

I believed we just had a reasonable conversation about this matter earlier and agreed just fine on this course of action.

She could sense Fírnen's amusement through their bond.

She looked at him from across the hall where he stood in the company of Runalla and Vance. Renir and Avelina, both already acting as official Riders by then, were turning heads as they swirled around the hall to the sound of music, painting a beautiful picture with their dance moves. Arya paid attention to Renir, for it was the first time she had seen him in ten years. Normally, a recently graduated Rider would go to Ellesméra in order to request a sword from Rhunön, giving Arya the opportunity to meet with them before sending dragon and Rider to their assignments, but he didn't come to her, instead he flew from the Academy directly to Carvahall. When she questioned Eragon about it, he stated that Renir already had an assignment along with Avelina and he also had a Rider sword. He didn't go into further details and she didn't care enough to ask, but watching Renir displaying that sword to the whole room the see, she considered that Eragon had hidden a big piece of information from her.

Is that... Brisingr? She asked in confusion.

It seems like it. Yes... It's definitely Brisingr. Fírnen said after Renir passed right in front of him.

I don't understand. Why would Eragon gi...

"Arya? Are you all right?" Nasuada noticed her puzzlement and alternated her look from the elf to the young pair of Riders.

"Yes. I was just in a conversation with Fírnen." She looked at the queen. "I do agree with Eragon, believe it or not. It's a good plan. Honest, straightforward."

Nasuada took a sip of her wine and said. "Good. My messenger must be arriving in Surda at this very moment carrying a letter with my ultimatum."

Arya gasped. How did she manage to be always two steps ahead? Nasuada really was a true stateswoman, with her cunning and clever mind. Ajihad would be proud.

"So I am not the only one who agrees with Eragon after all."

"How curious." She laughed again.

They rested the subject, so Arya could turn to face the dancers again. Curious didn't even start to describe the fact that Renir was the new carrier of Brisingr, the legendary sword, forged by the hands of its original owner and war hero Eragon Bromsson, the Shadeslayer. Not curious at all. It was disturbing. One more indication that not only Eragon had given up the fight, but knew what no one else knew, whatever that was. Arya felt exhausted all the sudden, like a burden too heavy for her had fallen on her lean shoulders. She excused herself and walked back to her chamber, leaving Fírnen to compensate for her absence. Elva was also left behind, and if she felt Arya's discomfort, she didn't express it or try to ease it.

The first drops of rain started to fall on the grounds of Ilirea. Arya was lying on her bed reflecting on her discoveries, but rushed to the balcony so she could feel the fresh water on her face and smell the soft aroma of wet dirt and rain. She took a deep breath to fill her lungs with the nostalgic perfume as her bare arms were raised to the sky. One year now. Only one year.

Chapter Text

It was the day of the arrival of the Alagaësia party in Mount Arngor, but Arya and Fírnen got ahead of themselves to meet Eragon and Saphira at the Tialdarí Hill as agreed a few hours before the rest.

Seeing her for the first time in ten years was a rush. His members tingled with excitement, but the first thing she said to him even before jumping to the ground made him relax and remember why he loved her unusual company.

"You shaved."

He laughed at her discontentment and scrubbed his face with both hands.

"It was an accident." He waited until she dismounted from Fírnen and performed the elven greetings before her this time. After the words were said she frowned and brushed his clean shaved face with her fingers.

"What kind of accident? Couldn't you use magic to fix it?"

"The razor slip and… Well, I had to shave it all after that." He laughed again. "It's only hair, Arya. It will grow back."

He wasn't sure if he should try to hold her the way he longed to do, but her casual disposition, talking about his beard as it was the most important thing, encouraged him to do so. Eragon came close to Arya and put his arms around her, surprisingly feeling her reciprocate the gesture almost immediately. She breathed heavily inside his arms, as she was feeling relieved, he just didn't know why.

"I missed you." He said in her ear.

Arya backed away but still had her hand on his arms. He saw a shimmer in her eyes.

"And I missed you."

He smiled and with a great effort got himself free from her warmth to go greet Fírnen. They entangled their minds and shared pleasantries. The dragon showed him an image of a green patch by the hill he had never seen before and questioned what would that be.

At that, Eragon smiled like a naughty child and looked back at Arya, closing their minds to her.

That's a surprise. Do you think she will like? The image of the treehouse and the garden filled their connection.

As long as you tell her now, I don't see why not.

Fírnen was right, because Arya already had a mad stare to the both of them, curious to know the content of their secret conversation.

Eragon walked to her and grabbed her hands in his.

How will you do this, little one? Saphira asked accommodating herself on the ground by Fírnen's side.

I'll let her free to choose what to do with it.

Good luck!

Arya's curiosity was getting difficult to control as Eragon noticed. He smiled and squeezed her hands to soothe her.

"Arya, I know I promised I wouldn't ask for more of you ten years ago, for more than you were capable of giving me. So, I won't. But I have a gift for you, that I wish you to interpret not as anything more than what it is, just a gift. I'm not asking for more."

Arya didn't say anything, and Eragon thought she was waiting for him to continue.

"In all the times I told you how I feel for you, I don't think I could make myself clear. I don't think you know…"

"Eragon…" She interrupted. "I know."

He let go of her hand and ran his fingers through his hair.

"I don't think you do."

She smiled kindly.

"I know your name. All of them. The old ones. This new one. I know."

It was true. She didn't have to be with him anymore to read him, which was both satisfying and scary. Once she had figured him out ten years before, reading his next changes was easy and natural. Also, he didn't feel as afraid of telling her how he felt, for she kept an open path for him to do so at all times. She made him feel heard. His only fear was that she would eventually see in him a new detail that she hadn't seen before and decide that she didn't like it, that it was too much for her. It was a complete waste of energy to think that, he knew it, since it hadn't happened yet, but he couldn't help to feel so insecure before her. And that, Arya knew as well.

On the other hand, he was a little in the dark with her still, because Arya was a master in disguising her emotions, very different from him. She had to gather all her courage to tell him about her feelings or to show him what she would commonly call weakness. However, Eragon knew she kept him close to her heart and was susceptible to his luring games. It helped that the Eldunarí, without his request or consent, would show him parts of her past. It helped because it allowed him to understand who she was and the choices she had made throughout her life. However, it would feel like cheating, like betraying her trust. He still had to apologize for that later.

"Right. But you know the result, the product, not the process, or at least not all of it."

She frowned.

"What do you mean?"

"In order for you to understand this gift, you need to understand how I came to feel the way I feel about you. I just don't know how to phrase it."

Why don't you show her, like we do to each other? Saphira suggested and flashed a speeding amount of memories inside his mind.

Brilliant! He celebrated. He knew exactly what to show Arya.

He wanted her to know, but somehow, he thought words couldn't express all of it. Arya knew him well, she even knew a lot of the memories he was about to show her, but not the emotions behind it, and how they made him come to feel what he ultimately felt for her.

So, he asked permission to show her, to invite her into his mind and present to her his memories. He warned her, however, that it might not be a pleasant experience, he would show her moments of enchantment, of course, but mostly scenes of hurt, when he feared for her life and when he cried for her.

She agreed, and he opened his mind to her melodic intrusion, surrounding them both with his own defenses, a tall and dense hedge, full of thorns and poison ivy on the outside, but adorned with the most beautiful lilies and, why not, black morning glories on the inside. He felt Arya's mind sing in a high and bright note when she noticed the flowers. On the physical realm, she grasped his sleeves, for she knew he crafted the scenario just for her. He was glad she liked it, for it was a sample of what she would find in the garden later.

Fírnen and Saphira discreetly retreated themselves from their bond with their Riders. Eragon and Arya were alone in their mental space.

They both had their eyes closed and foreheads leaning against each other, so he began the parade of memories. Eragon took his time showing each memory very precisely, as close as it actually had happened.


First, she saw the top of a tree moving close like she was riding a horse on a trail, looking up to the bright sky. A sigh came out of her mouth but it wasn't hers, it was his, she was seeing and feeling from his perspective, as it should be, since this was how he remembered. He looked to his side and she saw Brom riding along, his white beard dangling on his chest, his blue eyes squinting under the daylight.

Brom pulled his beard and asked if Eragon had really said if she was in a prison. Arya assumed they were talking about herself. She opened her mouth involuntarily to answer, but heard Eragon's human voice coming out. Yes, he confirmed. He then proceeded to tell Brom how he hadn't seen her face clearly, although he could tell she was beautiful, but her eyes were very clear to him, he could see them without any trouble. Arya suspected they were talking about Eragon trying to see her by scrying, even though they had never met before, he knew her only from his dreams. She felt his anxiety when he asked about who Brom imagined she could be, but got disappointed when he got a negative. Eragon then suggested in a playful tone that they should look in every jail cell and dungeons until they found her, to which Brom laughed, but she felt he really would do that if it was up to him; he would go any lengths to find her, a woman he had never met before.

She raised her actual hands to his shoulders and gave it a little squeeze. He brought his own to her waist and let them rest there, loosely.

The memory turned to a new one. Now Arya watched Eragon examining his appearance in the mirror. It was a dirty and cracked mirror on the back of an old tavern. She could barely recognize him, if it weren't for his unmistakable warm brown eyes. He was a young and completely human version of the Eragon she had in her arms. His eyes were determined, but also tired and unmistakably human. He covered his head in a hat she had never seen before, but suspected it was part of a uniform, a messenger's uniform, maybe. She was right, because shortly after he finished disguising himself, he got out of the tavern into the morning light and walked toward a small and dark building that looked like the city's jailhouse holding a piece of parchment decorated with an official seal she could only see because he had glanced down.

When he approached the building, she heard Saphira's voice ringing inside her head, his head.

Are you sure you want to do this, little one? Are you really going to search every cell you can find?

I'm sure. He was decided, but she couldn't help to notice some desperation as well.

Is she really worth it?

I already told you, Saphira! I don't know why, but I care about her. I can't explain it, probably never will, so if there's anything I can do, I will do it, even if it means searching every single jail cell and dungeon I can find from here to Gil'ead and back again.

Arya felt that Saphira was proud of him, but also terribly worried.

Fine then, if it means so much to you, it means a lot to me too. Let's find her. But don't forget our main goal, to find Brom's contact in Gil'ead and go to the Varden. If we find her on the way, great, but if we don't, we will forget about her.

Eragon sighed as he stepped inside the building. Arya felt the cold air coming from the dark and humid cells down the stairs hit his exposed arms bellow his folded sleeves.

Fine. He said unwillingly.

Eragon! Promise!

All right, only on the way to Gil'ead and to the Varden, and then I'll forget about it, about... Her.

The last word was a faint whisper, and Arya felt her own eyes sting. She was touched by his determination to save her.

The memory changed again.

She was in a cell that she recognized being the one she was held captive in Gil'ead. She let out a gasp, and her heart started to pound. Eragon's arms closed behind her back in a comforting embrace. He said with his actual voice and she felt his breath brush her face.

"It's not you, it's me. It's my memory of captivity."

Arya took a deep breath and tried to control herself. She had forgotten for an instant that he had been held in Gil'ead as well.

Back in Eragon's body, she felt a fogginess, her head was light and her limbs were heavy. The elf heard a noise coming from outside his cell and her eyes were focused on the steel door as Eragon lifted his head from the cot he was lying on. She noticed his clothes were terribly worn out from traveling and he seemed too slim, as his body entered her field of vision. So different from the strong man she held that it made her feel bad. He got up, slowly, and looked out of the small window on the door. She saw soldiers, she knew them and her heart sped up again. They carried someone among them, someone unconscious. She saw herself, and a nausea hit her. She clenched her teeth and sank her nails in Eragon's shoulders, who instinctively closed the embrace even more.

In the memory, Arya felt Eragon's heart also speeding up and a resolution taking over his foggy mind. He was going to get himself free and he would save her, no matter what.

The next memories passed as flashes: Eragon throwing his poisoned food and water out of the window; feeling his stomach devour itself of hunger; accessing his magical power to open the cell door; her eyes. Her green eyes paralyzing him completely when he saw her in her cell. She felt his relief for finally finding her and also his rapture for seeing her and all her beauty in person for the first time. And also compassion.

Arya softened her touch on his shoulders and felt his warmth on her palms. They've come a long way, and watching the beginning from his perspective was at the same time uncomfortable and heartwarming, because she could feel his affection, even before they met. How could it be? Were they really meant to be?

The scene turned to a completely different situation where they were riding at full speed through a valley. But before the image set on her mind, she saw a glimpse of another memory, as he chose not to show her something in the last second, her back severely wounded as his palms hovered over it, healing her.

Why he didn't want her to see it she didn't know, but didn't express any thoughts since the new memory was raging in front of her mind. The trees were a blur as the horses passed them by. Her head turned to see Saphira flying low with Arya's own body strapped lifeless on the dragon's belly. She felt his emotions turning to agony when a thought crossed his mind.

What if we don't make it?

I already said it. You chose to ride the horses so Murtagh wouldn't be alone to fight the urgals, now deal with it. Saphira used a hard voice to speak to him.

I know I chose that. How could I leave him behind? But how can I live knowing that I could've taken Arya to the Varden way faster if I had chosen to ride you instead? He had a lump in his throat, and Arya fought the urge to swallow.

I guess life is about choosing your battles and learning to deal with the outcome. Saphira said in resignation.

I want to fight both of them. With that said, he kicked his horse and made him run even faster.

The memories changed again. Her sight went dark and an excruciating pain tore her back from shoulder to hip, and she gasped once more lunging forward into Eragon's arms. It took her half a minute for her to realize what memory was that. Her eyes opened in the middle of the blinding pain and focused on a blast of light and glass way over her head. Her eyes darted from the explosion to the creature next to her as she turned, flaming scarlet blade in hand. She watched as her right hand – not her sword hand, but his – raised and shot a piecing blow to the Shade's heart. She felt his realization that he had done something impossible, and she got proud of him. Before succumbing to the darkness again, they looked up with their shared perspective and watched as Saphira raced down with Arya on her back, palms up and a fierce look. Without even thinking about the danger of being cut in a million pieces by the shards, he felt gratitude fill his mind, knowing he would never be able to kill Durza if it weren't for her, and Arya received this feeling from both memory-Eragon and her Eragon, safe and sound in her arms.

The tears she tried to hold back before rolled down her cheek. Arya opened her eyes to see his own brown ones staring back at her. He gave her a sad smile.

"I told you it wouldn't be pleasant."

She nodded and hugged him, placing her cheek on his neck.

"Funny how Fírnen showed you the same memory but from a different perspective years ago."

"I guess it's an important one, isn't it?"

She nodded but didn't step back.

"Is there more?" She knew it was just the beginning of it all, but wanted to hear from him.

"Much more."

Eragon backed away slightly to look at her and wipe a tear from her face.

"I can stop though. I think you already have an idea." He smiled again, his voice was soft.

"No, I want to see it. Show me."

The next and last memory jumped in time many months and many happenings that she suspected he was embarrassed by, such as their encounter in Du Weldenvarden at the Blood Oath Celebration or the time she broke the fairth he had made of her. She didn't want to see it either if it caused him pain, and because it caused her discomfort as well, she understood his reluctancy. Instead of those memories or many others, he chose one that she had no idea existed. It was after the appearance of the spirits when Arya had gone to find him in the Empire. They talked by the fire, and she opened up to him for what she remembered being the first time, or the first really significantly time. He consoled her and gave her a flower. It was kind and delicate of him. She would never forget.

When they were done talking and settled to rest for the night, he excused himself and moved away from the camp. Arya felt his legs taking them into the forest and her curiosity grew, because her own memory of that moment was uneventful from that point on. He stayed away for a couple of minutes and then came back to lay down and rest like she was doing, nothing more. But what he showed her couldn't be called uneventful. Her sight became a blur as she felt a knot in her throat. His throat. He was crying. The tears started to roll down his cheeks as she felt them warm on her own, and she bit her finger to muffle the sound. His finger. Her head, his head, turned to look behind, and the faint light of the fire could be seen undisturbed. She didn't hear him cry in the past. But why was he crying? She felt their legs bending until he was kneeling by a tree, his forehead pressed against its trunk. Tears flowed freely as she tried to suppress the sobs. As he tried to suppress the sobs, so she wouldn't hear him cry. That memory was the most immersive of all. Arya was confused, not knowing who controlled the body or who felt the emotions. In the end, did it really matter?

Arya opened her eyes again and stared at Eragon. He seemed to feel her stare and opened his eyes as well. He had a pained expression on his face.

"Why?" She whispered.

He swallowed and clenched his jaw.

"I felt guilty." He looked down.

"For what?"

"For making you go through all of that so I could find Saphira's egg. So I could be where I was. And I felt terribly bad for you, wanted to take it all away."

Arya was shocked. How could he ever think any of what she had been through in Gil'ead was his fault? Or the fact that she had lost Glenwing and Fäolin?

She grabbed both sides of his face and made him look at her.

"None of that was your fault! None! You hear me?"

His eyes were sad but he nodded slowly.

"I knew the risks when I took the task of ferrying the egg. Besides, the only ones to blame are Durza and Galbatorix, who are both dead because of you." Her voice became soft and sweet. "It looks like I have a debt I will never be able to pay."

A frown appeared on his face.

"You were never in debt. Never had to pay anything. Take this idea out of your head. Besides, I didn't do anything alone, you were there too. You avenged yourself."

She smiled at him, and it was warm and inviting. Arya pressed her forehead on his again, caressing the back of his head. His hair felt soft to her touch just like she knew it would, just how she remembered.

"I don't think I can." She whispered to his mouth and closed her eyes. They were so close they were breathing each other's air. She felt him leaning in slowly, hesitating, and then he stopped. What was wrong?

Arya opened her eyes. She moved her head away just a bit so she could see him. And there he was, looking back at her with expectation, but also with anxiety. She caressed his hair again, and his eyes shut closed at the pleasure of her touch. Couldn't he tell she wanted it?

"What is it?" She asked quietly.

He opened his eyes once more, and they became focused on her lips, clouded with wanting.

When he spoke, his voice was very low and hoarse.

"I don't want to do anything that will send you away. After ten years, I don't know where we stand, and I promised I wouldn't ask you for more." His arms firmed the grip on her lower back to prove his point.

She smiled again and understood that all the first steps were hers to take. He had promised and was intending to keep his word. But she also had a promise to keep.

"And I promised I wouldn't take back what we had conquered so far."

With that in mind, she ran her hand through his hair and brought him even closer, their faces were touching, all was left for her was to lift her chin up a little bit and her lips would meet his. She took her time when she felt his breathing becoming shorter and faster. Her own breaths were shallow and more frequent. From the contact of his body on hers, she felt his heart pound at full speed in his chest and she was sure he could feel hers doing the same.

Arya crossed the last limit and pressed her lips delicately on his. It was very different from the kiss their had shared ten years before, for that one was full of repressed desire and hurt. This one was a confirmation, a reunion. A lot less desperate.

He held his breath and didn't move. She then pulled his head to herself and made the pressure stronger. He then let out the air and inhaled again, tilting his head to the right and parting his lips slightly. She mimicked him and moved her lips so she could cover his bottom lip with hers. Their mouths danced like this for a while, trying to meet each other like it was the first time, like an overdue introduction.

They split for a while and she had time to see him again. Eragon had his eyes still closed, lips parted and a charming shade of pink on his cheeks. She realized that even with a clean shave, his skin was still scratchy and her own skin felt tender from the contact, but it didn't bother her at all. She decided she also liked this version of him.

Arya closed the distance once again and kissed him, but this time she let her tongue go meet his inside his mouth. Eragon moaned, affected by the pleasure it gave him, but didn't retract, instead he reciprocated her every move. His sounds entered her ears and exploded inside of her just like their first time, and like the first time it caused a wave of pleasure to run throughout her body, knowing that she was the one causing his own pleasure.

If felt even better than before. His taste, the texture of his tongue and the roughness of his face and also the sound of his plead. It all brought memories back, but it was even more intense after all that time, and she was sure missing him for so long added a special ingredient to his taste. The smell of his skin so close to her nose was another thing Arya could never forget neither take for granted. His scent of wet grass and rain was at the same time new to her and an old friend. It was… Eragon. So distinctive and so simple. It inebriated her.

When they parted in definitive the most radiant smile filled his face.

"I missed you." He whispered again.

Arya responded with a soft kiss on his lips.

"Let's make the most of it, then. Where is the present you said you have for me?"


Arya kept quiet for an unsettling amount of time. She was standing in front of the treehouse by the river at the foot of the hill, looking, inspecting. Frozen.

Eragon didn't know what to do. He was standing behind her to give her space, but his desire was to go ahead and explain himself, explain his reasons and every little detail he put in the house just for her.

"Like I said before, this means nothing more than what it is, a gift. It's just a house, so you can feel comfortable when spending time here in the east. And it's your choice if you want to stay here or in the mountain like the last time. But if you choose to stay here, there's a dragon shelter for Fírnen and Saphira and…"

Arya turned to him with watery eyes. It was the second time that day he saw her crying, which was odd since she was usually very composed and strong.

"You made this for me." It wasn't a question.

"Well, it's not the palace I swore I would build for you once, but you already have one, that I don't think suits you very much. I mean… it's your family's house and I don't want to disrespect their memory, but…" He caught himself in midsentence realizing his nervousness. "And I'm rambling. I'm sorry. You don't have to say anything. We can go to the mountain and forget about it."

She frowned.

"You don't get to say what to do with my gift, Eragon. It's my gift." She said in a commanding voice before adding in a more loving one. "And I love it."

He smiled unsure.

"Really? You haven't seen it on the inside yet."

Arya smiled back.

"And I already love it." She held her hand out for him which he took, and they walked inside.

The house was round, sung from the trunk of a not so tall, but large tree. It had two floors, the first one being on the ground level, that was bigger and formed a base for the second one. Eragon unlocked the door and let Arya in. There she found a wide space where living room, study, kitchen and dining room were all combined, differentiated only by the decoration. A little step also separated the dining area from the social area. Eragon couldn't tell from Arya's first reaction what were her impressions, but he let go of her hand so she could walk around examining everything, beginning from the left in the kitchen.

She opened the cabinets and made a positive remark about the flower vases on the windows that faced the river. The circular windows, that were many by the way, were an important feature, for it surrounded the entire house, bringing light inside. Under the windows, there was a wooden counter with utensils and pans of all sorts. Everything she needed to cook a good meal Arya could find there.

The kitchen floor was made of polished stone, and it appeared clean and sober, like the rest of the first level. She passed by the wooden table for six people and stepped down to the living room. There, Eragon watched her feeling the pillows on the green couch and then smiling at the fairth placed on the fireplace mantel. It showed her and Saphira, just their silhouettes, looking at the sunrise many years before, when they were on their way to Ellesméra for the first time. He thought the image was so significant and beautiful and wondered if she remembered that day. He voiced his question, to which she smiled even greater and said. "It's one of my fondest memories."

Next to it was another one. It made Eragon approach her and touch the corners of the stone where the image was imprinted.

"I took the liberty to make a fairth of it. I hope it's all right. I don't ask the Eldunarí to show your life to me, in fact I ask them to avoid doing it altogether, but they do it nevertheless." He explained, and for the third time tears fell from her eyes.

The fairth contemplated Islanzadí and Evandar holding Arya as a newborn in the gardens of the Tialdarí Hall. It was a fast memory the Eldunarí had shown him a few years before, but it was enough for him to engrave it in stone for her.

"I'm sorry if I crossed the line." He whispered afraid that he had hurt her by opening an old wound.

She looked at him and shook her head.

"You didn't." Arya grabbed the fairth and took it to the couch where she let herself sink. Eragon leaned on the fireplace and crossed his arms on his chest. "You know me well. When you said I only knew the product not the process… Now I understand. You need to know someone to really love them. And you know me." She pointed at the image.

Eragon nodded and smirked.

"And now you know me."

Arya seemed to pick up what he was implying because she smiled wiping her tears, but kept looking at the fairth.

"Did you bring me here just to make me cry?"

Eragon laughed and grabbed the fairth from her hands to put it back on its original place. Next, he led her to the study, where Eragon had built a tall bookcase that went from the ground to the ceiling, with a rolling ladder that Arya could place wherever she wished to reach the books on the highest shelves. It made her eyes gleam with excitement. Since he finished planning the house, he started to order books from all over Alagaësia for her, and the merchants would bring them directly to him. Jeod helped him with the rarest manuscripts. Some of the books and scrolls were original work from the residents of Arngor, especially the Riders. Eragon himself had contributed with a great number of poems of stories written specifically for her private library.

"Eragon! This is fantastic!"

"I had time on my hands." He laughed and shrugged.

She also enjoyed the desk and the chair placed in front of a big window that allowed her to look outside at the garden. She fixed her eyes on the flowers and he had to pull her out of there and said she was spoiling the second part of the surprise.

"Ready to see the bedroom?" He pointed at the upper floor, to what she agreed unwillingly, still peeking through the window.

They climbed the spiral staircase that situated between the dining room and the study. Eragon went first and when he got there, he rushed to open the thin layer that closed the opening to the balcony. It was the same type of layer used in Ellesméra, very effective in protecting the inside from the elements. A fresh breeze came in, which indicated that they wouldn't suffer too much with the heat that summer.

When he turned to make that comment to Arya, he found her enraptured by the paintings on the wall.

"Renir painted those." He explained.

There were three big paintings hanging on the wall opposite the balcony above the bed. They were made in cloth, for the it would be impractical to try to hang framed pictures on curved walls.

"They are beautiful!"

The one on the left displayed Ilirea in the way Eragon didn't know. It was current, well developed and in ascension. Renir painted with his own hands, not his magic and mind, and it made it imperfectly brilliant. The way he portrayed the morning light hitting the Emerald Towers was a true work of art.

The one to the right was a rendition of Mount Arngor during the snowfall. He knew Arya had never seen it that way and would never see it if she would come only for the Games during the summer. He requested that image for that particular reason and because it was breathtaking, the real one, but also the one made of paint.

She turned to look at him and he saw she was in awe.

"Is it really like this in the winter?"

"Less dramatic…" He commented, what made her laugh. "But yes, that's how it looks like. You should see it some time."

She didn't respond, and it made him sad. He wanted her to stay, of course, but if it wasn't possible, then she could at least come more often. He always wondered if the matters of the crown would make it so difficult for her to travel the way she made it seem. Maybe it was just her indisposition to come, and the house would make her want to come more often and even see how Arngor looked like during the winter.

The painting directly above the bed showed Ellesméra, the Crags of Tel'naeír more precisely. Eragon had shown Renir a memory of Glaedr resting on the crags at twilight, and the young elf painted it with such emotion that Eragon didn't know whose emotion it was, Renir's or his own. Arya must have felt it as well, because she stepped closer to the wall to see it in detail.

At that one she didn't make any remarks, and Eragon was sure she was holding back her own emotions again. She simply shook her head and looked around. He watched her glide her hand on the soft mattress of the big bed and walk to the dresser. The drawers were empty except for the bottom one that contained fresh sheets and blankets. She opened the wardrobe, also empty. A frown creased her forehead.

"They're empty." She said.

Eragon was confused about her confusion.

"Well… yes. You just arrived. Why? What did you expect to find in there?"

She hesitated, then looked away. Eragon thought he saw embarrassment on her expression.

"I don't know. I thought…"

"What is it, Arya?" He came closer to her.

"Nothing. It was nothing." She smiled softly and got away from his stare to go to the balcony.

The space surrounded the entire upper level, since it was composed by the roof of the first floor. From the outer walls of both levels, that were the trunk of the tree, vines and other plants would fall, painting the house in dark green. Being outside felt fresh and sheltered, for the tree top was very full and cast a big shadow down below. The rustling of the waters added a calming effect, that Eragon knew Arya would enjoy. Watching her hair dancing with the breeze as she sat on the ledge had the same effect on him.

Eragon went to stand at the balcony door.

"So… What did you think?"

"I loved it." She said without turning to see him. Her voice sounded sad somehow, so he came to sit by her side.

"What's the problem then?"

Arya took a minute to answer, but when she did her expression was pained.

"A month isn't enough. It wasn't fair that I had ten years to miss you, now I'll have ten years to miss this place as well. I know this will become home for me, and then I'll become desperate to come back, more than I normally am." She stared at him. "You trapped me." It wasn't a serious accusation, because soon she smiled graciously and leaned in to kiss his lips.

"You haven't even seen the garden yet." He said in her mouth, causing her to pause and look at him with beaming eyes.

Chapter Text

The formalities that year were already taking too long in her opinion, as Nasuada's speech was more prolific than usual. By taking a glance around the big dining hall, Arya could tell the others shared the same thought. Nar Garzhvog's head, for instance, started to bend slightly forward, which was never a good sign; Angela, at the table opposite to the leaders', curled her hair around her finger; by the herbalist's side, Elva had a lost stare and Solembum licked his claws in pure boredom.

Arya looked to her left side, Eragon drummed his fingers on the arms of his chair, which was annoying her by the minute. Very discreetly, she brought a finger to stop his movement placing it on top of his hand. At the contact, his eyes darted to her, and he seemed to perceive what he was doing, throwing her an apologetic look and a smile. It took her to the morning they had together before he had to go back to the mountain and finish preparing for receiving the eastern guests. That was when he showed her the garden.

If she were another woman — and if she dared to say, a human lady or a typical elf — she would've hated it, or disliked it to say the least. But she was her, and he knew her well, Arya would never tire to think or say that. She loved it! It was rough, unfinished, wild. He had ten years to craft it in a way that it would look like a masterpiece, painted by the hands of the most talented artisan. To make it to perfection. Eragon was fully capable of doing so. But it was for her! And he knew she would want to take part in building it too and seeing the nature take its own course.

It was obvious that he had cleared the soil before planting the flowers, but it was also obvious he had only trimmed the native plants that had grown naturally among the ones he planted after that, without pulling it out of the ground completely or using magic to preventing them from coming back. She had chanted a quick spell to inspect the use of magic on the place, because she could feel it deep in the ground but too faintly on the surface, and discovered he had sung for fertility and for healthy growth, but decided to let the seasons decide the course nature should take. She appreciated his respect for the imperfection of life. In the end, it was a well-planned chaos.

After showing her the house and sitting by her side on the balcony, Eragon stood up and led her around the terrace until they were standing on the opposite side of the tree. From up there, Arya could smell the strong aroma of flowers rising from the garden. She raised her chin and took a deep breath, closing her eyes to identify the different scents, although there was a predominant one that smothered the existence of all others. She smiled and felt his hand involving hers.

"I'm glad it's summer." She commented with merriment as she let out the air knowing it was time for white lilies.

"I thought you would like the smell. Come, you'll find the colors just as enticing."

He was right. If the summer lilies were powerful in smell, the other flowers were stunning in colors, she could already see it from up there, between a branch or two. They climbed down a narrow staircase that followed the curvature of the house until they were stepping on the garden, and she realized that there was no separation between the two of them, and the big tree where the house was sung into formed a gigantic high shelter for all the growth underneath it.

"There are the lilies you already recognized..." Eragon started to walk on the pathway formed with pebbles, pointing at the rows of flowers, some close by, some at a distance. "...the lilacs, of course, the gardenia..." He kept going walking ahead while she was still delighted by the first ones he mentioned.

The pathway didn't follow an obvious direction. It seemed to her that as the plants were growing the need to reach further and keep tending to them grew as well, so the trail kept on going. And then more trees were sung and more flowers were planted, so the trail continued, tortuous, curvilinear, deep in the pleasure of fresh air under the hot summer weather. Smaller trails would branch out from the bigger one, making her wonder how extensive was the garden, or should her say the woods?

Her eyes were being greeted with so many colors, it was hard to keep track. Sometimes a long row of red would predominate, but then a little ahead down the path it would mix with yellow, orange, purple, just to end at another row but of a different color this time. Not only the flowers were summery and colorful, but the ground was coated with fallen fruits of all sorts, some she couldn't even recognize. She looked up to see the fruit trees providing a true feast for the birds who sang and hummed all around.

Arya halted when a rustle of leaves started from behind a bush and moved quickly from one to another. She looked ahead to ask Eragon about it, but he had already disappeared in the middle of the vines hanging from the trees. Arya extended her consciousness to touch the minds of such living creatures and found two kittens playing with each other. She expanded her mind a little further and touched the minds of an entire family of housecats living in the garden and so many other small animals, as expected, but big ones too. That surprised her! She noticed Eragon was in company of them, so she rushed to meet him down the path and found him petting a big white stallion. Two other horses were grazing in the grass around the end of the pathway that led to a little square with a bench.

"Are they wild?" Arya asked.

Eragon pondered and sat on the bench, stretching his legs ahead.

"In a way. They were born in the wilderness, but chose to take shelter here as many other animals did. Now they help us in the same way the elven horses do in Du Weldenvarden, but their communication is still very primitive."

"Why do they help you?" She went to sit by his side.

"I'm not sure, like I said, their communication is primitive, but I think they enjoy this place. Before there was nothing here, only a few sparse trees by the river as you may remember. In the summer, the sun can be cruel and there was nowhere to hide. So, I believe they help us out of gratitude. There's also food here now." He pointed at the grass the big animals were nibbling on.

Those were great reasons to be grateful for, she could agree with that. She was grateful for a lot less essential things than shelter and food. Taking his hand in hers once again, Arya wished him to know how much she appreciated his care, but she didn't have words or actions that could express it right. All she could do was to hope he would understand from the comfort of her touch.

Nasuada's speech had finally come to an end and she declared the opening feast for the Arngor Games commenced. From the kitchens, an army of men and women carrying platters and platters of food served the tables around the hall without distinctions of social ranks, and that was probably what Arya liked the most about having the games there, everyone was treated the same. The servers for the night would be served the night after; who cleaned the tables one day would rest the next day, in a rotation system that was fair and honest for the residents of the mountain.

Soon, the voices were loud and cheerful and children would be seen running between the tables. When the bellies were well fed, the ale started to pour with more abundance and music to be played next to the leaders' table. Some people kicked their chairs back and formed an animated dancing party. The elves lent their silky voices to the songs played by the human bards and dwarf musicians, and soon the urgals brought their drums to the mix. The dragons were humming loud to the beat, what caused the entire room to vibrate in synchronicity to the songs. It was a true eastern celebration. Arya sighed and relaxed her shoulders, sitting back in her chair. She could get used to it.

Eragon leaned in to her and announced he was going to be with his family and asked if she wished to come along. She politely refused in order to allow him to have some alone time with Roran and Katrina, who he hadn't seen in twenty years. Besides, his niece Ismira and nephew Iain were practically strangers, being the only interactions between them via scrying over the years. Arya wished to grant him that time. He acquiesced and walked toward their table. She quietly enjoyed the music, reminiscing the smell of flowers.

It had been a minute since she had caught his hand and the words had been stuck in her throat. She turned to look at him and a ray of sun pierced through the leaves to hit her in the eye, blinding her momentarily. Arya adjusted her head to rid herself from the luminosity and found Eragon's eyes locked on hers and his lips slightly parted as he was captivated about the way she looked. His expression seemed silly, and she couldn't suppress a laugh. It was impossible for her to know if it was the sound or the look of it, but his dazzled expression intensified. She let go of his hand to run her fingers softly on the side of his face.

"Why are you looking at me like that? It seems we've never met before."

Eragon gulped and resisted the urge to close his eyes to her touch.

"Sometimes, when I think I'm immune to your beauty, you do something that makes me feel exactly like the first time."

She wondered what she had done to gain such reaction from him, but it felt good to be the object of his praise.

"You are not bad on the eyes either." Her gaze followed the line traced by her fingers down his well-defined jaw, and she almost missed when his eyebrows rose and he widened his eyes. Didn't he know he looked good? "You seem surprised."

Eragon cleared his throat and tried to compose himself, but a light shade of pink tainted his cheeks.

"You have never said something like that to me before. I didn't know."

"Don't you know how good you look?"

"I don't know how good you think I look."

Arya stopped her hand on his neck and stared at his eyes. She saw he was trying his best to keep the eye contact through the embarrassment.

"I guess I don't pay you enough compliments, do I?"

He relaxed and smiled gently, as to dismiss her from the duty of praising him as well.

"You don't have to." He grabbed her hand that rested on his neck and pulled her up. "Come on, there's more to see."

Looking back to that moment, Arya would punish herself thinking she had missed a chance to tell him everything she thought of him, or at least one good thing. To say that for her there was no comparison, he was the most attractive man she knew. There were fairest men, more elegant and refined, but she wouldn't look at them twice if the alternative was Eragon. If she was hesitant to compliment his looks, then she should at least praise his dedication and creativity, or any of his many qualities, anything but let the moment pass. But she let it pass.

Across the little square, the pathway resumed but not for long, and this time he let her go first, guiding her by the waist.

"Again, I don't know if I have crossed a line with this too, so if I have, I'm profoundly sorry." Eragon started to explain, which sounded apprehensive and odd to Arya's ears. "I just wish you to know that I accept all of you, and I agree with your opinion that this one is the most perfect and lovely flower that have ever existed. I couldn't exclude it from your garden just for pure jealousy. I'm not even sure I'm jealous of him."

Arya moved away some vines to see a single black morning glory resting on a bed of spotted dead-nettle. Her heart clenched. She looked back, but Eragon had turned on his heels and walked away. She was alone with the flower that Fäolin had once created just for her in a solstice many years before, so many miles away from there. Her knees went weak and she knelt in front of that exuberance, with conflicted feelings stirring inside of her.

The high-pitched tone of the flute made her want to join the dancers that were many at that point. Fírnen helped Vance and Thorn to move the giant tables aside, and soon there were more people joining the dance than watching from the sidelines. Arya watched as Avelina dodged the swirling pairs and groups that drunkenly moved through the hall to make her way to the queen and, with a casual curtesy, invited her to join the dance. It was the last incentive Arya needed.

The repetitive verses of the song enticed the crowd to sing along, muffling the voices of the elven singers, what didn't bother them at all, as she noticed. The stamping feet and clapping hands followed the beat of the drums, and it created an extra pulse in her chest, almost making her body to move involuntarily. She let out a laugh when she remembered how the festivities in the Kingdom used to be and how outraged the aristocrats that had never set foot in Arngor would feel if they saw their kings and queens surrendered to such popular activity. That night, she was completely surrendered, conflicted feelings aside.

Chapter Text

Arya had gone east for a number of reasons, most of them official matters, but to be completely honest with herself she was there to be with him. Eragon gave her the most beautiful gift he could ever give her with the intention of falling even more into her graces. Silly of him. She had already surrendered to his charms. But even then, after that incredible prove of love and devotion, she felt apart from him, because inadvertently he had found another way of keeping her at a distance. His obliviousness usually amused her, a few times angered her, but at that moment it just saddened her.

She was lying on her new bed feeling the breeze blowing from outside. The river flowed down its course lulling her with its soft and constant current. And the most special detail of that place was coming through the open windows near the headboard of the bed. The smell of white lilies, that was stronger and sweeter than any other kind. And maybe it was the wine talking, but all of that formed in her mind the image of his arms closing around her body, yet he wasn't there. She could almost feel his warmth, but he was still inside his mountain, away from her, high in the eyrie.

When he showed her his gift, she first had the impression he would share her new home with her. She should've known he wouldn't, since he had made it clear he wasn't going to break his promise of not asking for more. Living together would definitely be a barrier to their previous agreement. She didn't regret proposing it, or better said, imposing it, for she would always be the master of their game, and they both knew she needed to have the control in order to make keep going forward. But his hesitancy in approaching her could be worse than his possible urge to have her.

Fírnen. Arya called.

The dragon was resting in the shelter beautifully crafted next to the treehouse in stone and vines. Saphira kept him company.

Yes, my dear.

Please, may you ask Saphira to link me with Eragon?

Are you all right? He probably sensed her sadness, but she felt as he nudged Saphira mentally.

I just need to talk with him.

Without any more words from neither of the dragons, Arya felt her mind being led to his through the few miles that separated them until she found herself surrounded by his mental gardens. She could've done this by herself, but it would be a waste of her energy just to reach him, then try to get through his walls would be another challenge. To be carefully delivered to him by his partner was a much more polite and comfortable way to do it.

She watched as he disarmed his traps so she wouldn't be pulled in and endangered like she was ten years before. Arya extended the same courtesy by toning down the hypnotic effects of her music.

Are you all right, Arya?

If she was asked that question enough times she would finally get to the truth, that in fact she was not all right, she felt lonely.

I just needed to talk with you.

About what?

She didn't quite know.

I don't know.

His amusement filled their minds and she could tell he was laughing with his physical body. She could also tell he was in bed, ready to enter his waking dreams, and a slight buzz in the corners of his mind indicated he was also influenced by more than a few drinks.

Take your time then.

She felt Saphira retreating from their connection and Eragon occupying the empty space she had left. To entertain her, he started to play the memories of that night that she didn't participate. It was when the dwarves had a drinking competition and Roran decided to join in, losing miserably and spiting ale all around. It worked, for soon she felt relaxed and at ease. He kept going and showed a joke told by Murtagh that was so filthy it made the other Riders flinch and laugh out loud, but what was really funny for Eragon wasn't the joke itself but the fact that Renir seemed helplessly oblivious to its meaning. And all the others were disgusted enough to refuse to explain it to him. The unmistakably sound of Eragon's laugh in the memory made her smile fondly.

I see you feel a little better already. Maybe I should keep going with the dirty jokes. He observed.

The joke didn't do it for me. You did.

I'm glad I amuse you.

Sometimes you do. Sometimes you just annoy me.

With her inhibition severely unstable, she opened her memories to show him when she watched from across the hall as the red-headed woman danced toward him and explored his chest with her prying hands while speaking in his ear. She didn't hold back the memory of her reaction at the time, that was a step in their direction stopped by Avelina, who wisely put herself in the way.

Arya! He protested. Nothing happened!

She didn't respond and kept playing the memory in which Avelina in a humorous way pointed it out that it was a common occurrence, and soon Eragon would send Helena away. The words had just come out of her mouth and Eragon gave a step back, waiting for Helena to shrug and dance toward someone else like nothing had happened.

It annoys me nevertheless.

Can we get back to the part where I amuse you? He hoped in a cautious voice.

Arya felt bad. She had put on his shoulders all the responsibility of making her feel secure and cared for when she wouldn't even speak of it to him. How fair was it?

I don't blame you for having a life here that's independent from me, I never gave you much to hold on to. It's also all right if you are mad at me for behaving this way.

A few seconds went by before he could respond, and Arya noticed his foggy mind was charging its price.

I'm most definitely not having an independent life. And I'm not mad, only because you are reasonable enough to trust me, right? He said in a firm voice, even if a little groggy, as he was trying to teach her a lesson, but in a loving way.

Arya smiled. I do.

All right then. I'll take this episode as a sign that you care.

I wish you really knew that. Her mental voice was a quiet and soft plead as her heart ached.

A plead for him to close the distance as much as possible. To keep her within his reach at all times, because that was the reason she had gone east for. Arya thought that it was exactly that what she had to say to him, but didn't know how. Somehow it was caught up inside her throat, and she suspected it had something to do with the alarming feeling of vulnerability that came along with the thought.

Some of that must have passed through their link, for his mind felt somber suddenly as he had made a mistake and he said in a conciliating tone. "In the first light, meet me in the garden. For now, go to the study, third shelf from the top, fifth book from the left. I wrote it for you. Just for you."

Arya rushed down the stairs to the best of her tipsy abilities to grab the book he mentioned and settled herself on the couch, still navigating his vast mind. She felt his attention dimming a little and he soon started to wander away in his rest. She begun to read the long and elaborate ode he had written about her. As she was reading it, her mind guided his own to follow her mental voice, and soon enough his dreams were all about her, illustrating his written words on her beauty, her might, strength and wisdom. The poem compared her with a cactus flower at some point. What her eyes read his dreams painted, and they both saw that image of resilience. Life in the desert. Another passage described the fierceness she had on the battlefield as being the mortal embrace of a serpent — silent, sensual, deadly.

But the part she loved the most was the one where it became personal, with details that only Eragon could know. Not even her was capable of telling how her own skin tasted like. Or the feel of her fingernails trailing a path of fire on one's skin. Or even that her smell of crushed pine needles made one's legs go numb when crawling inside one's nostrils. Eragon was the only one alive who could ever testify to its veracity, so she was sure he was overreacting. It was the only explanation for his disproportional rapture.

They both woke up from their haze when he protested mentally against her judgement. To argue in his own favor, he started to recreate in their minds their most passionate moment thus far. Arya wasn't sure how awaken he was by then or how sober, but it didn't matter, she was feeling warm enough to let the sensations flow through their bond.

He was very vividly imprinting in her mind the first time they kissed. He wanted her to know that what he wrote was the truth, that she was all that. But again, he was clueless and, inadvertently, ended up showing her his reactions to her as well not only her characteristics. He reacted to her in the memory but in the present too, and Arya could feel his heartbeat racing in his chest like it was her own and a heat forming below his bellybutton. It was too much for Arya. The sound of his heavy breathing was doubled and that marvelous sound intensified her own mimicked reactions to him. He needed to stop it or it would eventually make her go insane.

She closed the book since she wasn't looking at it for a while now and let it slip from her hand while she grabbed the pillows under her head to steady herself. Her eyelids fell heavy and humid, contrary to her mouth that would fall open and dry. She was completely sober now, the wine had burned away from her system at that point.

Eragon... She called once and realized he was deep into the memory. Eragon!

Still he didn't come out of it, which made her be sure he wasn't completely owner of himself. She would have to guide him out of there the same way she did when he had a nightmare years ago at the beach. Something was telling her this would be harder for her somehow. Unless...

Her instant of hesitation was enough for his mind to take control of hers and walk her into his slumber. Arya was gladly joining in, exploring his passionate dreamland. He let a blank space for her to fill the memory with her own impressions, and suddenly her hands weren't grasping the cloth of the couch pillows anymore but the hair on the back of his head. His heavy breathing wasn't just a product of a distant memory, but as real as the river waters rustling outside her house. And if there was anything stronger than the perfume of her white lilies, it had to be his raw combination of wet grass and rain that she breathed directly from his burning skin under her nose. Her underbelly twitched and she gasped, a heat started between her legs.

His hands started to explore her body in a way she didn't remember happening in the past, but it didn't matter. She wanted it. They went under her clothes, exploring her back and stomach, as she hoped he reached her breasts, and he finally did, leaving a trail of wanting through her skin. In response, her legs went around his waist, first one then another, in a way they didn't do in the past either, but she suspected he also didn't mind, because soon he removed his hands from under her tunic and grabbed her by the thighs, pressing her even further against the door. Another twitch. She could feel his desire rise and it left her breathless. Eragon was panting in her mouth, and she thought she had never felt so desired before. Or had never desired anyone else before for that matter.

His lips traveled from her mouth to her jaw, until it found a weakness in her defenses right there on her neck. She gasped again, what made him move between her legs, causing her another gasp and a moan. After that, repeatedly he moved against her, rippling waves of pleasure that went from her core to the tip of her toes, and she felt the door almost succumbing on her back because of the violence of his thrusts.

At that moment, she cursed the restrictions of their clothes as her nails clasped the back of his shirt and her feet tried to peel his pants off, for she wanted to feel his skin on hers that she could swear would feel as hot as the summer sun.

And so his name came out of her lips in all instances, as she wished to make sure he would listen, but she didn't know why, if it was for him to continue or to stop. In the case of it being the latter, he halted his movements and stared deep into her eyes. He looked beautiful all surrendered like that. He was beautiful.

She wished he knew that.

Arya brought her hands to caress his face and little by little she felt her breathing slowing down such as his own. She found herself being untangled from the fantasy and gaining more consciousness of her surroundings, even with her eyes still closed. The air coming from the riverbed was colder than before around her, and her knuckles hurt from holding the pillows so hard. Eragon's image was fading to black as her lower back and hips also ached, and she realized she's been arching her back for the entire interaction. Her right hand searched the back of the couch and found a blanket. Although she could feel the sweat covering her forehead and dripping from her neck and cleavage, the night breeze was throwing shivers throughout her body.

Arya... Eragon called her as she turned to her side and covered herself.

Yes?

She could barely control her breathing, but her mental voice sounded strong.

Stay with me.

He asked faintly and she noticed his dreams had taken a drastic turn after she left their shared fantasy. He was dangerously roaming around a dark place.

Immediately she cast a starry sky over a plain sandy beach in his mind where she lay down holding his body tightly against hers. She whispered in his ear that she would be there for him, forever. You're safe in my arms, I promise.

Chapter Text

Still feeling fresh from bathing, Arya watched Saphira stretching her wings by the water through the kitchen window. The morning was still new and the light was just a faded luminosity beaming on the surface of the river. The big blue dragon finished her exercises and rested. Arya went to meet her outside with a cup of tea in hands.

"Greetings Saphira."

Good morning, Arya. Did you rest well? Arya could perceive a bit of mirth in her voice.

"Well enough, thank you for asking." Her ears could be less warm, but she ignored it.

In fact, the effects of having too much wine the night before were not as taxing as the implications of the kind of intimacy she had shared with Eragon in the corners of his mind. She felt exposed and fragile, but knowing of his own fragility as well was somehow empowering.

You're welcome. Her amusement was very evident now. Arya tried to ignore it once again.

"Saphira…" she called and went to sit by the water on a big flat boulder, adjusting her loose and regal gown around herself. "We didn't have a good chance to talk about, well, anything for a long time. I want you to know that I value your opinion more than anyone else's."

More than Eragon's?

Arya smiled mischievously.

"On most subjects. No… On all subjects."

They laughed together until Saphira sat on her hind legs and looked ahead at the river.

Are you trying to ask me if I approve of your relationship with Eragon?

The warmth on Arya's ears increased, but she decided it wasn't time to be a coward.

"Do you?"

Saphira silenced so briefly but so torturously long, that Arya wished to shake her tail to make her speak.

At first I didn't. When Eragon was a boy acting like a fool pining over you. In my opinion you were only going to hurt him, and I was right. I knew it, he knew it, you knew it. The soles of his boots knew it.

Arya feared the judgement of the dragon, but tried to defend herself even if it was a weak attempt.

"I warned him."

Saphira turned her head to throw her a glance.

Oh, it was not your fault. Of course not. How can we have control over other people's feelings when it's so hard to tame our own?

The truth in that was so primal that Arya couldn't help agreeing with her.

"What about now?"

Saphira lowered her body in a way that it seemed to Arya that she was going to lie down, but it was only so she could position her giant sapphire eye in front of Arya's face.

Now it's a different kind a hurt, isn't it? She touched Arya's forehead very delicately with her snout like a mother dragon would do to her hatchling.

"What does it mean? Shouldn't we be together?"

Arya felt tenderness pouring from their link and suddenly comprehension hit her.

What would be of all lovers if they would give up in the face of hurt? The world would've already seen doom by now.

Eragon was right when he said they would be changed in the next time she met them. Saphira was wiser beyond words, for they could not hold all the meaning she intended them to. But she understood it all. Arya understood Saphira wouldn't advise Eragon to stay away from her.

Arya raised her left hand and stroke Saphira's brow, and the dragon hummed low.

If it's my blessing you're seeking, you have it already. You and nobody else.

Arya felt tears coming to her eyes.

"Thank you, Saphira."

You're welcome. No hidden meanings the time.

Arya took a sip of her tea. It was good to share the company of trusted friends again. She missed being relaxed with her words and actions, not worrying with what might be used against her on the next strategic political play. She would receive the occasional visit of the Riders, but they saw her as a mentor not an equal, so she couldn't feel relaxed with them either. Däthedr was once a close friend, and still was, but she treaded with cautious around him lately, knowing well what side he would be on if he disagreed with her about a choice or another. Avelina was the one who offered her comfort those days with her surprise visits and bright smiles. She would drag Renir along and him too had become a friend. Arya understood why Eragon liked him, although she couldn't see the entirety of the reason of why he had given Brisingr to the elf yet. Maybe one day sooner or later it would make sense to her. Or maybe it would always be a grudge.

I can see the worms burrowing inside this head of yours.

Arya smiled.

"Funny saying. It's been a while since I've last heard it."

It's because you elves do it all the time, so there's no one to perceive it as being odd among your people. Or being annoying too.

Saphira used a light tone, Arya couldn't take it as an offense.

"You are right. We live inside our heads too much."

Yes, you do. One thing I learned by being bonded to a human Rider. If they see a worm borrowing in someone's head, they make their life's mission to capture said worm and find out everything about it. Or at least my human does it.

Arya laughed. She knew the feeling.

"I think it's common to humanity. Avelina does it as well with endless interrogations. And also Elva, but she uses her powers instead of words."

Humpf.

Saphira bared her teeth.

"Now who has worms in her head."

That girl puts worms in everyone's heads, doesn't she?

Arya couldn't agree more. Elva didn't inspire much trust, despite having played a big part in the war when she was so little. But the truth was that she had never acted as an honorable person, and every good thing she had ever done was to gain something in return. Eragon had learned how to negotiate with her, but Arya was against it, and if it came to it one day, she wouldn't hesitate to put the edge of her sword on the strange woman's throat. And Elva knew it well. Neither of them was afraid of the other, but they were united by the commitment of keeping each other alive. It sufficed for now.

"Saphira, do you imagine yourself being away from the fight?"

If Saphira was taken aback by the sudden change in the subject she didn't show. Instead she rested more comfortably on her belly.

I'm already away, am I not?

"We are not fighting yet."

If Eragon and I were still in Alagaësia I'm sure we would had found a fight to put ourselves in by now. It's a talent we have.

She laughed, her belly rumbled with humor.

Arya took another sip of her tea. She didn't know how to approach this without sounding like a critic. She admired Saphira and wanted to be kept in her good graces. She chose flattery.

"It's because you two are good at it. It's a shame you retired from it. Especially you, Saphira."

Saphira took the compliment well, bowing her head.

I can go whenever I wish to go, since I'm not bound to any oath like the Riders are. Neither do I have the reluctance in dirtying my claws in blood again, it's only natural to me, being the sky hunter that I am. But even if I could ignore my bond with Eragon to fly west, I wouldn't. I created a mission for me here, that is only mine. I'm an individual here, not just his dragon. I'm a teacher, a mentor. I go to the dragon lair by myself because no one else can go. There are chores in the mountain that Eragon or the elves don't even take part in, because they're only mine to do. Who am I in Alagaësia, Arya? How do they call me there?

Arya creased her forehead. She had never thought of Saphira that way, as someone who could question her own value in the world, because for her Saphira had an immense value, no question about it. But she was right. In Alagaësia, Saphira was often portrayed as the mighty warrior's ride, not the warrior herself, a being without want or rationality. Those who've seen her fight could describe her as a feral beast, but would never testify to her personality or wit. People like Jeod that knew the truth battled to describe her as she really was, but still she wasn't an independent character in the west, and it wasn't fair.

"Whatever the title they use to call you, Saphira, I'm sure it's not fair."

No, it's not. Saphira stretched her neck and sniffed the morning air just as Fírnen moved in the shelter. Arya could feel his dreams becoming more lucid with the approach of his awakening time. You know what, Arya? There's no shame in not recognizing the place we were born in as our home. I for instance look back at the Palancar Valley with fondness, but it's no home for me. Alagaësia stayed in the past. This is home now.

Involuntarily, Arya looked back at the treehouse. The vines hid most of its features, but it was clearly a well built house with door and windows. It was all for her. No one had never slept on her bed or dined at her table. No one had sat by the fire in a cold day with a book in hands dreaming of fantastic adventures. She longed for the day she would call that place home at the same measure she dreaded it. Her current home was an inherited palace, passed from generation to generation for many centuries. It made her proud of her lineage, for it told their glorious history. Still, Eragon saw right through it and noticed how she would have shape herself to fit that place. He went the other way around and crafted the treehouse to fit her. Now, she feared the day she would call the treehouse her home and miss it until her heart felt like beating outside her chest.

"I'm glad you found your place, Saphira, even if it means that you won't be coming back to us."

It seems complete happiness is a frivolous idea after all. She nodded her giant head. But the future is uncertain. My eggs are yet to hatch to their Riders. They will spend a lot of time here, but after that I may want to accompany them in their quests. Eragon may be free to go as well. So who knows, I wouldn't go back now, but I won't close that door forever.

"What do you mean, he may be free to go?"

Well, his current duty holds him here, but if he has a different one in the future that tells him to move, then I guess we'll move.

Arya always had the impression that Eragon was decided to settled in Mount Arngor forever, so the possibility of him moving back was confusing but also exciting.

My dear… Fírnen's deep voice echoed in her mind, which made her look at the shelter where he lazily stretched his back. Please, don't get your hopes up. If it happens, it may take many many years. Besides, Eragon and Saphira won't live with us, you know how problematic it could be.

It's just a possibility, Fírnen! I'm not getting my hopes up, but it's better than a immutable situation.

He left the shelter and walked slowly toward the pair.

I don't want you to get hurt.

He worried about her, but she could feel his own hurt.

Listen to your mate, she has a thing or two to teach you about the pains of love.

As soon as he approached them, Arya reached his neck and scratched the soft spot under his jaw as his lowered his head.

I believe you have a meeting with my Rider, Arya. He's already waiting for you in the garden. I will see you later, Arya Dröttning.

Arya stood up and pressed two fingers on her lips before saying. "See you later, Saphira Brightscales. And thank you for our conversation."

Saphira blinked slowly and tipped her head to Arya.

Eragon was watering the flowers around the little square when Arya found him. She could tell he was anxious for the way he couldn't keep from adjusting what was already perfect.

He spoke first without turning to see her.

"It's time to work on the next season blooms. I brought the seeds Oswald sold to me yesterday. If we don't do it now, we'll miss the window."

"It can wait."

Arya was carrying a package she brought with her from Ellesméra especially for him. It was a present not as impressive as the ones he's given her, but she hoped it would leave a mark.

"I want to give you something. Come see."

For the first time, Eragon turned to look at her. She walked toward him and handed him the package. It was a leather wrapping for a new sword. He could tell. His brows creased, and she feared he would refuse the gift.

"I know you don't want to fight anymore, and all that. But after you relinquished Brisingr to Renir I couldn't accept that you remained without a proper sword. This is not a Rider sword, but it's second best, forged by the same blacksmith that made my first sword. You remember how great it was."

He nodded, but didn't display any trace of excitement.

She continued.

"This is even greater. The artisan lit up when I told him whom it was for." She smiled kindly and caressed his face. "I took a chance, knowing you would most likely loathe it, or at least the idea of it. But I need to know you have a good weapon at hand for your safety, I wouldn't bear to…"

Her quiet distress was the ultimate incentive he needed, it seemed, for he dropped the watering can and unstrapped the package to open the leather flaps and reveal the light-colored metal of the sheath. Eragon left the package on the floor, and suddenly Arya watched as he transformed from a hesitant to an amazed man. Her fears were gone. He loved it.

First, he felt how the hilt fit in his hands to perfection; he tried holding it single handed, then with both hands. He looked at her in surprise. He measured the blade and realized it was proportional to his arms and shoulders.

"How did you get my measurements right?"

"Who else would? I know you well, don't I?" She said provokingly.

He opened his mouth to answer, clearly in shock, but she laughed and added. "I asked Renir to come along and offer Brisingr as a model. It's a good thing he didn't go to Rhünon to get it reshaped."

"We're practically the same size." He shrugged.

"So I figured. How convenient, don't you think? Go on, give it a try."

Eragon unsheathed the blade, and Arya saw him gasp, as she thought he would. Like little vines, the steel was decorated with intertwined lines that gleamed depending on the light. When the artisan proposed that kind of decoration, Arya frowned and Renir scoffed. They both agreed it was a superfluous feature, that all Eragon needed was a strong and efficient blade, appearances aside.

"Just make it to his proportions and make sure it won't break. That's all he needs." Renir stated with a rudeness that Arya wouldn't advise he would use with someone so old and wise as the blacksmith.

The old elf however was a joyful creature. He danced around his shop and grabbed a metal stick. Dancing back to Renir, he wrapped it in a dirty cloth and said with a gleaming smile.

"If it's just anything you need, then here, take this to your master. Being the brilliant man he is, he will know how to use it to perfection instead of a proper sword. But how will you feel to present something less than extraordinary to the man that gave you what no one else could." The artisan tapped on Renir's forehead. "If you think it's a fair trade, here. Take it." And pushed the wrap to the Rider's chest without ever losing his smile and apparent kindness.

Arya let out a little laugh that was followed by the man's own melodious giggle.

"Don't mind him, my lord. It's my gift to the Shadeslayer. I want what's best for him." At that the elf bowed his head to his queen and smiled genuinely. "But my concerns are that the aesthetics are too much. Eragon is a creative and artistic man, and although it can reverberate on the battlefield with his elaborate fight moves that only he can do, his style can be... messy."

The artisan almost squealed with excitement, with his beaming eyes and high-pitched laugh. Renir rolled his eyes to scene. He grabbed Brisingr's hilt and leaned against one of the pillars on the patio behind the old elf's workshop where Arya went to sit with the elf.

"Yes, your majesty. Tell me about him. The more you say, bigger the chances he will like it."

And so she described to the best of her abilities how was the way Eragon used to fight. The man smiled even wider with each information. After she finished, he asked how he grabbed the fork to eat and the pen to write. Even if he had a favorite flower or color. He asked how he smelled like, the sound of his voice, the size of feet. With each question, Arya noticed how much she knew about Eragon and how protective she was about it. She started to hide the answers that no one except her would know, and only reveal what was easily perceived through simple observation. She threw a glance toward Renir, who tipped his head and smirked in an accomplice way.

The result to their extensive study of Eragon's personality was a sober steel sword, platinum colored. In fact, the blacksmith added platinum to the alloy, chanting the entire time the spells to give it strength and malleability. Arya watched as he so patiently and never stopping his spells engraved the thin lines along the flat part of the blade. It shined with maleficent hunger.

"A morbid thought crossed my head right now." Eragon twirled the sword in his hand." "These marks will look like veins full of blood after an enemy or two." His expression was bitter, but somehow fierce too, like a craving.

Arya had the impression that sometimes she would have that he knew more than he let it show. It was an ich inside her head, too far for her to scratch.

Eragon attached the sheathe to his belt decorated with the emerald Vance had filled with energy and kept swirling the sword in his right hand. Then he grabbed it with both hands and performed a few standard attack moves. He smiled afterward.

Arya knew about the present Renir, Vance and Rílven had given to Eragon years before, so he didn't need another gem on his belt. She asked the artisan to craft the pommel and the cross-guard as he pleased but without any gems. It would be too much. He delivered a sober work, without any more decorations. Still, it was impressive, solid, strong.

"I see you liked it." Arya let out a heavy breath to see how his moves flowed well and how he enjoyed his new weapon.

"It's perfect. Thank you"

She tipped her head. Then she grabbed the wrapping from the floor and folded it, while he sheathed the sword and held his belt. They stared at each other in silence for a minute.

Eragon sighed.

"I should apologize for last night." He begun.

Of all the things she thought he would say, apologizing was the last one.

"I don't understand." She frowned.

"I exposed us to the outside threats. While we were…" He looked away and she saw his cheeks blushing. "While we were distracted, we were vulnerable. At that distance, anyone could've attacked us with ill intentions. I'm sorry."

She knew they were vulnerable and that they needed to stop and untangle their minds, but her self-control was severely diminished by many factors as well. It wasn't just his fault.

"You don't have to apologize. I was also the one to blame. At some point I came to sobriety and could've stopped it, but didn't."

"I wasn't that drunk."

"You weren't sober either."

"What I mean is… it doesn't matter. I was aware. And didn't stop." He breathed heavily and ran his hand through his hair to try to recollect himself. "Arya, we almost… If you hadn't called my name that way... I'm sure we would've… We would've gone all the way."

Arya understood then. He was worried with the level of the intimacy they had reached the night before. Or better yet, the level of intimacy they could have reached the night before.

"It was a dream, Eragon. It wasn't real."

"Just because it is inside the mind it doesn't mean it isn't real. You know it well."

She knew. Of course she knew.

"That's not what I meant."

Eragon stepped closer, and Arya could see he was apprehensive. She then remembered that he was at a loss when it came to interactions like that, since he had never lived something like it in his life.

"What did you mean, then? Arya, I have lived a thousand lives inside my head through the Eldunarí. I've been men and women, elves and humans, dragons, I've lived many things. Did you know there was a Rider that had seventeen wives throughout his very long life? And some of them were even simultaneous, they knew about each other." She laughed, which made him keep going with his narrative with more enthusiasm. "I lived the life of a female Rider that loved the same man for centuries without seeing him again, because he had gone to the war and vanished. I cried the whole night after seeing that through her dragon. But then I also lived happy lives, with happy stories, I had children, I gave birth!" They laughed together again. "And there were some intense stories too." He lowered his voice and she saw his cheeks blushing one more time.

"Keep going."

"I've seen it all, Arya. Riders that preferred to have other Riders as mates, for life or for one night. Just one at a time, or more than one at once." Arya's own modesty was being provoked. "Some Riders that preferred the company of other Riders of same the sex, and some even that didn't want anyone's company at all. I lived it all. I felt it all. Still, what I felt last night, with you, can't compare to any of that." He motioned with his hand as he was trying to put the memories aside. "Do you understand?"

Did she? What was the difference? It all happened inside his head. What was the magnifier factor?

"Would it have been so bad if we kept going?" She asked, hoping he would redeem them both from their sin. She wanted to save their moment from being marked as a mistake, because for her it felt as a start of something good. Bittersweet, it's true, but essentially good.

Again, he ran his hand through his hair, obviously nervous.

"I don't know. I mean. That's how we met. It was a horrible situation, but still, we met through our dreams, it would make sense that out intimacy would happen that way, but still, it's..."

"Lacking."

"Exactly."

They both sighed and stared at each other. If there were two people that were so right for each other, yet so terribly cornered by their own choices, Arya couldn't tell. Maybe Eragon would know, after inspecting so many love affairs through the centuries.

Fírnen...

Yes, darling.

A little help here, please?

His humor was evident, but it didn't bother her.

Be honest. And tender.

Is that all?

It's all you need.

He silenced, but she felt him in the depths of her mind.

"That's why I'm still frustrated with you." He frowned. "I contacted you last night because you made me a house so far away, and though I couldn't love it more, I felt lonely in it without your company. I want to be close."

"Our interaction last night wasn't close enough for you." It wasn't a question.

She shook her head and approached him until they were inches away.

"And that's how I feel. I'm being honest."

"I was trying to give you your own space." He whispered and she could feel his earthy breath on her face.

"You gave me many miles and ten years each time. It's enough, don't you think?" She failed at being tender as it came out as a critic for his departure from Alagaësia. Still, she was being honest.

He agreed with a nod and his voice came with in a grunt before he pulled her to himself. "It's too much."

His right arm went over her neck and he pulled her head to rest against his face. It was almost a forceful hug, but she understood he was too emotional and conflicted to protest against his rudeness. So she held him by the waist and let herself be cradled, the leather wrapping fallen to the ground.

He shifted his head so his face was buried in her neck, and soon his breathing on her skin was making her shiver slightly as she was being taken back to last night's memories.

"Eragon." She called.

"Hum."

"If you were worried about where we were heading last night, then you should stop doing that. It will lead us the same way."

"Doing what?" His voice was muffled and his breath assaulted her skin causing another shiver. She gasped.

"That." Arya said winded.

He didn't say anything else. He moved his arms to her waist without facing away. She could feel the roughness of his face on the softness of her neck. He placed there only one slow kiss that made her close her eyes and claw his scalp. Then he moved away completely like nothing had happened, almost unaltered if it weren't for his messy hair.

He smirked to see her shaken before his action. She damned the day he had learned how to play her, whenever it had been. When they communicated through the mirrors, it was easier to divert her gaze and pretend he wasn't affecting her, but being so close she saw herself cornered.

Eragon seemed quite satisfied to have assumed control of their little interaction, but Arya didn't like to lose the higher ground, he knew it well. No, she wouldn't be cornered so easily. She strode toward him, wearing her fierce mask. In one move she yanked his sword out of his belt letting it fall on the grass and with the other one she pushed him toward the bench, where he hit the back of his knees and fell sitting.

She straddled him and placed her hands on his chest to steady herself. He was clearly surprised, and now the satisfaction was entirely hers. Well, not entirely.

Arya went in for a kiss, slow first, but it turned fiery very soon, and her hips couldn't help but pushing forward. She could tell he was trying his best not to turn it around by the way he was holding back from actively touching her or pushing back, but she wouldn't let him if he tried, and she was strong enough to stop him. She loved their little competition, and she knew he enjoyed it either.

At the same time her hands glided to his back and traced his muscles with her fingernails, his palms finally caved in and felt her thighs in details, from her knees up. She enjoyed the contact and let him know that by pulling the cloth of her gown upward so he could access her honey skin. They both enjoyed the contact of his hands on her skin intensely for the brief moment it lasted, because soon he removed his hands and let her dress fall back into place.

Eragon jerked his head back to stare at her eyes. Arya understood what he was trying to say with his look. She inhaled deeply and kissed him delicately.

"You need me to say it, don't you?"

"If you keep breaking barriers by the second, then you have to rid me from my promise."

"Isn't this enough?" She signaled to their position on the bench.

His expression said it all. No, it wasn't.

"You have to say, or I can't move forward."

"I cannot rid you from your promise yet."

He shook his head in exasperation.

"It's not fair that I have your body if I can't ask for more."

She frowned. How absurd was that? They were taking huge steps, bigger than she had ever thought they would. If she was asked twenty years before about the possibility of be sitting on his lap in the gardens of the house he built for her, she would not only laugh, but have that person taken to see a healer, for they would be severely ill. But still, he wanted more.

"Why do you humans always want more?" Her voice was annoyed.

"It keeps us alive."

A sighed came out of her lips and she looked away above his ear.

"What is it that you want?"

She felt as his hand traveled to her chin to make her look at him again. When she did, she saw the tenderness Fírnen advised her to have, but she failed. She also saw relief and realized he was waiting for her to ask or he wouldn't be able to say it himself due to the promise.

"Commitment."

Arya couldn't stay, Eragon couldn't go. Despite that, she wasn't thinking of taking anyone else as her mate, being him a casual one or a permanent companion. It was strange that he asked that of her, it was like he didn't know how she felt about him, or he didn't trust she would only want to be with him.

"I don't understand."

"I told you how I lived all those lives. From all those stories, the happy ones had one factor in common; commitment. They all had love and passion, but commitment is what it takes to keep us going through the years, despite the adversities. Arya, once I was a boy and I dreamed of a wife and children of my own. But that's not what I want anymore. The kind of commitment I want I can't ask of you, because you won't let me."

Arya wasn't sure anymore if she was ready to share full intimacy with him, since it meant the demand of committing to him completely. She knew she wanted him, but so far they had their fun discovering each other without the pressure of it being a full commitment. For elves, who could engage with each other in all seriousness and it would last only a day or a millennium, the concept of relationships was very fluid and subjective. It was what the individual wanted it to be. But humans had too many rules and impediments. For Eragon, she didn't even know what that would mean, and to find out she would have to grant him a way out of his promise.

In the night before, she had stopped their interaction only because she suddenly felt mentally overwhelmed. She could've gone all the way though if he were someone else and the commitment only lasted for that moment. But with him every little step could mean a dramatic turn in their relationship. The clear example would be the literal step she took toward him and Helena during the feast. Luckily it was stopped by Avelina, but was what if it were not? What if she had done it? People would know about them, the word would reach her counselors and the opposition would make their moves. Hopefully political ones, but it could be blades in the night, magical traps, ancient spells. Elva's powers would be tested to its limits. When she would say over and over how Eragon was too important for Alagaësia, Arya herself didn't quite know the full meaning of it, but it still surprised her to know that she was of a huge importance as well. They were two thunderstorms about to clash over the ocean.

His brown tender eyes shined with expectancy. It gave her butterflies in her stomach. If it were someone else, she would've gone all the way? What was her thinking? She wouldn't. How could she think something like that? Arya didn't want anyone else. She didn't consider having anyone else since Fäolin and even her desire toward Eragon was new and overwhelming. There were times that she didn't feel like herself, such as the night before, or when he would make a comment about someone new in Arngor and her heart would fill with rage and jealousy. That wasn't Arya. It couldn't be. Or at least it was what she would tell herself when trying to calm herself, but she knew well that it was. And somehow, the prophecy read by Angela ten years before started to fall into place when she had said that Arya was many women in one. She felt exactly like that sometimes. If that was the meaning the herbalist intended with her readings, she didn't know, but it made sense to her somehow.

Arya brought her hands to cup his face.

"I feel that if I rid you from the promise I will be taking a step bigger than my legs can take."

His sad eyes broke her heart.

"It's a good thing I can't ask then." He said and lowered his head until his face was hidden against her chest.

"No, Eragon, don't do this." She tried to bring his head up again, but he stayed as he was. "I want you to come live with me here this month. Isn't that enough for now?"

It took him a minute to raise his head again.

"If you're afraid of what people will think, then it's impossible."

Arya stood up and fixed her gown. It seemed he was trading with her, frustrating her wishes just because she frustrated his.

"You don't know what you ask of me, Eragon."

If he knew he was risking her life by exposing their relationship like that, he would rethink the house and the garden. But she didn't want to make him feel guilty.

"Then tell me." He placed his elbows on his thighs leaning forward.

"I can't, we agreed on..."

"Aye, aye. Your royal duty! I know. But the thing is Arya, you were so mad that I gave Brisingr to Renir when you don't even know all the reasons why I've done it. One of them is that one day I'm free to come to you, since I don't see you abdicating your crown anytime soon nor do I wish you to be dethroned." He raised his voice.

Arya was confused. After seeing Renir carrying Brisingr at the Opening Ceremony Ball in Ilirea the year before, Arya asked Eragon about it. He said he had many reasons, some of them weren't even clear to him yet, but mainly it was because he didn't feel right to have such powerful sword collecting dust on his shelf while Renir needed a Rider sword of his own. His dragon was also blue, their fighting style was similar for training together all those years, and even their measurements were close. Rhünon wouldn't have to make any adjustments on the blade. It was perfect. But now he said it was for her? It didn't make sense.

"Please explain yourself." Her tone was feral to match his, but he didn't flinch or falter.

He stood up as well.

"Renir started to study the essence of true names, as you know." She remembered how the young Rider had written two volumes on the art of conjuring the essence of objects and also hiding your own essence from your enemies. She found it very instructive and helpful, although dangerous. "One day, after being intrigued about the fact that Brisingr bursted into flames every time I spoke its name, he started to study its essence and finally discovered its true name. It turns out Brisingr and my own name are a part of it. Luckily, it's the name I had when I helped to craft it, not my current one. He wished to tell me, but I refused. I gave the sword to him as a prove of good faith. If he was proven worthy by me and the others, with time, I would like him to take my place as Head Rider. It was only logical that someone more powerful and talented would come along and replace me. That's why we do what we do."

Arya was shocked. What Saphira said in the morning was coming to full circle. Surely they agreed on telling her that little by little, but still, she wasn't expecting that.

"Would you really give up your position as our leader?"

"As the leader?" He gave a cold laugh. "Easily. I said it a million times. I'm a teacher. Not a warrior, not an administrator, not a commander. A teacher. My only reservation is the tutelage of the Eldunarí. They say they will be all right, they don't need me exactly, that Renir will do good in the future. But he's not patient enough to sit and wait as they impart their centuries old wisdom. He will have to improve. In fact, he will have to improve in a lot of areas, or it may never happen. So, it may never happen."

He breathed heavily and bit the insides of his cheek.

Their ups and downs made her head spin. All she wanted was to stop the words and enjoy time as it passed slowly by the river feeling his warmth all around her. The complicated parts of their dynamic seemed to take almost all of it, and although she felt like the one to blame for it, right now she blamed the ones that would see their relationship as leverage for a political maneuver.

"What now? You won't live with me, because you think I'm not committed. You won't let me touch you, because you feel trapped by the promise. What's left for us?"

Eragon shook his head, as she was interpreting it all wrong. He collected his new sword and attached it to his belt.

"Now you go finish getting ready for the games." Arya was already wearing the gown she would wear on the formal opening ceremony, but she still needed her shoes, her sword and her crown. "After that, I will show you that I do let you touch me and I do think you are committed, just not completely."

Once again, he made her knees weak by passing a hand under her hair all over her back up until her neck while his lips kissed the corner of her mouth. Something told her that the day would be a long one.

Chapter Text

Eragon watched unsure as Roran prepared to enter the arena. He was shirtless and barefoot, stretching the muscles of his arms and back.

"Are you sure?" Eragon asked.

"Aye." Roran said with conviction.

"Listen. The other competitors are…"

"What? Younger?" Roran looked at his cousin with a stern expression.

"Well, yes, also they do this every year, some even train just for this. It's not casual for them."

"It's pressure on them, not me. I have nothing to lose. I'm old and a bit rusty."

"Precisely. You might get hurt." Eragon gesticulated with his palms raised.

Roran shrugged.

"I can take it. What I can't take is to back away from a challenge. That urgal will have what's his."

"If you two meet along the tournament..."

Eragon crossed his arms on his chest. He couldn't believe that Roran was actually considering joining the games. It was ridiculous, Roran was a middle-aged man that had been away from a fight for many years, except from a brawl or two against rowdy strangers causing too much trouble in Carvahall.

"Don't be so negative, Eragon. Can't you just be supportive?"

Eragon sighed and patted on his cousin's shoulder.

"Fine, old man. Do as you please. I'll be by your children's side, to comfort them when their father perishes in battle."

"Funny. Now rid me of my wards, I can't fight with them, these are the rules."

"The elves will take care of that, as always. Good luck, brother."

Eragon gave a last pat on Roran's shoulder and walked around the arena to meet his family. Silly man his cousin, to think he could win against young and strong competitors of all races. If it were the human category, Eragon thought the mighty Stronghammer would have a good chance of winning, but in the general one there was no chance. Simple as that. Eragon shook his head and laughed to himself to think of how stubborn his cousin could be, and apparently the years only made it worse.

He reached the spot where Katrina and Iain were sitting along with Murtagh. The other spectators seemed surprised to see Eragon joining them in the bleachers, but opened a space for him. Murtagh moved to the side so Eragon could sit between him and Katrina.

"So, he's going through with it." He said.

Katrina shook her head to dismiss the subject.

"Roran is a grown man. If he thinks he must fight, let him be."

"Don't you worry?"

Katrina looked at him and lifted her hand to protect her eyes from the sunlight.

"Will he die?"

Eragon motioned a negative answer with his head, so Katrina turned her head back to watch the arena.

"Then no."

It was clear she was lying, because her lips formed a tense line, and Eragon smiled. After all those years together, Roran and Katrina still had a strong bond.

Murtagh poked Eragon on the side to call his attention.

"Look. It's the Lord of Ceunon." He said low in his ear. "You remember him, right?"

Eragon squinted to see the man standing on the other side of the arena along with the other competitors. He was adjusting his bow, flexing the string.

"The last edition's champion? He's the Lord now?"

Murtagh looked around to make sure that the crowd was more concerned about the wrestling match happening in the pit.

"It's recent, that's why you don't know yet. His older brother was ambushed in a hunting trip up north. I went with Renir to investigate..." He looked around again and lowered his voice even more. "Brother, I think we're finally starting to see the first signs that the army of magicians is making a move."

Eragon gulped. He was expecting this day to come, the day when concrete evidence would prove his visions right, but to actually live that moment was unsettling. His heart started to pump fast inside his chest and he looked at Saphira sitting on the dragon stand. Their eyes met and he could sense her apprehension through their link.

"This is not the place to discuss it, but I would like to hear everything about it. Do Nasuada and Arya know about this?"

"Aye. I informed them in the way to Arngor."

"Orik and Orrin? Halfpaw, Garzhvog?"

Murtagh stirred in his seat and Eragon perceived some discomfort.

"Nasuada asked me to hold the information for now. She expects you to tell Orik, since it may be beneficial to your agreement with the dwarves."

Eragon frowned. It seemed to him that Nasuada had more influence in the Order than he wished she had. He wondered if it had been a mistake to place Murtagh as his representative in the Kingdom.

"Murtagh." He started with a severe voice. "Do I have to worry about your relationship with Nasuada?"

Again, the Red Rider seemed disturbed. He stared at Eragon in a combination of guilt and fear.

"Brother, I think I need your help. Also, if you decide that I'm no longer fit for my duty in Ilirea, I'll understand."

Eragon's heart clenched.

"What happened?"

Murtagh looked around once more.

"We'll talk later."

Eragon was curious and afraid. It seemed that the problems coming from Alagaësia would never stop, and it was draining beyond measures. He wanted to drag his brother away from prying ears so they could talk about it, but his attention was caught by his nephew poking his shoulder. Iain was standing in front of him and didn't see when his father entered the fighting area.

"Uncle, can I go play with Saphira?"

The ten-year-old boy was a copy of Roran when he was that age, and it still amazed Eragon how much alike they were. He looked at Katrina and realized the idea of distracting the boy had been hers, since Roran was already being announced as next competitor in the general category for the wrestling tournament and would have the hardest of times, Eragon was sure.

"Of course. But ask her if she's available. Saphira is a busy dragon, you know?" He smiled to the boy.

Iain nodded and seemed impressed.

"It's because she's very important, isn't it?"

Eragon smiled further and glanced at his partner. She was following the interaction in his mind and he could feel the signs of her anticipation. Saphira loved playing with the children from Arngor, because they made her feel like the most special being.

"Aye. She always makes time for playing, though. It's worth a try."

Iain didn't wait for more incentive; he ran down the bleachers toward Saphira, who let him climb on her tail and step by step moved away from the arena so he wouldn't be able to see the match.

Katrina threw him a grateful look to which he answered with a smile.

Roran faced another human fighter in his first match and won, not without a few bruises. The man was younger, as expected, but he was an Arngor resident. The population of the east would train to fight and compete if they wished, but they had other priorities. In the Kingdom, there were the professional fighters, trained to win the games and take the prize home. It was a good amount of gold, but gold wasn't really needed in Arngor, except if they decided to buy whatever the merchants were selling. They had everything they needed to survive there and they worked for a little wage, but mainly to maintain their little society alive and functioning well, so the dragons and Riders could be trained and formed. Building a fortune was impossible in the east.

After the fight, when the emotions were back at normality, Eragon questioned Katrina about Ismira.

"She's been spending time with Hope. They haven't seen each other since the egg hatched for her and she had to start her training in Ellesméra."

Hope was the daughter of Horst and Elain that Eragon saved from terrible fate by healing her birth condition during the war. Eragon was content when an egg hatched for the girl four years before, turning her into the first Rider from Carvahall since himself. If the village was sung as a mystical place before, after that it's potential for heroism was confirmed throughout the entire kingdom.

"Right. Do you think Ismira is disappointed that her friend was chosen instead of her?"

Katrina shook her head with fervor.

"She would never! Those two are like sisters, she was delighted about Hope's achievement. Besides, Ismira has her own interests."

At that last statement, Eragon could perceive a tone of disapproval.

Murtagh poked him again on the side with his elbow and indicated the Lord of Ceunon with his head. Eragon's jaw dropped.

"Is Ismira's hand promised to someone, Katrina?"

Murtagh's elbow hit him stronger this time, and Eragon flinched. What?, he mouthed to Murtagh, who shook his head in a desperate attempt to stop him from taking the subject further.

Katrina stared at him with a serious look.

"It would be, if only your cousin would let the lad ask. But no, they run and hide." Her cheeks started to flush and she threw her hands in the air. "It was a stupid territory dispute! I mean, it was political! And now our daughter is going through the horrible situation of hiding her relationship from her father. Roran of all people should know how terrible this is."

Eragon alternated his look from Katrina and Murtagh, and his brother simply shrugged.

"I don't understand." Eragon said to Katrina. "Roran had a dispute with someone. This someone is a lad that Ismira is in love with." Katrina nodded as he progressed with his line of thought. "And now, Roran won't let Ismira marry the lad. So they meet in secret."

"Secret to all, but me. I allow it." Katrina sighed. "There's another detail." Eragon waited for her addition to the story. "The lad is Dain Tarrantsson, the Lord of Ceunon. Do you think it's wise of Roran to quarrel with him?"

It wasn't wise in any way, in Eragon's opinion. Apart from being a political nightmare, it was big a concern considering the dark times to come. Roran and Dain didn't know yet, but they were the first defense line against the threats from the frozen north. If they didn't create an alliance soon, the problems would just multiply.

"It is not. Don't worry, Katrina, I'll talk with Roran."

Katrina relaxed a bit, but she didn't seem so sure. She smiled at him and nodded, focusing her attention back to the competitions.

Eragon traded looks with Murtagh again. His brother would have a lot to explain, for important information was being left out of their scrying sessions, and Eragon hated to be left in the dark like that. From Nasuada's intrusion to the matters in the north, their next Order meeting was bound to be tense.

During lunch, Eragon sat between Arya and Nasuada. He felt isolated for the entire time, since the human queen was involved in a heated discussion with Queen Manuella of Surda, who apparently had a full recovery from her illness of last year. Arya on the other hand was an attentive listener to Orik's description of a new cavern the dwarves had found somewhere in the Beor that had impressive reserves of an unknown ore. Eragon tried to pay attention to their conversation so he could join them, since Orik was the one sitting opposite him, but he soon realized they didn't need his observations on the matter.

Focusing on his food, Eragon ate silently. He left his mind transcend as he would do whenever he had a quiet time alone. He felt every flavor, every smell. The patch of skin on his nose that had suffered under the sun made itself noticeable, so he transcended the burning sensation after acknowledging it as well. The sounds weren't overwhelming anymore, as the clinking of the cutlery on the plates was a well composed music and the chatter was a harmonious choir. He let that tranquility take over his body until a tingling sensation started on the back of his neck. Eragon chewed the last of his food and stood up. The conversations around him didn't stop because of it, so he was safe under his invisibility. He turned and looked across the tent. King Orrin leaned against a pole with a grimace in his face and a wine glass in his hand. Eragon hated to do it, but he walked toward the man, dodging the crowd that ate at the many tables set under the dining tent.

Eragon bent his head in front of the monarch.

"Your Majesty."

Orrin took a sip of his wine and smirked.

"Hello Shadeslayer. You finally deign to address me."

A deep breath escaped Eragon's lips and the tranquility he had acquired through meditation went away with it.

"Excuse my indelicacy, your Majesty. I have been distracted."

Orrin's eyes beamed with a strange satisfaction, as Eragon noticed. Saphira passed her concerns through their connection.

Be careful with your words, little one. I believe he knows of your antipathy toward him. She advised.

Of course, he does. I haven't been discreet about it. It's a mistake, but I can't help it.

Before silencing to let him conduct the conversation, Saphira emphasized her concerns.

Just be careful.

Eragon chose to obey to her by using flattery.

"I would like to express my contentment with your willingness to sign the agreement. You must understand Surda's importance to the development of the whole Alagaësia, your importance, King Orrin."

Orrin squinted slightly and raised his chin, which Eragon interpreted as defiance.

"If I were less perceptive, Shadeslayer, I would say you are genuinely complimenting me. But I know a thing or two..." He paced to the closest table and sat on its edge. "I know that you wouldn't mind to see me out of the agreement. In fact, I could bet you were plotting to have me out of it somehow."

Eragon didn't want a confrontation, but the king was treading on thin ice being so arrogant about his position of power. Taking an instant to stare at the king to make him falter, Eragon stepped closer to him just enough for Orrin to hear his low voice.

"You know only a thing or two. So don't assume you know anything about me and my Riders." He smiled in an innocent way. "We might surprise you someday."

Orrin didn't say a word back, he drank and looked away, a clear sign that the conversation had ended.

Eragon turned on his heels and walked to where Saphira was sitting with Fírnen. The green dragon blinked an eye to him in an approving gesture, but Saphira was tense.

Do you ever consider staying out of trouble?

He laughed out the tension and touched her nose.

If you have to ask, then I'm afraid it's a negative to your question.

She didn't enjoy his humor, but rested the subject.

The rest of the day Eragon decided to spend in silence to avoid any more trouble, but his mind couldn't stop revising the matters of the day. He asked Saphira to help him make sense of all that, the impasse with Arya, the threats from the north, Nasuada and Murtagh, Ismira and Dain, Roran and Dain... But they didn't make much progress.

Watching the games in the grandstand proved to be a challenge, for the air there felt heavy. Arya wouldn't say much and kept her stoic posture for the entirety of time, Orrin would throw resented glances to his direction and Eragon was avoiding a conversation with Nasuada with the fear of falling into delicate matters. Matters that they should discuss at a better occasion. He decided then to spend time with Nar Garzhvog, who had interesting stories to tell and loved to hear about the deeds of his people in Mount Arngor. Eragon and Garzhvog celebrated together when an urgal Rider submitted his opponent in a difficult fight. The Kull beside him was a less complicated company, and he appreciated the refreshment.

Eragon, what are you doing?

Saphira met Eragon after the games in the eyrie. He was lifting his body from the ground with the strength of his arms.

I'm trying to burn all that bureaucratic fat you like to tease me about.

She accommodated herself on her cushion.

Couldn't you use magic for that? I'm getting tired just to watch.

Then turn around! I can't use magic to change my body like that. Where's the sense of accomplishment?

Good point. I still think it's stupid. Besides I only tease you because it's funny, not because it's true. You're not fat. And if you were, that shouldn't be a problem.

He lay on the ground and started to raise his torso to the sitting position at a fast pace. Streams of sweat ran through his bare chest.

I'm not as fit as I could be.

Again, how stupid is that? What if you get lost in the wilderness, in the middle of winter, with no food or prospects of finding a way home? Your body will have to start eating your own guts, because all your stock of fat will be gone.

Great! I will be even fitter.

He gave her a side look and a smirk.

What is that really about? You were never a vain man.

I just don't want to be seen as a fat bureaucrat. I told you!

Eragon... Is it because of Arya?

He didn't respond right away and kept doing his exercises.

Why would it be?

She's hardly been keeping her hands away from you for the last two days and I believe you want to look good for her. If that's the case, you don't have to worry, she already thinks you look good.

Eragon felt embarrassed, but it was a foolish feeling. Saphira knew him completely. She was him. She was him when he felt all the feelings he had ever felt after her hatching. She was him when he felt all the feelings he had for Arya, good and bad, obvious and confused.

She makes me feel insecure sometimes.

Saphira blew out a cloud of smoke.

Don't I know? She said in a tedious voice.

He stopped and sat up straight, wiping his brow with the back of his hand.

Look. One thing is looking good. The other thing is comparing to her.

She snorted.

Do you really think she compares herself to you?

Saphira's tone was almost hysterical, so incredulous.

No, not that way. I mean. She must have some expectations. Her people are the fairest there is. Her last lover looked like some kind of deity, just like her.

Saphira rolled her eyes.

Her last lover is dead. Very sad, yes, but you're very much alive. And as far as understand the two-legged beauty standards, thin or fat, I really don't think you should worry. Besides, how much can you change in a day?

Eragon looked down to inspect his own body. Saphira was right. She only teased him about being fat, because he could see the outline of the muscles under his pale skin. There were times before when they have been more pronounced, that was true, but only because he had been lean like an elf out of exhaustion and for overworking himself while building their academy. However, he liked to be curvier sometimes, more robust, for it reminded him he wouldn't starve in the Spine during winter anymore. But still, he wondered if Arya would agree with him.

I hope I'm up to her standards as well.

Silly human. Blind as a bat.

He shrugged and resumed his exercises.

Well, whatever that means, I still have time before dinner, so if you don't mind, I'll keep working. Even if nothing changes in a day.

She nestled further in her cushion and closed her eyes.

And if you don't mind, I won't be watching it.

Very, very silly of him to think she would reject him based on the measurements of his body. Like Saphira had said, Arya wasn't shy when using her hands to show her affection, as he was discovering with time not without surprise. As soon as she had started to be comfortable with her resolution to have him by her side, Eragon felt she was claiming him as her own. When nobody saw, she would run her fingers through his arms and lean against his chest. Frequently, her hands travelled from his lower back to his neck. Her signature move, however, was a strong grip on his hair. It had become a habit of his to expect the pressure — and the pleasure — on the back of his head.

His concerns of rejection were soothed later that night. They were on their little hill after dinner. Fírnen and Saphira performed their playful maneuvers down below over the river splashing water all around them. Besides that, the other sounds they could hear were only the animals in Arya's garden.

Arya was quiet, as if she was holding her tongue about something. Eragon noticed this since their conversation in the garden in the morning, but he didn't press her to talk. She had been polite and pleasant all day, but she was being the Arya that everyone else knew, not his Arya, the one trying to mark him as hers with the touch of her fingers. He had learned to listen to her quiet meanings over the years, but in that instant, her silence was deafening. He was standing on the edge to watch the dance between the dragons, but wanted to be sitting by her side on the grass where she could lock him in her iron grip.

Eragon took a deep breath and shook his head. The possibility of having upset her with his refusal to join her in the treehouse was a bitter taste that would turn his face into a frown. Making her wait for it was the only leverage he had. If he caved and did what she wanted – what they both wanted, in reality – he would still be silenced by the promise he had made when instead he needed to ask her to commit.

He needed her to promise to him this time. To promise that if his plan of preparing Renir to lead didn't work, she would come to him in definitive. There were great chances that Renir could fail, so he didn't care how long it took for them to be united forever, as long as he knew they would someday. That she wanted the same thing and was working to achieve the same goal.

To imagine that she didn't want the same increased his discomfort. He cleared his throat to avoid a possible grunt of dissatisfaction. It was when he heard the grass moving behind his back, and an instant after her hands glided around him under his arms to hold him firmly in an embrace.

"What's wrong?" She asked in his ear.

The response of his body was instantaneous. A shiver ran all over his scalp and his heart jumped.

He shook his head again.

"You tell me. You've been brooding all day."

"Do you think I'm mad at you?"

"I know you are. I just don't know why."

Her arms held him tighter and she pressed her cheek on his neck.

"I wouldn't waste our time being mad at you. In fact, even if I were mad, I would still want to make the most of our time together."

"If not me, then what?" He insisted.

"Not you, only your choices. I just told you I don't want to waste our time, so I expected you wouldn't want that either." Arya said with resolution, but without raising her voice.

"I don't."

"Then come live with me."

"Rid me of my promise first."

Even tighter, her grip didn't feel like a loving embrace anymore.

"Will you ever stop this?" She almost growled.

He sighed. He hated to oppose her, but it happened more often than he would think possible. Sometimes he wondered why fate had chosen her for him to love. It felt too complicated. Even when they were navigating calm waters, he had so many emotions inside it was hard for him to keep focused.

"I said I wouldn't ask for more, but I wasn't expecting you to be so…" So ardent, he wished to add. It was unexpected. Wonderful, but unexpected.

Arya raised her head to press her lips behind his ear as to prove his statement. Her breathing on his skin made the hair on his arms stand up. He closed his eyes to enjoy her caress.

"You know me. You know I go after what I want."

Her melodious voice sang to his heartbeat to accelerate, and soon his chest was going up and down to accommodate the intense rhythm of his breathing. Arya acknowledged his reaction by sliding her hands through his chest, then going down to his stomach.

"I just... Didn't know you wanted me that way." Eragon spoke out of breath.

"Silly man." She whispered again and reached the emerald of his belt, never ceasing to feel the shape of body.

"So I heard." His voice was faint.

Arya slid her thumbs under his belt and left them there while still speaking in his ear. Having her hands there combined with the sweet sound of voice was weakening to his knees.

"You wish to break your promise, but somehow the fault of this improper behavior of yours is mine. Do you realize you are blaming me for your impulses?"

Eragon was completely dazed, but he reunited enough willpower to react.

"I'm not blaming you."

"It seemed so."

"But I'm not!" He motioned to turn and face her, but her grip kept him in place. "Besides, I'm not the only one having impulses lately."

She laughed lightly, which confused him. Weren't they having an argument?

"You can classify my actions as impulses if you need to, but they are well thought. I know what I want from you and how far I'm willing to go with our relationship. If only you could trust me."

Eragon was even more confused. He expected her to be reluctant the next time they met after ten years, but it seemed that the time apart had created some kind of clarity in her mind, whereas in his mind there was nothing more abundant than aguish for not knowing what to hope for in the future with her.

"And how far are you willing to go?"

Arya finally freed him from her grip, but without her arms around him, Eragon felt exposed, unprotected. She moved to his side and looked down. Fírnen and Saphira had stopped their game and went to lie on the river bank.

"In our last visit here, Fírnen proposed that I would see our encounters as little treats given to us. A little time every ten years to spend with those we care about. I argued that you being a human man would constantly ask for more until we see ourselves so cornered that hurting each other would be inevitable."

"It didn't take long..." He observed.

Eragon felt guilty. His greed was pushing her away and causing her distress.

"It didn't, as expected. But the more I think about our situation, more I consider what Fírnen and Saphira have as ideal. Look at them."

The dragons had their front paws intertwined and their snouts were resting close to each other. Eragon searched his mind and noticed that Saphira would almost never lament being distant from her mate during their time apart. She carried on with her duties with great virtue, without ever faltering. The embarrassment took over his being for the many times he had complained or even cried for Arya in the past decade. Saphira would listen to him and comfort him without comparing their pain, that he understood now was the same.

"I am the one to blame. I'm sorry, Arya. I'm making this difficult for us all." Eragon said still looking at the dragons.

He felt as she turned to embrace him. As soon as he faced her, Arya held him with the typical iron grip on his hair. He almost smiled.

"Let's forget about promises and futures. I just want us to live a month at a time. Is that something you can do?"

Eragon clenched his jaw. Her request was simple, but complex beyond measures. She was asking for his total detachment of what he was raised to believe as being the ideal. According to her proposition, they would live a sporadic romance, or many small ones. Without commitment, they would be casual lovers, fated to live at the mercy of time. On the other hand, that proximity she was creating for them was all he had ever wanted. He dreamed about tasting her lips and holding her close, and now he could do it as he pleased, not because she would let him, but because she made it clear she craved it too. Arya, the one he desired like he had never wanted anything else, craved his touch. It was so satisfying it almost seemed untrue.

At the risk of never being the object of her desire again if he refused, he decided to cave and let her win. He nodded, still looking divided between those perspectives.

Her eyes shined but her lips didn't follow.

"You can't, can you?"

Eragon swallowed and looked away.

"Live a month at a time to the fullest? With you? I can, I look forward to. But don't ask to forget about the future."

She gave a little tug in his hair to make him look her in the eyes again.

"Then I won't."

Her words carried the scent of her breath that lured him into kissing her, as he wished to do all day. At the contact of their mouths, Arya relaxed her shoulders, and her hands let go of his hair to guide his face to the best way of kissing her. Eragon couldn't help a smirk to emerge on his lips at the thought of her dominance, which made her move away an inch.

"What's funny?"

He shook his head and tried to kiss her again, but she escaped his advance and moved away.

"Arya! Where are you going?" She was walking to the other side of the hill where she would climb down in lithe jumps.

Before she reached the edge, however, she turned to him.

"I'm going home. Are you coming?"

Eragon hesitated. He wanted more than anything to share his life with Arya, beginning with the treehouse. That was one of the reasons why he had made it for her after all. Still, he was reluctant to give up his only leverage on their tug of war.

Stop torturing yourself. Just go! Saphira intervened.

Most of all, stop torturing us. Just go! Fírnen entered his mind as well.

He let out a deep breath and joined her on the way to the treehouse. When she let the door open to him, he hesitated at the door step. Her hand came to his rescue and grabbed his so they could step inside together. Eragon realized that he hadn't made a bad decision after all. If Arya restricted his advances with the terms of his promise, she allowed enough space for them to develop. If she wished to lead, he would let her, gladly. He just hoped she would take them to a safe future together, or he feared he wouldn't survive the failure.

Arya walked to the living room and said the words to light up the place. The faint yellow light coming from the candles was enough for him to see that the couch still had signs of their night together in his waking dreams, for the blanket and the pillows were out of place and the book she had read to him fell open on the floor in a random page. He walked to pick it up and saw that the page was the one where he wrote about all the colors of her eyes. If he were to read something like that, he would certainly be bored before reaching the end of the page, but to write it felt so right, he didn't mind the boring description. He hoped she wouldn't either and marked the page with the leaf of a flower she had on her desk.

Before he could put it back on the shelf, she spoke behind his back. "Thank you for the poem."

Eragon smiled and held the book a little longer.

"You are welcome. You know there are others, right? Stories too."

Arya came to his side to look at the bookshelf.

"About me?"

His smile grew larger.

"I don't have many inspirations to write." She smiled as well, but it was a little unsure. He climbed two steps of the rolling ladder and put the book back to its place. "Besides, someone already made you a flower. I have to impress you somehow."

When he climbed back down, her look made him be sure he had said the wrong words.

"You don't have to impress me." Arya looked through the window that faced the garden as she could see the black morning glory from all that distance in the middle of the woods.

"I'm sorry, I said it in a jest. I shouldn't have mentioned it."

Arya nodded and pulled him by the hand.

"Come." She called, welcoming him in her home. "It's late and we need our rest to attend the games early in the morning."

That night, he was uncertain if the pounding of his heartbeat would let her sleep at all, since she had her head resting on his chest. They had spent the night together before, but never on the same bed. Eragon always thought as a young man that when the time would come for him to share a bed with his loved one it would be on his wedding night. Well, he wasn't such a young man anymore, and although they wouldn't do what newlyweds do that night, his anxiety was still an important emotion inside his being.

It didn't help that his insecurities wouldn't leave him in peace. He was afraid of entering in her intimacy and offending her or hurting the memory of her late companion. Eragon feared not being enough, and the closer she would let him be, more likely it was for him to show her she was making a mistake. He needed her leadership more than anything at that moment.

"Breathe, Eragon. Breathe." She said against his chest with her hands caressing him through his shirt.

He tried to ease his mind by doing as she instructed. It worked. Soon he felt the same as entering the consciousness of the Eldunarí, for his body little by little started to be transcended by the serenity of his meditative state for the second time that day. He stopped feeling nervous, however he didn't feel her body against his any longer. Mourning the loss, he returned to his material state to find her staring at him with her chin resting on his chest. She smiled softly and touched his face with her fingers.

"I thought you were leaving me behind."

He laughed feeling the anxiety being brushed away and said. "Lead the way, my queen. Although I wouldn't mind going back to that beach of last night. It was beautiful."

Arya accommodated herself more comfortably by burying her face in his neck while her left hand rested on his chest. He opened his mind to her and to their dragons as well, while his own left hand traced the line of her spine over her nightgown. Like he had done in their flight to the dragon lair ten years before, Eragon raised protections all around them, the way he should have done the night before, but was too distracted to do so. As soon as he locked them all inside, Arya's melody lulled him into their shared dreams, that started at the sunset as they flew low toward the horizon. The sandy beach under a starry sky was next. Then he couldn't know for sure who exactly he was among all four of them, but he knew it felt good to fall asleep with an extra warmth around him. He could get used to that. But he was trying not to think about the future too much. He owed them that.

Chapter Text

The sensation was of a steep fall, and in a jump he got out of bed. The sheets fell on the ground as he steadied himself still panting. A melodious laugh sounded on the outside of the house.

He walked to the balcony trying to understand what had just happened, just to see that Arya was performing the Rimgar. Eragon felt embarrassed with the realization that what he had experienced as a steep fall was in fact a progression from one pose to another, in swift and flowing movements of her strong body.

Arya threw him a quick smile and finished the exercises. Crossing her legs, she sat down on the grass to work her mind as well. It was when their connection was interrupted.

Eragon stretched his back as he watched her in silence. Then he leaned against a branch that worked as a pillar for the balcony roof. He closed his eyes and searched for Saphira, throwing his mind further as he failed to find her in the shelter with Fírnen. She opened her mind to him as soon as she felt his presence in the arena. With her claws, she was digging the holes where the structure used in the jousts would be fixated. With an assured touch of minds they greeted each other and he retreated.

It was a warm morning already, and he sensed that the day would be one of the hottest they had so far in that summer. Eragon breathed in the air feeling content for waking up in the treehouse, despite the heart-racing way of doing so he just had. He was excited for the rest of his time with her, curious to discover all her manners and routines.

After his morning hygiene, Eragon went to the kitchen to prepare the breakfast. He had stocked the pantry for her arrival with basic supplies such as bread, cheese and tea, that he put on the table for them. In the garden, however, it was possible to find various sorts of fruits, and that was what he did. He walked to the back of the house where the garden and started to select the ones he wanted. He put the basket he carried on the bench and collected some cherries, peaches and plums.

He was ready to walk back when the sound of her steps made him stay where he was. She moved some vines out of the way and stepped her bare feet on the square where he was standing.

"I'm sorry for the way I woke you up." Her mischievous smile told him she wasn't sorry at all.

Eragon sat on the bench and waited for her to join him. Arya took a seat by his side and raised her chin to breath in the morning air, much fresher there under the trees then by the river.

"It's all right. I suppose there are worse ways to wake up." He really meant it.

"I'll remember that." Arya said with a smirk.

Eragon took his hand to her hair and let it glide throughout its extension, feeling the silky touch of it between his fingers. She closed her eyes with the contact.

"Tell me." She looked at him again. "Do you regret coming with me last night?"

If he regretted? He would be a crazy man if he did. There was no better way to fall asleep and then to wake up than to be by her side.

Eragon kept the caress on her hair.

"I can be accused of a lot of things. But I'm not crazy to regret being with you."

He thought that those words were the exact response she wanted to hear, because in a much more tender way than in the day before, she moved to his lap. The kisses she gave him were calm and warm at first, but they soon reflected the urge they both had. Her nails grazed on the skin of his neck very softly, ripping a grunt from his throat. She smiled in his lips.

Arya was leading the way just how she should and he wanted her to. He wished one day he felt as confident as Arya to take the lead, but his confidence toward her was motivated almost always by impulsiveness, because if he took a minute longer to think about his actions he wouldn't do any of them. Why was it, he wondered.

Arya was confident enough to know what she wanted and conquer it, just the way she was leading him into reflect her gestures. If she moved her hands down his back, he would glide his palms up her thighs; if she hunted his mouth like a predator, he would retreat like a prey; if her hands pulled up his shirt, his hands would pull down the collar of her tunic.

Arya arched her back when she felt his lips brushing on her collarbone and neck. It caused her hips to move on his lap. He wasn't prepared for the longing that her simple movement created in him. Eragon's hands shot down to her hips to make her repeat it, so she would understand what he wanted.

Arya looked in his eyes in an accomplice way, as she was partnering with him to make the fullest of their moments together. It was surprising to him how easy it was to simply forget about his problems and concerns when she enclosed him in her passion like that. Most of all, it was surprising to him that she was willing to leave it all aside to bring him to herself, since she had always been the reference of wisdom and rationality to him. But if he were to consider it further, he would be enlightened by the fact that if she was acting so passionately, it was only because she had thought of if with relentless care. Eragon was sure now that Arya had weighted him and all the possible consequences of their acts to find the right course of action. There was nothing improvised about her leadership. Arya was the perfect commander.

That was when he relaxed in her arms and felt the elation of being held and pleasured by such brilliant person.

He didn't know how she would conduct their interactions from that point on, but he hoped she knew he was ready for her, to have complete intimacy. So his hands helped her move her hips at the same time she captured his lips with hers. His moan was inevitable, such as her intensified reaction to it.

Shadeslayer... Fírnen's incredibly low voice startled him and made him grunt. I'm sorry to interrupt. Really. The dragon seemed amused with the scene he found the Riders in.

From the intrusion in his mind, Eragon could vaguely perceive that Fírnen had been communicating with someone else that wasn't Arya or Saphira.

Eragon reunited some composure, but his voice came out trembled and hoarse.

"Yes?" He turned his face and laid his cheek on Arya's shoulder, trying to steady his breathing, but she kept moving on his lap and scratching his back. Considering the fact that now that her mouth was free, she started to kiss and bite his neck and shoulder as well.

Blödhgarm requests your presence in the arena. Apparently there's a problem with the schedule. He said Saphira's is on her way to pick you up.

He started to pant more intensely and groan at every little bite she woud place on his skin. His hands tried to give more power to the movement of her hips, that even over their layers of clothes were intense enough to take his breath away. He was without any doubt distracted from the conversation.

"Couldn't he... solve this... by himself?"

A thought crossed Eragon's head. If Fírnen was human he would be either embarrassed or so amused to the point of laughing at them. Another thought accompanied the first one. Eragon was the one who should be feeling embarrassed by that. But it was Arya he had in his arms. He would never feel ashamed of having her so devoted to him like that, or for being so devoted to her like that.

Arya grabbed his face and placed her lips on his ear.

"Tell him you're busy."

Her seductive voice made the hair on his chest stand up. Eragon took a deep breath so he could speak.

"You are the one who always puts duty first. Tell me this. Should I neglect my duty now?" He whispered with the little strength he had after she resumed kissing his neck.

She paused and stared at him. At once she was reminded that her tunic was disheveled and fixed it by pulling the sleeve up to cover her shoulder.

"You're the Head Rider. I'm sure there are others who can take on these minor tasks." She was serious and in nothing resembled the affectionate lover of before.

Arya would've been more successful in convincing him to stay if she had kept appealing to his desires instead of judging his role as the Head Rider. If she had decided that it was time and started to undress him, there was no chance he would let Blödhgarm interrupt them again. But she chose what they did best, fighting.

He didn't want to oppose her, though, not when they were being so passionate with each other. He removed his hands from her hips and placed them on each side of her face, just in time to see with the corner of his eyes as Saphira approached the river to land by the house.

"The time will come for me to be just a Rider. For now, my duty includes all these minor and boring quests. Can you forgive me for leaving you?"

His sweetness softened her fighting disposition, as she half-smiled and inclined to kiss him on the lips.

"I have to go now." Eragon added when they parted.

"Stay." She demanded. "For one more kiss."

He watched her desire burn in her morning green eyes once again as she requested him. He was desired. The woman he loved like he would never love no one else desired him. That feeling could never be described or compared.

He grabbed her by the thighs and stood up, paying no mind to the audience of their partners. They were constant audience anyway in their minds, even when they tried to give each other their privacy. Then, he laid her on the bench and weighed on her between her legs. Attacking her lips with his, he started to kiss her with a hunger she was already to experience coming from him. At the same time his hands went under her tunic raising it to her stomach. His fingers studied her burning skin without never stopping the kiss. She was sculptured to perfection, soft honey skin over the firmest muscles.

Their tongues swirled around each other, and at times he would retreat his, just to make her gasp in his mouth looking for him. It was electrical and it felt like it had been a million years since they've been locked in that embrace, but the first grains of sand hadn't passed through the narrowest space of the hourglass yet, when he laid the softest kiss on her lips for the last time before standing up to leave.


She still had her eyes closed and a raced breathing when she heard Saphira's wings flapping to raise her body from the ground. Arya looked up and watched the pair fly away toward the mountain, her heart pounding in her ears and a heat emanating from between her legs.

I can pick you up and drop you in the river if you wish. Fírnen came close to her and nudged her hand that she had dropped from the bench with his snout.

Shut it.

It works for me. He mocked and lay down on the grass.

I said shut it!

I'm just saying... You will have to take care of that heat of yours, because soon you will be taking irrational decisions, like telling your dragon to shut up. His mental laugh echoed through their bond.

Heat? I don't have a heat, I'm... She hesitated.

What? In love?

She didn't respond.

Why do you have trouble speaking the words even mentally, even to me? I know you think of it. I know you know you love him. Your true name shows it, and he knows your true name. So why don't you say it?

Arya lifted herself up sitting on the bench and adjusting her tunic that Eragon had ruffled up before with his prying hands.

"The last time I did..." She used her voice to talk and hesitated again to the sound of it. It was hoarse and low.

Continue. I have only seen it in your memories, but you haven't talked about it yet.

She cleared her throat and ran a hand through her hair, a habit she realized she could be picking up from Eragon.

"Walk with me. But be careful! Eragon won't like it if you destroy his flowers."

His flowers?

"His flowers, my garden. A good compromise, I think." She shrugged.

They reached the point where Eragon had planted the copy he had made of the Black Morning Glory, extracted directly from the memory he had of walking through the gardens of Tialdarí Hall.

The first time I told Fäolin I loved him it came out easily. I was young and completely raptured by him. Not even my mother had heard the words coming out of my young lips yet, but he had. And he laughed. Not in mockery, but he was so sure of himself, like it was so obvious to him that I was going to fall. It filled me with anger.

She sat on the ground by the flower as Fírnen tried to adjust his vast body the best he could without damaging the vegetation.

Not long after that... She continued. ...he said it for the first time. We were innocent companions, the best of friends. But I was proud and didn't say it back. I didn't say it back for many years, even when I wanted to, it didn't matter how many times he would say it to me. Even when he made me this.

She traced the petals with her fingers as it was the face of a loved one.

What made you say it again? Fírnen asked inspecting her expression, but also her emotions.

She knew he had an idea of all that had transpired, but he wanted to hear it from her.

Arya took a deep breath.

I thought I was going to lose him.

Her eyes stung. She felt Fírnen approaching her the best he could to touch her forehead with his nose.

He had gone in a scout mission under Ajihad's command. At some point, he stayed behind to cover their tracks, but he was taking too long to rejoin the group. They decided to go looking for him. He had been attacked by three urgals. They were young and inexperienced, so Fäolin managed to kill them all and survive, but barely. When he was brought to Tronjheim, all I could think about was that he was going to die without me telling that I loved him. So I did.

Fírnen made a grunting noise in the back of his throat that Arya couldn't recognize, even being linked mentally to him. She looked at him and saw what she could only describe as indifference.

Fírnen!

What?

You asked for the story, and now you're bored and uninterested?

That's a beautiful story, Arya. But I just don't see how it has anything to do with Eragon. He was somewhat embarrassed. If you love someone you tell them.

It amazed her how simple life could be under the rationalization of a dragon. For Fírnen, she created more monsters than she could fight.

Have I finished telling it already? Arya creased her eyebrows and said it in a severe manner.

All right, go ahead then. I'm listening.

Arya looked at the morning glory again and sighed, preparing to continue the tale.

After that, time went by and we started to grow apart. I realized we were different people, with certain similarities of course, but different. We wanted different things.

You stopped loving him.

I don't know. All I know is that I stopped wanting him as my mate. We talked about it but decided to give us another chance. So the last time he told me he loved me was the day of his death as we stopped for the horses to rest. He hugged me because I was feeling anxious and said he would protect me like I was his precious possession for him to keep. It failed to calm me, instead, I felt more anxious and annoyed. I ridded myself of his arms, and as he tried to hold me again and make me stay with him he said he loved me. That was the moment I realized that the words were physically impossible for me to say back to him. I couldn't tell him a lie. He noticed and died heartbroken. I had never forgiven myself for it.

Fírnen stirred uncomfortable, and Arya sensed he had a reprimand coming her way.

Do you really blame yourself for not loving him anymore? Do you know how absurd it sounds?

Arya stood up and approached him, leaning against his nose.

I know that I'm not the one to blame for his death neither for stopping to love him. I know that. But I can't help the way I feel.

Fírnen involved her with a warm breath.

This guilt is preventing you from committing, isn't it? If you don't commit, then it won't be your fault if you lose.

Arya let herself fall sitting on the ground between his front paws and rested her head against his scales.

How selfish am I?

Not selfish. Just hurt. His tone was loving, and Arya would be forever grateful she had Fírnen in her life to support her. And how do you expect Eragon to know all this if you don't tell him? He planted Fäolin's flower here without knowing how much distress it would cause you!

He knows. She said with tenderness, picturing Eragon's warm eyes.

How could he possibility...

He does. Arya smiled and caressed his neck. That's exactly why he planted the morning glory here, so hidden, just for me.

Arya, explain it to me, for I don't understand.

He believes love is accepting, it comes from knowing. If I don't know where my hurt comes from and if I don't accept my past, I will never love myself or anyone else. Or at least it's what I took from it.

The thought that Eragon would go to such length to heal her was disarming. When she was being selfish and protective of her own feelings, he was surrounding her with his selfless care. Arya felt her emotions bubbling up.

She laughed a faint chuckle and wiped a tear that fell on her cheek.

Oh my dear, why do you have to be so hard on yourself? Fírnen followed her line of thought and worried.

Don't you have a clue?

The image of Islanzadí popped inside her head like an explosion, infused with the dragon's conflicting emotions.

Calm down, Fírnen! That's how it works between a parent and their child. I'm sure if I have my own one day they will have their complaints against me as well.

It was hard for the dragon to forgive Islanzadí for antagonizing Arya for so long, but he also felt a daughter's love toward her mother. It was complicated, and he often would ask his partner about it. Arya would explain to him, and with time it became easier for her to understand and forgive her mother for the many controversial decisions she had made.

All right, so you know yourself, but are still trying to accept your past. This much I get. But after that, do you think you can forgive Eragon as well?

Arya raised her head to face him.

Forgive him? For what?

For being him. Fírnen stood up and circled his body to lay down in front of her. For not being an elf. For being young. For not being noble. For not living in Ellesméra.

What are you saying, Fírnen? She was angry about being accused like that. She loved Eragon for everything he was, even if she couldn't say it to him yet.

You have your prejudices, Arya. And the fact that he broke through them throws you off balance. Since you're evaluating which facts about yourself you have to forgive and accept, you should add those ones to your list.

She raised her chin and looked away, pride was taking the best of her.

I accept those in him.

Which tells more about yourself than about him. Fírnen said casually.

What?

Well, you just said it. If you accept, you...

"Love." She whispered.

Fírnen looked presumptuous.

You should tell him.

Not yet.

Arya...

Not yet, Fírnen! He knows already! Besides, I need to know what idea he makes of commitment before actually committing.

Fírnen shook his head, and she could hear the amusement in his words.

So you're willing to mate with him, to share a bed with him, to be seen with him in public, but somehow are afraid of commitment? Oh my darling, I have some news for you.

Chapter Text

Arya had been acting strange during the games again, lost in thought. Eragon feared each change in her stance, for it could mean she would've also changed her mind about him. It was ironic that the argument she had used against their union was that Eragon being human was too susceptible to inconsistency when making a decision. Arya had changed her mind more times about him then he judged necessary.

He pushed those thoughts to the back of his head and tried to enjoy the day in the company of his family. It had become a habit of his to search the bleachers for Roran, Katrina and the children. Well, Ismira was often missing from the picture, and the reason would make him grin because coincidentally Lord Dain of Ceunon would be nowhere to be found as well when he wasn't competing. Eragon had promised Katrina he would talk with Roran about their situation, and that's what he planned to do after dinner. Before he went to meet with his cousin, however, he leaned toward Arya who was sitting by his right side at the dinner table and asked her if she was all right.

It was like she had awaken from a delusion because she turned to him and blinked enough times to make her eyes focus on him. Then her look beamed with affection and she displayed the most wonderful smile.

"I am. I was just... Don't worry. I'm fine."

He wondered what she was thinking about.

"If you have a problem, you know you can come to me for help, don't you?"

Arya nodded still smiling.

"Good." He smiled back. "I will have a conversation with Roran that I suspect will take long. May I meet you afterward in the treehouse even if it's late?" His voice in the last part was barely audible.

"I will come hunting you if you don't."

Eragon laughed and stood up. He would like to see that.

The conversation with Roran was demanding in many ways. He wasn't expecting it to be so emotional or to reveal details he hadn't considered before.

The two cousins reunited in the eyrie. Eragon pulled his pipe from his pocket after resting his sword on the center table and settled himself on a chair. Roran took the seat in front of him. He used a flint to light the pipe and through the smoke, he blew out, the image of his cousin seemed surreal somehow. It was odd that after many years the man he saw aging in the mirror was finally there within the reach of his hands. Eragon wondered if he would look like that if time had affected him the same way. Roran had a few wrinkles around his eyes and forehead and some sparse grey hair emerging on his head and beard. He was still strong, though. Stronger, if it was possible, in his mature way.

"What did Katrina tell you for you to want to talk so seriously?"

Roran moved his robust body forward and leaned on his knees. Eragon took another drag and blew out the smoke.

"Some concerning news, of course. Information you've been hiding from me." His tone wasn't harsh or demanding, but it still made Roran narrow his eyes.

"Is it about Lord Dain?"

"Aye. Do you want to tell me about it?"

Roran sighed and scratched his beard.

"Katrina didn't have to worry you with these matters. I can handle it just fine."

Eragon crossed his legs and tried to maintain a relaxed stance. He wanted Roran to trust him enough to share the burden with him.

"I believe you can, but why don't you let me help you? You need to understand that the Valley and Ceunon are in a strategic position if we have to fight the north forces. It's not wise to start another conflict like that. We'll need you."

Roran seemed upset, hurt even. Eragon thought he saw his eyes becoming watery under the candlelight.

"I wouldn't care less about the conflict with Dain or if the Riders need us if I could be in peace with my daughter once again."

Eragon let his pipe hanging from his lips and stared at Roran. He didn't expect such a hurtful response. It seemed to Eragon that it was worse than he first thought.

The two of them weren't too prone to touch on emotional subjects when talking with each other, but he would have to show Roran some support and comfort somehow. He grabbed the pipe to stand up.

"Why don't you start telling me all about it while I pour us some mead?"

Roran started his narrative as Eragon fetched the bottle and the cups. He told Eragon how the quarrel with the Ceunon aristocrats had started when some fishermen from both places begun a dispute in the Anora River. At first, the people from Ceunon would tolerate the intrusion by the Valley residents in their share of the river until they decided they had enough. Instead of recurring to the authorities, they attacked the people from Carvahall, stealing their fish and destroying their boats. Roran intervened when it was too late, for few deaths had already occurred during the conflict. The lord of Ceunon, Dain's older brother, dismissed Roran's concerns and pleads, stating that his people had the right to defend their territory.

"You see, I had nothing against them until my people started to get hurt. Of course I punished those who crossed the city limits, but I expected the same from Tarrant's sons." Roran paused his tale to drink the mead.

"Did you take this to Nasuada?" Eragon alternated from the pipe to the mead, and soon his legs felt weak and his head was light. Good thing he was sitting for this.

"I did, but when the answer came with her orders for punishment, the lord had already been attacked. Dain is in charge now, but refuses to act upon the matter until his brother is recovered."

Eragon almost choked on his drink.

"What do you mean, recovered? Isn't he dead?"

"Dead? No! Who told you that? He is unconscious, in a deep sleep. Murtagh and Renir tried to access his mind, but it was out of reach. Didn't they tell you that?"

Eragon shook his head. How could he be so misinformed like that? Was he being negligent with his duty? Or were they?

"I should call them here to explain everything." Roran agreed. "But before that, you keep telling me your story."

"Right. Well, Ismira was already seeing Dain when it all started. They had met a few years before during the games in Ilirea and their courting had begun, with letters at first, but Dain would visit once in a while. He seemed like a good lad and she was already in time to find a good husband, so I didn't see any trouble then. But now I can't agree with their marriage being him the biggest enemy our people have. What will they think of me if I allow my daughter to marry the man who's endorsing the killing of our fishermen?"

Indeed, that was a dilemma Eragon didn't see how to solve in an easy way. But still, he thought compromise had to be the word in question.

"Have you talked to Dain about it?"

"He's blinded by his brother's disease. The only reason why he came to Mount Arngor was Ismira. I know they meet in secrecy. Katrina thinks they are fooling me, but they are not." Roran looked tired and defeated. "I just wanted Ismira to understand that I'm not stopping their marriage to happen because I'm against it, but it's only because I have a job to do. I need to watch over my people."

Eragon looked at him with sympathy.

"Brother, I know this isn't easy. But I think what's lacking in all this is communication. It would be beneficial to all of us if you two reached an agreement. I guess it would help if you remember how it was in the beginning with you and Katrina."

"I know! But how can I reach such agreement?" He almost pulled his beard in desperation. "Dain doesn't want to act as the lord, even after Nasuada's orders for the punishment of his men. I can't give in now!"

Using a conciliating voice, Eragon said. "Try to understand his situation as well. He doesn't feel like ruling because his brother is still alive. I believe that his only wish is for his brother to wake up so he can get back to being the little lord with the only concern of marrying the pretty girl from the Valley."

Roran drank more mead and emptied the cup.

"What do you suggest I do?" He asked expectantly.

"Let's bring him here so you can propose him a deal. Ismira's hand for the punishment of his men."

Roran frowned.

"Do you want me to trade my daughter?"

Eragon shrugged after blowing smoke to the air.

"You are already doing that. You are keeping her hostage until the matter is solved. She's hostage because you are preventing her from doing what she wants the most. You might as well take advantage while doing her liking."

"I suppose..."

Eragon offered to call Dain to the eyrie so they could solve that once and for all, offer that Roran accepted. He also called Murtagh, Renir and Orik through Saphira. All six of them had yet to discuss the happenings in the north, and Eragon hoped that when Dain saw that they were trying to fight the dark force that attacked his brother he would decide to cooperate with Roran and finally end their quarrel. His hopes weren't frustrated, although Dain was. At first.

When he saw the cousins together in the eyrie, he thought he was being ambushed. He held his hands in a fist by his sides and Eragon could see he had clenched his jaw.

"Peace, Lord Dain. Come, drink with us." Eragon said filling up a cup of mead. "I want to solve this dispute between you two before someone else gets hurt." He pointed at a spare chair.

Dain took a deep breath and sat down accepting the mead. He was a tall and lean young man. His skin was as pale as Eragon's and he was a perfect opposition to Roran, who was well-built and punished by the sun. Roran avoided to look at the lad, but he kept a serious expression the whole time.

"Roran just told me about this quarrel of yours. So, it's pretty clear to me that you two are misunderstanding each other." Eragon said to get the discussion started and sat back enjoying his cardus weed.

"He's clearly misunderstanding my situation!" Dain spoke looking at Eragon. "First, he allows me to court his daughter, then, because of a matter that has nothing to do with me he forbids it. It makes no sense!"

"Makes no sense?" Roran raised his voice turning to face the young man. "You have everything to do with it. It's your duty to act upon Nasuada's command."

"I'm not the Lord! My brother is and he will take care of that matter when he wakes up!"

Both men were almost rising from their seats when a knock on the door startled then. Eragon ordered the guests to enter, and Renir walked in with Murtagh and a very uncomfortable Orik. Eragon hated that he still hadn't gotten past his bitterness toward Murtagh.

They all sat in a circle by the fireplace that wasn't lit, for their luck, since the day and night were too warm. Eragon went to fetch more cups and served them mead.

"So… What's it all about?" Orik asked after downing his drink.

"Roran and Lord Dain have a dispute. Murtagh and Renir need to tell us what they found up north. And all of us need to work on a plan to defend Alagaësia."

Orik widened his eyes and filled his cup again.

"Now I understand the mead. Some cardus weed is also necessary, if I may." He took his pipe from the pocket of his vest and filled with cardus, before leaning toward Eragon so he could light it with his flint. "Start!" He said to Renir.

The elf looked from Eragon to Murtagh then to Eragon again, searching for permission. His master nodded, so he began. He told them all how he was performing his duty as a teacher and a healer in the Valley along with Avelina when the word came that the Lord of Ceunon had gone north on a hunting trip and hadn't come back after days of his arrival date. Renir and Vance flew to Ceunon, where Dain pled that they would investigate, but he had orders from Murtagh to not go alone up north, at the risk of meeting the magicians.

Murtagh took over the narration and added that after being called by Renir to join him in an expedition to the frozen north, he and Thorn traveled non-stop to Ceunon. Together they searched the area where the lord was supposed to be hunting and found all the men from the hunting party fallen on a clearing. There were no signs of blood, so Murtagh ran a recognition spell to find traces of magic, which he did. They were all killed by magic, except their lord. They rushed him to Ceunon, where they tried everything to bring him back to consciousness, but it was all in vain.

"You made it sound like he was dead the first time." Eragon spoke, shaken by the possibility of an imminent attack.

"Did I? I didn't notice, I'm sorry."

"Well, he isn't dead, he will come back, he just needs some time to recover." Dain said in a pained voice.

"I don't think it's prudent to hang on false hopes." Renir said and all eyes turned to him.

The indelicacy of his pupil was well known to Eragon, who knew he wasn't being malicious, it was just his honest way of expressing his thoughts. Nevertheless, it could be hurtful.

"What our friend meant in his clumsy manner…" He shot a reprehensive look at Renir before turning to Dain. "…was that your brother finds himself in the most difficult situation regarding a person's well-being. We can treat the body with spells and potions, but the mind is hard to recover when the source of the affliction is unknown. Sooner or later, you will need to come to the sad realization that your brother may never wake up."

Dain shook his head feverously.

"But you know the cause! It's magic! Can't you discover which spell they used in him?"

"It's speechless magic. Without the words, it's nearly impossible to reverse a spell. We tried, but couldn't figure out the intentions behind the attack." Murtagh said.

"And to use a general spell to reverse the effects without knowing exactly the type of magic applied there may cause more harm than good." Renir complemented.

Dain lowered his head holding his cup in his trembling hands.

Eragon looked at Roran and saw that he had empathy in his eyes. Good. It was the start of understanding.

"What are you planning to do, Eragon?" Orik asked.

Eragon took a deep breath and brushed his almost inexistent mustache. He wished Arya was there to help him decide. Stupid of him not to invite her. Again, he neglected to involve her in official matters.

"I will have to confer with Arya and take her opinion on this. But I'm guessing the best course of action is to barricade the north with protective spells. We can take care of the logistics later. But for that, we will need your cooperation." He pointed at Roran and Dain. "It will be best if you can cooperate with each other as well."

Dain breathed heavily and drank his mead. Eragon knew he felt miserable, for choosing to take his brother's place could mean he had given up on saving him. But he was there, miles and miles from his ill brother, which could be an indication that he already felt defeated.

"I don't feel fit to rule." Dain said in a low tone and sighed heavily.

Roran did something unexpected. He patted on the lad's shoulder.

"We can work together, boy. As a family, if you wish. All you have to do is to act as the Lord and take Nasuada's orders to punish those murderers."

Dain seemed conflicted. He looked around to the others, and all of them gave him some kind of encouragement. Orik blinked an eye between a drag and another of his pipe. Murtagh also patted on his shoulder and Renir nodded. Eragon smiled and said.

"Perhaps you wish to discuss it with Ismira."

At the mention of his loved one, Dain raised his chin and acquired a new shine in his look.

"No. I know what I have to do." He turned to Roran and extended his hand to him. "If you take the new Lord of Ceunon as your son, I don't think we will have any more problems, sir."

Roran gave him a skewed smile and grabbed his forearm with great enthusiasm.

"Brilliant! It's solved." Eragon said. "If you decide to do the wedding soon, let me know. We can arrange a big feast here to celebrate."

Dain's face lit up with the possibility and he stood up fast, saying he had to go tell Ismira right away about the news.

After he was gone, Eragon thought it would be better to let the serious matters aside. He congratulated Roran on the new addition to his family. His cousin shook his head and said something about being too old.

Eragon also joked about Renir's lack of tact, which made the others laugh and mock the elf. Renir tried to defend himself, but it only worsened his situation. He said they all seemed like Avelina when she would get mad at him for being so clueless. He told them that she was giving him the silent treatment for the past two days. And then he told them why.

The smoke came out of Eragon's nose as he laughed hard at the elf in front of him. Eragon wasn't the only one. Roran and Orik were filling the eyrie with their low voices late at night.

"I can't believe you told her that!" Roran said loud tearing up with mirth.

"I don't see what is the problem!" Renir answered.

The other men burst out in laughter again, which made Renir frown and recline in his chair.

"I simply told her I don't wish to go to her family's house after the games! I have no intention of meeting them. I don't see why should I. They have nothing to do with our relationship."

Eragon could perceive that Roran was completely appalled. For him, naturally, the woman's family was as much part of a relationship as the woman herself, such it was the case moments before when he had welcomed Dain to his family.

Orik was pulling his beard with a funny face.

"That should be interesting. You will tell him, or should I?" He asked Eragon.

Renir looked from one to another.

"Renir, listen to me." Eragon started and Renir focused on him. "Although Avelina abdicated her role as a traditional human woman, she still a woman. She expects you to be accepted by those who brought her to this world. Also, you've been together for many years. Don't you think it's time?"

"Forget that!" Murtagh exclaimed. "It's more likely she is trying to make you marry her."

"Marry her?" Renir's face was so horrified that the loud laughter reemerged throughout the eyrie. "Very funny! The poor elf that is clueless about human traditions. Go ahead, laugh a little more!"

His furious expression didn't cease to amuse Eragon along with his new northern accent, but the master managed to control himself to be sympathetic to Renir's cause.

The others, however, couldn't care less.

"You can see from the bright side. Avelina is from noble birth. If you marry her, you will become a human lord, just like Dain." Roran commented between laughs.

"He will be the first married elf in history!" replied Orik. Then he paused his chuckles and looked at Eragon. "Right?"

Eragon nodded to confirm, so Orik resumed his mockery.

It went on until they found something else to make fun of. And then another thing. And then another thing. Eragon had missed this. There were times in Mount Arngor that he felt like an old man, deprived of all energy from working so hard. Then he remembered he was yet to be forty years of age and it would sadden him to feel so tired being so young. But sitting in the company of Renir, Murtagh, Orik, and Roran, he felt like his old seventeen-year-old self, with the difference he didn't have an entire nation to save as the only free Rider in Alagaësia.

Orik was an old man to Eragon's standards, but he knew the dwarf would live many years more being him part of a long-lived race. Roran, however, brought sadness to his heart, for his days were numbered. Being the middle-aged man he was, a handful of grey hair was already visible on his head and beard, and his sunburned skin wasn't forgiven by the passing of time. Two or three decades and he no longer would walk on the land. Renir, on the other hand, would easily outlive all of them. He would forever walk that earth untouched. Eragon, however, wasn't sure about himself or Murtagh. Of course, he was changed, turned into something similar to an elf. But not completely. His magic depended on the dragons, so if one day, the gods forbid, their magic was gone or Saphira would come to perish, he would as well. Slowly, but it would happen, who could be sure? But he knew that in fact, if Saphira perished, it would be instantly for him. He would go as well. There was no other way of living if it weren't bonded to her. He suspected his brother would share the same resolution.

"I should go. It's getting late, Katrina must be waiting for me." Roran emptied his cup of mead and stood up.

Orik did the same.

"Spoke well, my friend. Well, no, Katrina is not waiting for me, but you got it."

Eragon laughed and waved them goodbye.

When they both left, Renir looked at Eragon with curious eyes.

"Would I really be the first elf to be married in history?"

Eragon and Murtagh laughed, but not in a mocking way.

"Aye. But don't worry. She doesn't want that."

"How do you know?"

"If she did, she would've mentioned it at least once in ten years. Besides, marriage in Alagaësia serves two purposes." He counted on his fingers. "Proprieties and children. Well, children to inherit your properties, so in the end, it's just for one thing. And despite what they were talking about her being noble, she can't inherit her father's nobility since she's a Rider now. Our Order is different from the old one, we don't inherit riches or don't acquire new fortune."

"If that's the only purpose of marriage, why do poor people get married then?"

"That's a good question." Murtagh said. "Why, little brother?"

Eragon shrugged and smirked.

"I don't have an answer yet. I'm not married."

Humor was coming easily to Eragon's mind since the mead was flooding his veins.

"Anyway. I will have to go, won't I." Renir said.

"Haven't you made peace with the fact that you won't win another discussion ever again?" Murtagh commented, and somehow, he made it seem that Nasuada was hard to dissuade.

"I'm starting to. Now. People see Avelina and think she is so sweet. But they can't imagine the size of the storm when the gets mad."

Eragon was amused. In his case, if his relationship were public, anyone would expect Arya to be a complete force of nature, which she was, in every single aspect, and it didn't surprise him a bit. But Renir had to deal with a surprising version of Avelina. Eragon loved to hear their stories for it always revolved around Renir doing or saying something preposterous and Avelina reacting poorly.

"Last night..." He started. "She insisted that we should train together for the games. I refused. It doesn't make sense to train with my adversary, does it? She would know all about my strategy." Eragon tried to suppress a smile already knowing where the story would end. "Avelina didn't take it well, of course. Screamed at me. Said I should go look for a sparring partner in the tavern. I was confused. How am I supposed to find a sparring partner in the tavern late at night?"

Eragon couldn't hold the amused expression, and Murtagh chuckled, almost spilling his drink. Renir felt annoyed again.

"What is it? Why are you mocking me again?"

"I just thought that after spending some time among humans you would've acquired a bit of their manners already." Eragon said.

"Your manners, you mean." He accused.

"Fine. Our manners."

"But what did she mean by that?"

"She was implying that you would go looking for another woman." Murtagh answered.

"Why would I do that? Why would she want that?"

"For the gods, Renir! She doesn't! Did she use the ancient language?" Eragon was having too much fun with his confusion.

"No."

"That's your first clue." He rested the pipe on his lap and counted with his fingers. "Second. If she says something absurd like that, don't do it. If she tells you to go to the tavern to find someone else, don't go."

"Should I do the opposite of everything she tells me to?" He seemed confused still, what made Murtagh chuckle again.

"No, just the absurd things." Eragon pointed out before taking a drag.

"How would I know what's absurd and what's not?"

"By doing what I told you to do. Have you been making friends in the north?"

Renir shrugged.

"A few. They like that I have a bit of your accent."

"That's good."

"But they're mostly men. How would I know what's absurd and what's not?"

Murtagh pitched in.

"The absurd is absurd for us all. Or it should."

"Give an example."

"All right." Murtagh adjusted himself in the chair to face the elf. "If she's upset and she tells you that she wishes to be alone. Is that absurd?"

"I believe not."

"You're right. It's not, so you leave her be. But if she's mad and she says that you can fall on your head from the tallest cliff and break your neck in two. Is that absurd?"

Renir widened his eyes and his hand moved to his neck as he was feeling the pain of having it broken.

"It's horrible! Why would she say something like that?"

"See?" Murtagh displayed a proud smirk. "To hurt you. Because she wants you to feel the way she's feeling. She doesn't really want you to fall on your head and die. It's just a way of speaking."

"She should be careful with her words." Renir mumbled.

"She should." Eragon remarked. "We all should. But humans live fast and die stupidly. They don't have time to think of the consequences. They can collect the pieces after if it's worth it."

"I think I know what you mean now. It outrages me, then I know she's being absurd and I shouldn't take it seriously. I should not be upset or do whatever she is telling me to do. Like find a sparring partner in the tavern."

The brothers looked at each other in complicity.

"You did go, didn't you?" Murtagh asked.

"She hasn't spoken to me since." He admitted.

Eragon laughed.

"You can spar with me. It will give me the chance to test my new sword."

Renir's eyes lit up and Eragon thought that his friend may have missed their training sessions as much as he has.

"Have you found a name for it yet?" Murtagh pointed at the sword.

Eragon looked at his platinum blade resting on the table between them.

"I was thinking about the name Moonlight."

"In this language?" Murtagh was surprised.

Eragon shrugged. "Why not? It's not a Rider's sword."

"It's a good name. I like it." Renir nodded then smirked. "She will like it. Don't worry."

"She? What am I missing?" Murtagh frowned.

Nobody knew about Eragon and Arya's proximity yet, except for Renir, Avelina, Vance, and Runalla, and he intended to keep it that way.

"Arya gave me the sword since I needed one." He said without putting too much importance on it. Murtagh didn't press for more information.

"Why don't you invite her to our training? It will be beneficial to watch you two fighting first. I may learn a move to surprise Avelina in the tournament." Renir suggested.

"That's not a bad idea. I will do that."

It was late and he had drunk one or two too many, but he needed to talk to his brother. He mentioned that, asking about what was so important that had made the other feel anguished to the point of apologizing to Eragon the day before during the competitions. Murtagh sighed and told Renir to stay when he motioned to leave.

"I know you're his shadow. I will save him the trouble of telling you later." He explained.

The three men drank from their cups, but Murtagh almost emptied the whole thing.

"Spit it out, brother. I'm getting nervous here." Eragon said without much patience.

"I will be direct. All right, here it goes..." He took a deep breath before adding. "Nasuada is with child. My child."

Eragon's jaw dropped. He didn't know what to say and he could have found a better commentary if he tried any further, but he suspected the mead was clouding his judgment.

"At her age?"

Murtagh's anguish was deeper.

"I'm being watchful of her health."

"It's a political nightmare!" Another indelicate statement.

"I know. That's why I'm here to ask for your help."

Eragon leaned forward to place the cup and the pipe on the table.

"What do you wish I do?"

Murtagh breathed in deeply.

"Nasuada thinks that Orrin could start a conflict because of it, since she's having the child of a Rider, and you know what he thinks of our Order." He started. "So, she wishes to keep the pregnancy a secret for now, just until the child is born in safety."

"All right... But what can I do about it?"

"Well, our child will be the heir to the throne. The heir can't be a bastard." He said with a certain embarrassment.

Eragon's jaw dropped again.

"Are you asking me to marry you two? In secret?"

Renir watched the scene with a deep curiosity, maybe thinking that humans complicated their relationships too much. With that Eragon could agree.

"Aye. But I understand if you don't agree. I promised to be impartial, and here am I, wanting to marry the queen who's expecting my child." Murtagh looked to ground.

Eragon felt bad for reacting in a bad way. His brother needed him. Despite being a political nightmare as he had stated, Eragon couldn't blame Murtagh for letting himself go that way. Once he had defended his brother to Arya, arguing that it was better to live and suffer than to have never loved at all. Murtagh was doing exactly that, living to the fullest. Eragon had to accept it.

"It is a troublesome situation, but I understand." He said kindly. "If that's what you want, you can count on me. But know this. From now on, I don't want any more secrecy. I didn't like that you followed Nasuada's recommendations instead of mine. And you need to be careful. You were very close to breaking your oath, but somehow you managed to act in benefit of others by tending to your personal interests."

Murtagh nodded.

"I know. That's why I want to apologize. I knew I should have asked what to do regarding the attack in the north, who should know about it or not. I failed, brother. I'm sorry."

Eragon stood up and opened his arms.

"Just promise it won't happen again and we can be happy about the new addition to our family. How does it sound to you?"

Murtagh's expression lit up and he went to hug Eragon. Over the other's shoulder, he said. "I promise. That's all I want."

Eragon smiled and tightened the hug. "Congratulations, brother."

Eragon dragged his feet up the stairs to her bedroom. He was exhausted, a little drunk and a lot worried. He found her reading under the candlelight on her bed, wearing her nightgown under the sheets. Arya watched as he kicked his boots away and climbed on the bed to bury his face in her neck. He hoped the smell of mead and smoke wouldn't bother her too much.

Arya put the book on the bedside table and cradled his head, running her fingers through his hair. It was the best thing he had ever felt.

"Talk to me." She spoke in a loving voice.

He breathed heavily against her skin and said without turning his head.

"Nasuada is expecting a child. Murtagh's child." Arya gasped. "And she wants to keep the pregnancy a secret, which included me not telling anyone. But you're not anyone, so..."

She pulled his hair very lightly to indicate she wanted to look at him, so Eragon turned away and lay on his back still inside her embrace.

"This means trouble, you know that, right?"

"Aye." He rubbed his eyes with the knuckles of his fingers. "But I'm trying to focus on the fact that my family is getting bigger, otherwise I'll go mad."

His eyes were heavy, but he saw under his nearly shutting lids her slight smile.

"Congratulations are in order, then."

Eragon smiled back and let the exhaustion take the best of him. His foggy mind still perceived when she moved away and blew the candle out, then adjusted herself to fit the side of his body. With extra laziness, he passed his arm around her and before they could fall asleep together as it was becoming a habit of theirs, he reunited enough energy to mumble.

"And there will be a wedding." Arya raised her head to look at him, but he didn't see, just sensed. "Two weddings, I think. And you will spar with me tomorrow morning."

Eragon felt her body shaking slightly with the movement of her quiet laugh. He didn't know what was so funny to her, but he knew he liked it when she laughed. To wake him up or to put him to sleep, he liked it even more that he was the one making her laugh. It was the sound of his dream coming true.

Chapter Text

Chapter 26 – The Wisdom of a Fool

Her eyes were inspecting him, he could feel it. From their shared dreams, he knew she had risen to her feet a while before and started her morning routine. She would let him have glimpses of her activities without fully allowing him to follow her steps. Arya was involving him in their fantasy world as he was still in deep rest. But now, after bathing and making them tea, she leaned against the balcony door watching him sleep with a cup in hands. The fresh smell of mint tea allured him out of his slumber.

Eragon led his hands to his eyes to block the clarity and massage his temple that felt in pain from the mead. He moaned softly by recognizing the aching feeling.

"Drink your tea, you will feel better." Arya said in a soft voice.

He sat up on the bed and reached the teacup on the bedside table. The warm liquid was a balsam to his raging stomach and after two or three gulps his mouth didn't taste so bad anymore.

"I heard we are going to spar this morning, is that right?" Arya asked amused.

He looked at her over the cup and took another sip before answering.

"If you want to, of course. I will be training with Renir for the games, so I thought you would like to join us."

"I will finally have the chance to cross blades with you. How lucky of me."

Eragon knew she was making fun of him because he had so vehemently refused to fight her in the past, just so he would start training Renir every day for years. He had explained to her that it was a sacrifice he had made as a teacher, for he would go almost any lengths to form his Riders well. She understood or pretended to, but the fact was that he was in debt to her.

"Don't expect much." He shoved the covers to the side and walked to the washroom. "I'm getting old."

She rolled her eyes as he closed the door behind him.

The washroom lacked all the comfort that Arya was accustomed to in Ellesméra. It was simple, human, but he tried to make it as efficient as possible until he could develop the technique to make it just like the ones in her hometown.

There was a copper basin on the stone counter where he poured fresh water from the jar. He washed his face and felt his unshaven beard of two days on his palms. When he raised his head to look in the mirror he debated if he would use magic to rid his face of the stubble since he hadn't brought his items to her house yet. It didn't look all bad, for his days of thin beard had long gone, but it wasn't an elegant look either. If he kept it, chances were that he would look disheveled even if he bathed and dressed well.

You are thinking too much. Saphira commented.

What do you think?

I don't think about your beard, Eragon, believe it or not.

That was rude. He frowned and started to undress to bathe.

Arya had made him the courtesy of filling the bathtub with fresh water after her bath. The bathtub had a hatch connected to the exterior. When the lever was pulled, the hatch allowed the water to be drained to the underground, where it would run off to the river. To fill the bathtub with water, however, he still had to find a better way than taking the water in buckets to the washroom.

He went inside the bathtub and felt another one of his good ideas working out well. A gem encrusted on the outside of the tub the size of his fist provided the energy used in the spell he had cast there. It heated the water on its own, not too much though, just enough for it to feel comfortable. In the winter, the spell would have to be adjusted.

The truth is rude sometimes. Saphira replied.

Eragon smiled. She was proud to the point of seldom apologizing for minor lapses in her behavior, but he didn't mind. He was her, after all. If there was one person who could understand and forgive her it would be Eragon.

Little one. She called and he noticed she was still inside her shelter. What do think about Nasuada and Murtagh?

He scrubbed his face and neck as he thought of the case.

Personally? Great. I wish them nothing more than all the happiness. But this child and their marriage are a political nightmare indeed. Orrin will not take well the fact that a Rider is so close to the throne. I wish I had known it sooner, for I wouldn't have threatened him.

He felt miserable to think he could've ruined a delicate peace between the two kingdoms.

It may be the perfect reason for Orrin to finally declare war against Nasuada. Saphira said with apprehension.

Oh, I don't doubt he will use it well. And Nasuada knows it, that's why she wishes to keep it a secret. What I hate is being a pawn in their political game.

Eragon hated that his work in forming good Riders in nothing mattered when political interests were bigger. In nothing mattered if his Riders knew how to treat the people with kindness and justice if their monarchs threatened to burn the land with a raging war.

If they start a war, what will be our duties?

We will try to mediate, but if everything fails, we cannot pick a side, but help the population of both nations in an equal manner. They will need healers and food distribution. We will have to enforce the law, both laws, with the absence of their armies. And also prevent and judge possible war crimes. We can't effectively fight, but we will have a lot to do when the time comes.

Let's hope it doesn't. Saphira said in a sad tone.

I'll work to prevent it with all my resources.

I know, little one. I trust you.

He finished his mourning routine still dwelling on the implications of a possible war between Surda and the Brodding Kingdom. It could be devastating for the entire Alagaësia. Besides that, there was the problem with the dark army in the north. He would send the Riders to barricade the area with protective spells, but how long it would hold he couldn't say. Again, he thought of doing the best he could but letting go if it wasn't enough. After all, he wasn't invincible.

He decided to leave his beard the way it was and deal with it later. He got dressed in the clothes from the day before and joined Arya on the lower level of the house. She was looking outside the kitchen window.

"I was thinking about putting a table outside the house, here, under the windows, so we could eat looking at the river." She said. "How does it sound to you?"

Eragon sat down at the kitchen table and reached for a plum.

"Great idea. I will look into it."

"How will you do it?" Arya asked and came to sit in front of him.

"I'll chop some wood down the riverbed so I can craft it." He said casually while eating the fruit.

She raised a brow.

"You will make it?"

"What? Don't you think I can? I know how to make furniture now. Who do you think that made all of this?" He meant the kitchen table, the chairs and the rest of the items in the living room.

"I imagined you had help."

He finished the plum and grabbed another one.

"Renir helped singing to the tree and building the garden. Inside the house, I've done it all."

Arya seemed impressed.

"Great job, builder."

Eragon chuckled softly and asked. "How many chairs do you want?"

"Two. Or are we expecting visitors?"

He felt his heart warm for how easily she included him in her plans and routine.

Eragon shook his head and smiled.

"No one should know about us, so it's safe to say we won't have visitors any time soon. Unless you wish to invite Renir and Avelina for a meal."

"You know they'll know, don't you? The others." She said with a raised brow.

"What do you mean?" Eragon paused the plum halfway to his mouth.

"Every boat coming east passes through here to sail back. They can see the house. Don't you think they wonder who lives here?" Her fingers were crumbling a piece of bread.

"They know it's you." Eragon shrugged and finished the plum in two bites. "The official story is that I made the house to your liking, in the elven style, so you should be comfortable when visiting us. I've never said anything about joining you."

"Still. I think they know." She took a bite of her bread.

Eragon stood up and went behind her to grab her shoulders.

"Guess and knowing are two different things." He kissed the top of her head and walked to the door. "I need to go to the eyrie to change and grab my sword. I need to bring some clothes here, it's impractical to come and go all the time. Will I meet you in the training area after?" He asked without turning back to her.

She didn't answer, which made him look at her when he was almost out the door.

"Arya? Are you all right?"

She was where he left her, but her eyes were beaming with unshed tears and a coy smile started to emerge from her lips.

"I am. I was just thinking… isn't this good?"

Eragon was confused at first but understood she was talking about their life together. He agreed. It had been only two days since he started spending the nights with her but for as banal as it was to go on with his day to day activities in her company, it made all the difference. He could start his day with a new disposition, once his heart was full of her affection.

"It is, my queen." He winked at her and turned again to leave just to remember one more thing. "By the way. I named my new sword Moonlight." He said in his native language. "Is it of your taste?"

Arya smiled with tenderness and bent her head slightly.

"Very proper. I like it."

"Good. See you there."

How easy it would be to combine their lives from that moment on he did not know, but he was glad he caved to her pleading. Living the month to the fullest would be more intense if they didn't have to say goodbye every night.

Eragon put on his helm and fixed his gloves and breastplates. Arya was standing opposite him in the training area looking as fierce as he remembered. He anticipated the fight to be straining.

Around the field, a small crowd was forming. The student Riders were relieved from their studies for the duration of the games, but they were all there. The other Riders and their dragons visiting the Academy were also interested in watching the combat. Besides them, some other Arngor residents were curious enough to stop their activities just for a bit.

"Word travels, doesn't it?" Eragon commented to Renir.

The elf shrugged and smirked.

"Ready?" Renir asked from the sidelines where he watched along with Avelina, Vance, and Runalla.

He nodded and so did Arya. Moonlight was unsheathed on one side and Támerlein on the other. Both Riders circled each other looking straight into the other's eyes. Eragon reflected on what his tactics would be since the Way of Knowing was a double-edged blade in that case. He knew her like he didn't know anyone else apart from Saphira, but if it was possible, she knew him even more. It would be easy for her to predict that he would try to read her and then to change her game to confuse him. Eragon decided that he would give her a side of him she didn't know yet, the teacher.

Just be careful. You may be trying to teach the teacher. Saphira said with humor.

Eragon wanted to look at her to gather some strength but feared Arya would take advantage of his distraction.

When she attacked, he did to her what he would do to Renir while training him. Moonlight guided Támerlein to hit the blows instead of deflecting it, but in the last second, he would dodge just enough for the dull blade to miss him. A game of risks. It was intended to create a sensation of success followed by frustration in her with each move she made, and little by little her annoyance was starting to show. But she wasn't just any warrior.

As he dodged her strike one more time, he let her sword almost graze on his chin. To avoid the contact, he had to raise his head and lose eye contact for a second. That was enough for Arya to take the opportunity and turn the blade of her sword to herself to stock his chin with the pommel of Támerlein. She was too quick, and his reflexes weren't match for her.

It seemed that the day had turned night inside his head, and he was engulfed by darkness as he fell back on the ground. He couldn't tell how much time he had spent unconscious, but it felt like an entire day had passed when he opened his eyes again. A wet patch on his neck and chest indicated that he was bleeding. Without their wards, it was a plausible outcome.

Saphira's laugh echoed inside his head along with another one, much lower.

It's not time for snoozing, Shadeslayer. Fírnen mocked.

Eragon raised his head to see Arya standing where she had started the fight, cold, impassive. He looked around still trying to focus his sight and saw Saphira and Fírnen unfazed by his injury. In fact, no one seemed worried about his well-being, instead, they were all amused by his defeat. It hurt his pride more than it hurt his face.

His eyes turned to Arya again. Her impassive mask hurt him more than anything. He wanted to wipe it off to reveal her true self.

That's it. She was wearing her cold mask, so all he had to do was to create fire. He was good at that, he had done it many times, mostly through annoying her, but lately, her fire was being caused by another reason. He was good at that either.

Eragon stood up and murmured Waíse heill to heal his wound. Wiping the rest of the blood that stuck on his skin, he looked at her with intensity under his helm. He forced his breathing to sound heavy and started his feline walk toward her.

At first, it seemed he would fail, but when they were about nine feet apart, Eragon saw her lips parting just the tiniest bit and her lids fell in the same measure. It was all he needed to know she was shaken. Taking her distraction as the perfect opportunity, he jumped with incredible speed in her direction and raised Moonlight to cut her on the side. She reacted late. It was only enough to stop the first cut because the one that followed came with no mercy. The impact of his blow on her breastplate made an agonizing clinking sound and threw her several feet back to make her fall with a loud thud.

Eragon looked at Renir who was frowning. He smiled to think that Renir had missed an important part of the interaction and was certainly doubting Arya's capability to hold herself against Eragon. The others seemed as confused as Renir, but for their complete ignorance. Avelina, on the other hand, was having her fun.

I remember when she taught you that trick. Saphira said.

She's a good teacher. Eragon replied with mirth.

Arya supported her weight on Támerlein to stand up. She stared into his eyes with a ferocity that would make anyone tremble in fear.

"Someone would say that you cheated." She grunted.

"And another one would state that I was simply using my adversary's weakness against her." Eragon smirked.

Arya hissed and lunged forward to attack him. They traded hits until they couldn't lift their arms anymore. Eragon didn't know what his strategy was or if he even had one, but every time he tried to pierce through her defenses, she moved to block it. And every time he would try to start her fire again, she blocked his intentions with a cold expression.

Each move she made had vicious intents. He needed to be creative in dodging or to counteract. She touched him more times and with more power than he wished, but he didn't stay behind and touched her just as much. Their dance was harmonious but complex. If she was flexible and powerful, he was fast and energetic.

At one point, after being defeated for he didn't know how many times, Eragon charged toward her with intentions of striking horizontally but he only raised his sword in the last second before colliding with her. He was fast, but she knew him, so Arya bent her body backward to let Moonlight pass. When he finished the movement having missed her completely, Arya had taken his back. The crowd cheered imagining she would submit him again. But he also knew her. He knew she wouldn't attack his back, instead, she would make him look at her blade before defeating him. So, he jumped at the exact moment as Támerlein passed under his feet. Arya tried to make him fall on his back before pressing the blade on his neck. The jump put him in the game again. They traded a few other blows until he touched her helm.

She had learned from her mistake and remained completely focused for the rest of the combat. Eragon, on the other hand, was learning from her, by the way, she was relentless in pursuing her goal. In the end, her perseverance and discipline were on par with his creativity, and they finished the fight with a simultaneous and reckless blow that made the swords collide with immense force throwing their arms back.

It was strong enough to make his arm tingle and a current run from his armpit to his wrist, all the strength he had was gone. Moonlight flew from his hand. The clinking sound of metal falling on stone was doubled because Arya had also dropped Támerlein.

They stood there facing each other, panting. He had forgotten how much he loved sparring with her. No one could give him such a thrill or could match his skills to perfection. Renir was as good as Eragon, but he was immature and often fell to his tricks. Avelina was quick and sophisticated, but he was messy and complex, which would make her exhaust her resources. No, there was no one else. Arya adapted to whatever he would throw at her and would make him push forward and forward until he had reached his limits. She was simply perfect.

The crowd cheered and clapped. Eragon could hear the impressed comments coming from the young Riders.

A little grin emerged from his lips as he removed the helm.

"I must admit. I missed this."

Arya removed her helm as well and smirked.

"I was right, wasn't I?"

Arya was right to insist they would spar many years before since it felt good to have her as his training partner. But he knew he wasn't healed from his internal afflictions. Every time he crossed swords with Renir or other students he had trouble quieting his mind afterward. It was like Glaedr would constantly remind him: he had to tame his mind, or he would be eaten alive from the inside by his monsters. He couldn't though. After all the self-improvement he had made during the years, he was still unfinished, flawed.

"As always, my queen."

The lightest shade of pink appeared on her honey-colored cheeks before she collected her sword and walked away with a smug smile.

Eragon watched as she went, and so did the audience. He had to share her grace and beauty with the others, and somehow it didn't bother him but made him proud.

Good fight, Eragon. You did well. Fírnen said as he followed Arya out of the training area.

Thank you, Fírnen.

She will beat you next time now she knows you play dirty. He joked.

Eragon laughed.

I'm sure she will.

The day was terribly hot already and it wasn't even noon yet. Eragon pitied the fighters that had to perform under the cruel sun. Roran was called to the fighting area, so he raised from his chair in the grandstand to watch more closely.

"I'm sorry I hurt you." Arya said to his right as she approached him.

"Oh. It was nothing." He smiled gently and touched his chin. "Besides, I suspect you aren't sorry at all, are you?"

She laughed lightly.

"Maybe."

After Arya had left the training area, the crowd became uninterested and dispersed to tend to their own business. A few people took their spots in pairs to practice, so did Eragon and Renir.

"Avelina will start training with Arya as well. Am I in trouble?" Renir asked while he prepared Brisingr for combat.

"With Avelina and Arya we are always in trouble, my friend." Eragon said with humor to the elf's dissatisfaction.

He meant it as a compliment to the two Riders, but Renir would hardly catch all the layers in his speech.

In the arena, Roran was facing the urgal that had challenged him in the opening night of the games.

"How stupid is my cousin for accepting the challenge?" Eragon asked Arya.

"Reckless but understandable. What was he supposed to do? Walk away?"

"Well, yes… They were all drunk. What difference would it make if he refused?"

Arya looked at him and raised her brows.

"Would you refuse?"

He pondered. In the name of honor, he knew he couldn't refuse.

"I wouldn't, but Saphira would make me."

Arya laughed and turned away.

"I would too." She said in a low voice, staring back at the competitors.

Eragon looked at her and couldn't believe she existed. That she was finally his and she cared about him. It couldn't be true.

"Are you real? How can you exist?"

Again, the musical notes of her gracious laugh filled the space between them.

"Stop the nonsense, Eragon. The fight is starting."

The urgal was a mining worker in Mount Arngor. He wasn't specifically strong or accomplished, but he was still an urgal. Eragon grabbed the parapet of the grandstand when he charged at Roran nearly missing the men's neck with one of his horns. It was a messy fight, with the pair rolling on the floor, throwing punches and kicks whenever it was possible. After much struggle to gain each other's back, Roran managed to get a grip on both the urgal's horns and spin him to the outside of the fighting area. The move left him exhausted but victorious. The crowd cheered loud chanting "Stonghammer". The urgarls were baring their teeth, but Eragon noticed it wasn't a threat against Roran but dissatisfaction with their fighter.

"Unbelievable." Eragon said stunned.

"What did you expect? He's a war hero, after all." Arya remarked.

"I guess I was a fool for doubting him."

Arya turned to him with a teasing expression.

"Let's say you have quite the experience of being a fool, don't you?"

She was making sure it was playful banter, so he didn't feel offended. But she was right.

"You know what's worse? I can't even fight you about this. I am a big fool."

He didn't know why her expression changed so quickly since they were still jesting, but in an instant, her forehead creased, and she looked sad somehow.

Eragon intended to ask her about it, but he was interrupted by Elva who appeared like a shadow in the night. He didn't even know she was near. She didn't say anything to him but stood on Arya's other side and whispered something in her ear.

"I'm fine, Elva. Thank you." Arya said, then turned back to Eragon. "Do you mind if we go talk somewhere else?"

Intrigued and confused, Eragon accepted her proposal. Saphira and Fírnen came to pick them up, and together they flew away. Eragon wondered if she didn't mind that they were raising suspicion for spending too much time together, but she seemed not to care. How odd.

Eragon and Arya mounted their dragons and parted for a long flight. The whole time they shared among the four of them their impressions and thoughts in their familiar link of minds. At some point, Eragon lost himself, not knowing if he was the one flapping the green wings or if he felt his long black hair flowing behind his small figure, or even if the blue flames he breathed came from his chest. They were one single organism.

As a four-headed creature they were, they decided to get to the river, feeling the summer sun burning their skin and damping their shirts with sweat. When they were flying low enough, their minds disentangled, and the Riders jumped from their dragons' backs into the water. Since Saphira and Fírnen didn't wear any saddles, they flew away, free of any restraints.

The Riders submerged and came back up again, feeling their clothes and boots heavy under the water. He noticed she had removed her diadem and held it in her hand. Finding their way to each other, they embraced and locked eyes. Green and brown, the perfect reunion.

Eragon smirked and pressed his forehead on hers, holding her waist. She ran her hands through his hair, and Eragon felt her affection pouring through her fingertips. Unable to wait anymore, he leaned forward to kiss her. She met his lips with the same desire, and there they stayed, inside each other's embrace, feeling all the love they could give.

As the current pushed them down the river, Eragon decided they would be more comfortable on the shore. He backed away from her and held her hand so they could swim.

"What was it that you wish to say? Is there something to do with Elva?" He said when they reached the shore and he sat by the water under a tree kicking his wet boots away.

Arya did the same, but she lay on the grass and looked up to the sky between the branches, as her diadem fell from her fingers.

"What you said made me feel bad, so Elva intervened. She doesn't do that often. I think she wanted to show you she is doing her part in the agreement."

Eragon frowned.

"What did I say? I don't understand."

"That you are a fool."

"You said that, I just confirmed."

"I was jesting." She threw him a severe look.

"So was I." Eragon shrugged as he tried to dismiss the heaviness of the subject.

"I don't think you are a fool."

He smiled.

"But I do. I get it. You think I'm making less of myself."

"You weren't like this in your younger years, but you tend to do that now. It bothers me."

"Why?"

"Don't you understand?" She sat up straight. "As long as you keep thinking you don't deserve appreciation you won't heal. You showed me how I can heal from my past, but you still seem blind to your own.

She understood why he had planted the black morning glory there just for her. He wondered if her distant behavior of the day before had something to you with it. He wondered if she was spending a lot of time in the garden.

Arya came close to him so she could stare deep in his eyes.

"You are worthy. And beautiful." Her hands cupped his cheeks. "I have been wanting to tell you that lately, but somehow the words get stuck in my throat."

Eragon didn't know what to say. Arya had made it clear that she wanted and desired him, but her emotions were difficult to read. He knew she had love for him since he had seen it in her true name, but he felt she was far from speaking of it to him. Complimenting him was also a difficulty for her, as it seemed.

"Arya, you don't have to…"

Her fingers stopped his words.

"I do. You surround me with care and appreciation when I can't even tell you how wonderful you are and how much I admire you." Arya ran her fingers through his face as he closed his eyes to enjoy it. "You are not a coward, you are not a fool. You are brave, smart…" With each word, her fingers would caress a different part of his face. "You are caring, funny, handsome."

With his eyes closed, he smiled and shook his head.

"You really don't have to do this, Arya."

Her response was a soft kiss on his lips. He felt a drop of water run from her skin to his and in a second the refreshment they felt after dunking in the river was gone.

The sun was high in the sky as midday approached while the two lovers basked in each other's arms. They lazily tasted each other's mouths, taking time to memorize every flavor, every single detail of each other's lips and tongue. Eragon felt like he was quenching a deep thirst with her saliva. Or like she was the air and he was drowning. Every touch of hers was a discovery for him. He had found out the night before how much he enjoyed when she would cradle his head when he was feeling exhausted. At this moment, he was realizing that her slow and involving kiss was just as satisfying as her fiery ones. He loved that iron grip on his hair, but the way she brushed his neck and chest with her light feather-like hands was just as enticing.

How long they stayed there he did not know, but enough for the sun to turn the morning into a hot and bright afternoon. The way the light reacted on the green of her eyes making it almost like a clear ocean sent Eragon into a trance. She was the pinnacle of beauty, and her colors painted the most incredible picture, impossible of being recreated by anyone's hands. He stared at her with such adoration, that she ignited the passion inside her, making her press every single part of her body on his as he fell on his back on the grass. Eragon could feel her pulse and her warmth all over his body, and it was enough to make him feel hot again, but this time it had nothing to do with the sun, and everything to do with how much he wanted her.

Arya grabbed the hair on the back of his head and weighted on him, in her customary dominant way. Her mouth attacked his senses, cornering him in his own desires. He didn't know what to do, if he kept within her reach, he would lose all control, all the patience he had promised her when he told her his love was wise, patient, selfless, not blinded by lust. There was nothing selfless in the way he felt about her right there at that moment, and it was blinded by lust.

He wanted more than anything to satisfy that lust, to feel her all around him, skin to skin. But that wasn't the time. She hadn't led them in that direction yet or even said he could ask for more. He needed her to say it.

So, he gathered the last of his restraints and pulled his mouth away from hers, feeling her iron grip trying to keep him in place. In the little space he managed to gain between their lips, his words came out weak and deep. "I need a break."

Arya opened her eyes while she loosened her hold on him and raised her body over his.

He rolled away and turned his back to her as he sat up. His breathing started to slow down to a normal rate, and finally, his reason was being fully restored. Just as he was feeling more owner of himself, he heard the grass being ruffled up behind his back, and soon her hands circled him and rested on his chest. Immediately his heart begun to speed up inside his core, and her voice came as an electric current running from his ears to his legs. The effect she had on him was almost insanity.

"What happened?"

Eragon took a deep breath before answering.

"I needed time to compose myself. But you are not helping." He felt his cheeks burning.

She brushed his ear lobe with her lips and whispered.

"I want you, Eragon. Can't you tell?" His heart went from beating fast to almost jumping out of his chest. "I want you now."

Every little step he climbed with Arya was a victory he did not expect to get in his lifetime, only hoped. But at the moment, it was all happening, and he couldn't believe that.

He turned around to look at her and lost his breath completely. The colors were still mixing inside her perfect frame, pink cheeks and green eyes on a honey background, lighted with a bright light. Phenomenal. Divine.

"Today. But not now. Not here." He managed to say while he grasped the collar of her tunic and pulled her to him but kept a small distance between them.

She ran her fingers on his forearm back and forth and smiled.

"Later at night then. In the treehouse."

Eragon smiled back at her and kissed her lightly on the lips, still keeping her apart from him.

"Tonight. Wait for me."

"I will. And don't forget to bring your things, or I will think you've given up on living with me."

Eragon smiled and shook his head. Never.

Chapter Text

It was hard to control her heartbeat. Eragon was on his way to the treehouse as she felt their world changing forever.

Fírnen approached the balcony where she was breathing the night air. He raised his head so she could face him. No words were exchanged, but Arya felt his affection surrounding her through their bond, and at once her heart calmed down inside her chest. He touched her forehead very lightly with his nose and retreated to his shelter.

Not long after, Saphira appeared gliding over the Edda River, circling the Tialdarí Hill until she landed on the grass in front of the treehouse. Arya took a deep breath and went inside the bedroom, where she listened to the front door being opened, then locked. His steps on the stairwell where light but rhythmic. His image when he emerged in the room was all she needed to put her anxiety to rest finally. Eragon was apprehensive but warm as always. In his right hand, he carried the bag with his belongings. She smiled to see that.

He dropped the bag on the floor as she approached him. His eyes never left hers, and she suspected he was looking for something in particular that she did not quite know what it was. Maybe security? Confidence? Affection? Arya made sure to give it all to him.

Her swift fingers untied his cape and let it fall to the ground. Next, it was his belt. Or at least she tried. Eragon chuckled at her frustration to realize it was enchanted. The corners of his eyes creased in that charming way she adored. Only his hands were allowed to unbuckle his belt, so he did.

Then she proceeded to unbutton his fine northerner vest, from top-down, slowly, caressing his chest over the fabric, never ceasing their eye contact. His breathing quickened when she removed the piece of clothing and let it rest with his cape and belt. Her hands glided over his torso making him close his eyes to savor every touch of her fingers.

She reached to the hem of his tunic and pulled it up. He raised his arms to let her slide the cloth off him. Arya scratched his chest, feeling the lines of his muscles under the thin layer of hair. She watched as the corners of his lips slightly pulled upward, meaning he was ticklish. She smiled and stepped back, admiring his figure. Handsome and alluring, like no one else.

During dinner in the mountain, Arya distracted herself from her anxiety with a serious conversation with Nasuada. The human, as Arya noticed, wished to hide her pregnancy by talking about the next political moves her kingdom and the elves should take together, considering the advances made by the army of magicians. Discussing the near future was fruitless if she was going to be occupied with a more important matter. Arya never implied she knew about it.

To her left, Eragon's seat was empty because he chose to spend time with Murtagh, Roran and the rest of his family. She looked in his direction at the table in front of hers. It was as if he had sensed her eyes grazing on the back of his head. He turned to her and gave her a warm smile. Her stomach flipped with anticipation.

Arya took his hand and guided him to the bed where he sat on its edge, where he kicked his boots away. She stood in front of him between his legs and ran her fingers through his soft brown hair. She thought at that moment that of all the things she loved about him his hair was something she would have never considered being so enticing before. She loved the way it felt between her fingers.

After taking her time massaging his scalp for both of their pleasure, she rested her hands on his shoulders and brushed her lips on his forehead, feeling his breath on her chest. She caressed his brow and eyelids with the soft touch of her lips. Went down his nose until his mouth. With her left hand, she lifted his chin and placed the softest kiss on his closed lips. So light he could have mistaken it for a puff of air. Then she decided to draw the contours of his lips with her tongue, tasting his pinky skin. Arya could spend the rest of her life savoring his taste and texture, bathing in his smell of wet grass and rain.

Eragon parted his lips to receive the deep kiss he was hoping for, but with a mischievous smile, she backed away, breaking their contact. He let out a protesting groan and opened his eyes. Never stopping to smile, she closed the distance again just to place a kiss on the corner of his mouth before trailing her way on his jaw to his right ear, feeling his stubble prick her lips but in a pleasant manner. He closed his eyes again to enjoy her torturous caresses.

In his ear, she whispered. "Has anyone ever touched you tender like this, Eragon?"

She waited like that for a while before turning to see his face. He had a pained expression and she regretted asking that. Eragon shook his head, to what she said with all the affection and care a person could carry. "It's all right, my Rider. I am here now."

She kissed his lips, his neck, his chest and stomach; all the while, her fingernails traced a path on his arms. Biceps, the inside of his elbows and forearms. When their hands met, she was on her knees before him. Looking up to him, she saw his expectations rise. She united their hands and kissed first his knuckles and then his palms, slowly, teasingly. After that, he raised his hands to cup her face.

The look in his eyes was breathtaking for Arya. How could someone show so much of themselves with only a look? Right there he was bare in front of her. All his doubts and apprehension, all his fragility and all his adoration. But all his strength too. They were all laying down for her to see. Right there, she could not feel more desired. He made her feel invincible, as she was the most important being in the world. There was no bigger flattery than that.

Arya stood up and with a quick movement, she took off her tunic letting it rest on the floor. Her exposed torso caught his eyes, and she watched as his chest started to move up and down fast from the shallow breaths he was taking. He was hyperventilating with the sight of her naked breasts. A perverse satisfaction ran through her head, but it was suppressed quickly. She would not allow herself to be so vain on his expenses.

Arya stepped forward and cradled his head to her chest, which made him even more nervous.

"Breathe, Eragon. Breathe."

It took him several seconds for him to start doing as she commanded, but once he did, she felt him relax under her grasp. Slowly, his hands were gliding up on her thighs and bottom, where he grabbed her at the same time he looked up to see her face. His ability to change expressions never failed to surprise her, so her heart skipped a beat when she saw raw desire burning in his eyes. The most appealing shade of pink colored his cheeks, and Arya thought her legs would crumble under the weight of her wonderment for the way he looked.

Without diverting his gaze, he kissed her between her breasts, her stomach and down her belly, creating a tingling sensation where he touched. She felt how much she wanted him and how big her urgency was as his fingers hooked the waistband of her pants before pulling it down and making her step out of it. His breath traced a fiery pathway down her skin between her legs, and there was nothing left for her to do but to dig her nails on his scalp and throw her head back at the notion that he was tasting her so intimately.

Arya did not remember ever feeling like that with Fäolin, the only lover she had ever had before Eragon. With him, it had always felt ethereal, immaterial somehow, like a link of ideas rather than bodies. She could not say there wasn't pleasure, of course there was, but with the elf, she had never felt she would burn away if he didn't touch her where Eragon was touching her, or he didn't place his lips and tongue where Eragon was placing his.

And that was the moment she knew she would be forever loyal to Eragon. There was no escape. Not because of the physical sensation he was giving her, but the way he made her lose herself just to be found again. It was the way he would love her even before she could even love herself. The fact that he accepted her in a way she could never accept herself. But above all, it was the way she wanted to do for him all that he did for her. She became completely devoted to making them the best versions of themselves.

Every movement he made intending to pleasure her, then pick her up and place her on the bed, was a step closer to the commitment she was willing to take throughout their lives. When he weighed on her and moved his hands to finish undressing, she was sure she would follow him into the cruelest battles life was planning for him. And feeling him on her, in her and all around her only created a bond she could never understand, neither she wanted to.

Feeling him in her was almost too much. It was almost as if her body wasn't hers anymore, it was his, but at the same time, she had never felt as owner of herself as in that instant. It was confusing but enlightening. It was doom and redemption, all in one.

Eragon and Arya were practically the same size in height. Once she heard someone whispering to his fellow soldier after a battle that together they looked like twin shadows, slaughtering their way to the king. Indeed. She would normally see him eye to eye, but at that moment, he was a giant, occupying all the extension of her bed and mind. Wherever she thought of moving to, he was. In her haze, it took her a few instants to realize that she was the one looking for him. Her hands would travel from the back of his head to the lowest of his back. All over his thighs. His arms were already branded by her iron claws. If he was the giant, she was making no effort to escape him.

It was curious for Arya to notice that her guidance in their relationship consisted of taking the first steps because Eragon could pick up the pace of their complex dance as he was born for it. On top of her, he was the master of her pleasure, by the way he tasted her honey skin in all her corners and lines. Her body arched when she felt his teeth grazing on her nipples, neck, and earlobe. She could not stop her nails from digging on his firm arms or back.

Inside their embrace, Arya stopped the kiss he was laying on her neck to bring him to look in her eyes. She wanted to see what pleasure looked like for him. She bucked her hips up and ripped a groan from his lips as her own pleasure built up inside of her. They stared at each other as he intensified the rhythm of his thrusts. It was like looking in the mirror. His love was hers and her devotion was his. She met his thrusts with more passion as they stared at each other. It was almost too much for her.

Heartbeats like drums. Whimpering like strings. Moans like sensual chords pushing the dancer-like lovers to increase the intensity of their movements. They would meet each other and break apart, just to reunite again. The air that came out of her lungs filled his own. The sweat that damped her hair fell from his forehead. And nothing in the entire world could have prevented the partners to lock each other in the most intimate dance.

Until finally, the grip of her walls around him pushed him to the edge, and his final move made her convulse in the most primitive and fundamental pleasure. Their final step made the music slow down and fade in the face of destiny, predicted by more than one prophecy. She knew at that moment that they were bound to each other, no matter time or space, or what others had to speak about it. They were all that mattered.

Still panting, they lay on the bed, side by side, until she turned to her right side to face him. His pale skin was glistening under the faint candlelight as his chest moved up and down to follow his breaths. Arya would never forget that moment. She would never forget him.

His eyes met hers. They smiled at the same time, and for some reason they laughed together, as it seemed funny to them that after all they had been through they ended up there, sharing a bad, a house, their intimacy.

She reached his chest with her left hand and like that they both fell into their sea of dreams, softly allowing each other entrance, like old friends, that indeed they were.

They stayed in the same position, roaming around each other's dreams until the first rays of sun came through the balcony and all the windows around the room. Arya opened her eyes very lazily, as she stroked Eragon's chest hair. She watched as he wandered through the realm of his waking dreams. They were peaceful, as she attested from walking inside his mind. He looked calm and content. But that wasn't exactly the way she felt.

Even though the night before had been the best she had in a very long time, if not ever, and satisfaction ran through her entire body, Arya worried that their lives from that point on would be terribly difficult. His pleads for her to stay in Arngor and her resentment of him for not coming back to Alagaësia, allied to the judgment of her counselors, would be taken to a painful level, beyond tolerable. It was certain that the word of their union would spread like wildfire. People would know, she would be in danger, Eragon could be accused of favoring the elves. Despite all, she knew she would be loyal. How much pain she would be able to take under this resolution? How about him? Was she willing to see him suffer when their next goodbye was said? She knew not. But of one thing she was completely sure, he was very much worth it.

Fearing he could sense her troublesome line of thought, she retreated from his mind after mentally speaking Rest. I won't be gone long.

He stirred but did not wake or replied. Placing a soft kiss on his cheek, she got out of bed. Arya grabbed a change of clothes and went to the washroom, to take a bath and make sense of all that had happened.


From peaceful images of an afternoon in the sun, Eragon's waking dreams turned to a terrible succession of bloody faces and red mists on the battlefield. He remembered those faces; they were the men he had slaughtered mercilessly on his way to defeat Galbatorix. Their eyes pierced his soul, leaving him hollow inside. He watched as his feet marched and sunk in the soaked terrain. Soaked with blood. But not his. Never his. Pain and guilt consumed him, so he forced himself to shake away those thoughts and wake up brusquely.

Eragon sat up fast on Arya's bed, feeling anxious and panting uncontrollably, the sheets that covered his torso fell to his lap. He felt his heart clenching, and his breathing became shortened. His eyes couldn't see clearly anymore, despite the sunlight entering through the windows, for tears clouded his vision. Eragon tried to touch Saphira's mind and found her too deep in her sleep to hear him. Alone and anxious, he felt a dull pain in his chest as the thought of all those people slain by his own hands haunted his mind. His breaths ended up coming in sobs. His hands were cold.

Just when he thought he was on the verge of passing out or throwing up, he felt a pair of warm hands clasping his face on both sides and a nervous voice calling his name.

"Eragon? What's wrong? Eragon!"

He blinked twice until he could recognize Arya's worried face staring at him. She was kneeling on the bed in front of him, her hair was wet from bathing.

"Breathe! Breathe!"

Eragon tried to take a deep breath, but only managed to inhale a small portion of air. He did it again, this time her smell brought him up to his senses. The third time, he was completely able to fill his lungs to their full capacity. Letting the air out slowly, he closed his eyes, feeling his heart rate coming down to a normal pace. A tear was squeezed out of his eye and rolled down his cheek.

Arya brushed her thumbs on his cheeks, wiping the tear away, and called him once again, in a softer voice. He opened his eyes and looked at her.

"What happened?" She questioned in his familiar language.

He took another deep breath.

"I just remembered things. It happens sometimes. I'm fine."

Switching to the Ancient Language, she asked again.

"Eragon, what happened? What did you see?"

"I'm f..." The word got lost in his throat, he couldn't say it, because it was not true. He thought about their night together instead, and that helped him get the words out. "I'm fine."

She raised a brow, noticing his stratagem.

"All right. You don't have to tell me. But you will confide in me if you need help, right?"

It was not a request, so he felt compelled to obey her. But she didn't have to tell him that, he would gladly come to her in a moment of need, he just needed a little bit of time to process his feelings.

"Sure." He got his arms around her waist and brought her to him. She settled herself inside his embrace, with her back pressed against his chest. Arya waited patiently for his next words.

"I made little to no progress at all in taming my dreams. Every time I sit to meditate and work on my problems, I keep remembering darker times. I believe my mind twists the memories to make them even worse. It's like a perverse self-punishment."

He wanted to look in her eyes to watch her reaction but decided to stay in that position, with his nose breathing her scent directly from her hair and neck.

"What did you see?"

"Everyone I killed, the ones I can recognize and many faceless ones. The guilt of all the lives I took is eating me alive. I didn't realize before leaving Alagaësia that I could never escape the things I did. They're following me here."

She turned just enough to see his eyes.

"It's the price we pay for the causes we believe in."

"You said once that you are bothered by the past as well. Do you have these thoughts? Of killing?"

She sighed.

"What kind of heartless person would I be if I didn't? I just try my best to control my emotions."

He nodded and buried his face in the crook of her neck. She was better than him in many things, self-control was only one of them. It wasn't a petty thought to consider this, just an observation.

"Eragon." Her voice was quiet and warm. "Did my absence made it happen? Would it still happen if I were here when you woke up?"

Eragon lifted his head as Arya turned completely to face him. She straddled him, her hands going behind his neck.

"Of course you are not the one to blame. You didn't do anything. But I can't debt that I feel at peace with you here, I felt the touch of your hand on my chest and it was calming to me. It was like ten years ago, on the beach. Or when we shared that memory. You came to ease my emotions, I was well then." Eragon leaned his head back a little to see her eyes. "I usually have Saphira around to help me. She isolates the thoughts in my mind before we fall asleep so I don't see them. Does Fírnen do that for you too?"

She started playing with his hair.

"Sometimes. Especially the most painful memories. I can see him locking it all away so I won't revisit them in my rest. But only when I can't do it myself."

Eragon held an aching expression, as he knew what memories she was referring to.

"How often do you think about that?" He asked unsure if she would respond.

"Gil'ead you mean?" He was surprised she mentioned it.

With a faint nod, he encouraged her to continue.

"Every day, at least once." She had a bitter grin. "I've told you once I like to torture myself just to see how far I can go, haven't I? Some days are worse than others, but some days are as easy as breathing the fresh air." Her shoulders rose in a shrug.

Eragon's eyes widened in shock. Everyday? How painful it must be to relive your trauma over and over? Well, he remembered the war every day as well. Sometimes it was the horrible sight of his uncle's body, killed by the Ra'zac. Other days, he would wake up sweating to the image of Arya breaking her thumb to rid herself of the shackles they were put in under Helgrind. Or Saphira's body pierced by a magical spear. But the faces of his dead enemies were his most constant company. In a way, he understood what she said and felt bad that she would go through that.

"I... I'm so sorry. I didn't realize it was this bad."

She smiled gently at him and came close to give him a light kiss on the lips.

"That's because I always thought I didn't need anyone's help. I thought I couldn't trust anyone with my feelings."

He was surprised to hear her being so honest about that. Arya wasn't too keen on speaking up about her emotions and flaws. It surprised and humbled him that she would talk about that with him.

"So why now?"

Her fingers traced the curve of his neck and went back up to his hair. It tickled him.

"If I'm willing to shield you from your nightmares, then I need to open up for you to do the same for me. Isn't it fair? Besides, I'm truly committed to you, or wasn't it clear last night?"

Eragon felt emotion build up in his chest. She was telling him she would protect him from himself, the enemy he never thought he would have, and would let him do the same for her. The certainty of her affection hit him like a wave of the angriest ocean. He nodded, unable to speak, and reached her mouth with his. After the kiss, he went for a hug and tightened his arms around her firmly. Arya enclosed her embrace on his back and caressed his bare skin with her nails. Eragon could find peace in that embrace, despite their troubled minds. It was easy to want to stay there forever, inside her arms, under her shelter.

"You know I'm yours too, don't you?" He said with a shaken voice.

Arya let out a small laugh.

"I had a suspicion for quite some time now. But It's good to hear it nonetheless."

In her neck, he spoke, and even if the sound came out muffled, he was sure she could hear him.

"I'm yours and I love you, my queen."

Her response was an even tighter embrace and a deep sigh. He didn't need more than that, he could hear her quiets like nobody else.

Chapter Text

 

Saphira flapped her wings toward the mountain as Eragon enjoyed the sight of the river and the woods down below.

Little one… She started apprehensively.

Yes, Saphira.

This morning…

He knew what she was trying to say. It was about the nightmare he had earlier that morning. He could feel her guilt for unintentionally blocking him while she was asleep. Because he couldn't reach her, desperation took over his core until Arya's hands came to save him. But he could never blame her, it was not her duty to tame his stray thoughts after all.

Don't worry, Saphira. I'm all right.

I should be watchful of you. She lamented.

You should not. I'm the one to blame for not solving my problems. It's been twenty years, and I'm still caught up in this maze of bad memories and nightmares.

But you haven't solved it yet, I should be there for you. I'm sorry.

Eragon stretched his arm to touch her neck. He knew she must have been feeling terrible since such a display of contrition was not common coming from her. He wished to ease her concern.

I'll accept it just so you feel better. Do you feel better?

No. But I appreciate it.

She took a turn left and the mountain was in full view, but she didn't approach it yet. They both wanted to enjoy their time together.

Eragon felt the change in her mood. It was playful all of a sudden.

So… Last night. Was it how you expected? She asked.

She knew what his thoughts and feelings were regarding the subject, but for some reason, she wanted to hear it. Or make him feel embarrassed. Either way, it humored them both.

In a way. I mean… It's Arya. She is not like anyone else. Eragon answered thinking of the night before.

Saphira was amused as he noticed through their mental connection. I will have to take your word for it. So, no, it wasn't as you expected, was it?

I don't know what I expected. How could I expect anything? I mean... Argh, I don't know. It was good, all right? More than good, perfect. It's all that matters.

Eragon could feel his ears burning as he was the teenager that had fallen in love with a beautiful elf a long time ago. Much had changed since then, but he felt that the excitement and the anxiety would never fade. What if it faded? Would it be a bad thing if it did? He could not know for sure.

Finally diving to the entrance of the mountain, Saphira shook her head and threw him a glance over her shoulder.

It always felt to me that you expected a lot. But I'm glad you two are doing well together. You are finally good to each other.

Eragon smiled satisfied for the pieces of his life were coming together. He felt accomplished. Not relaxed, of course, since he still had many insecurities toward Arya and many duties that required his constant vigilance, but somehow, he felt at peace. It was all good.

It was also good to have his friend around again after more than a year away. Eragon missed the companionship that he shared with Renir. They were good listeners to one another and they both knew they could share their secrets knowing the other one would be completely loyal. Having him back in Mount Arngor was a great joy.

Renir was already waiting for him in the training field. He frowned at his master to see he hadn't brought Moonlight with him.

"I thought we were going to spar. I have a big fight today."

"I know. That's why we will only revise your strategy. You need to save your energy for later."

Eragon went to the weapons stand in the corner of the hall where they kept all the swords, axes, spears and shields. He grabbed his bamboo bat and joined Renir. It was early, but a few competitors were already performing their training routine scattered around the area.

The two Riders studied the best moves and positions Renir could use when fighting his next opponent that was the elven champion, undefeated for the last five years. Eragon didn't know his fighting style, but Renir had seen him competing in the year before, and for the report he gave, Eragon had to instruct his pupil to be as guarded as possible. The elven champion was an old memory in Eragon's mind as being one of the only two children in Ellesméra during his time training with Oromis and Glaedr more than twenty years before. Dusan was his name. Many had expected that Dusan and his sister Alanna were going to become Riders someday, but it hadn't happened yet. They still touched the eggs every year.

"Let him make mistakes, many mistakes." He showed Renir how to induce his opponent's errors. "Then, when he's feeling frustrated you attack. It's your chance to be yourself. Summing up, you only let out your aggressiveness when he's already tired. I'm sure your stamina can surpass his."

Eragon let him practice the defensive moves for about half an hour, before ending their training. As they walked together to the arena through the hallways, he thought Renir was awfully quiet.

"What's wrong with you? Are you worried about the fight?"

Renir shook his head and kept his eyes to the ground.

"I've been talking to Avelina about the threats in the north. Disagreeing more than talking... There's something I wish to ask of you, but if she finds out…"

Eragon looked at him and narrowed his eyes. How many secrets would he have to keep? Murtagh and Nasuada's, Renir's, his own.

"Don't tell me you want me to assign her to go tend to another region so she will be safe." Renir seemed guilty but didn't deny or stare back at him.

Eragon stopped and grabbed his arm. "I will give you a chance to pretend we've never spoken of this."

Renir creased his forehead and finally looked back at Eragon.

"How couldn't I ask that? Avelina is in danger in the north, and I simply wish to protect her. What would you do if it were Arya instead?"

Eragon snorted in amusement.

"It is Arya, can't you see? She is responsible for guarding the whole forest and the entire nation of the elves, who by chance is in the north. She is the head of the spear on every possible conflict. You expect me to tell her to stand back and let others do her work?"

He saw frustration in Renir's expression.

"I don't want her to get hurt." He said low.

"You will hurt her more if you keep this protective stance toward her." Eragon advised.

"Look who's talking! You put Elva to protect Arya and now you try to teach me a lesson?"

"That was different." Eragon shook his head.

"How so, may I ask?" Renir crossed his arms on his chest.

"Arya was under direct threats against her life. Still is. Elva is there to sense imminent danger, not to fight for her. Arya is well capable of fighting for herself."

"So Elva won't fight Arya's offender if the time comes? I heard she had become quite a swordsman." He raised a brow in suspicion.

Eragon laughed and resumed his walk.

"I can assure you she won't. She is not the type that does more than it's necessary. Sacrificing herself for the well-being of others is not in her nature."

"Maybe that's because she believes she had already sacrificed too much." Renir followed.

"Maybe. But still, don't expect much of her."

Renir took a deep breath to calm himself. Eragon would always wait for his outbursts to pass and try not to antagonize him too much. He noticed Renir had made good progress in taming his temper but still there was a lot he could do to keep improving.

"You won't assign her to anywhere else then?" His voice was low and disappointed.

"She's good to the people in the Valley. Even Ceunon is grateful for her. I won't change that. I'm sorry."

They walked in silence until they had left the hallways and joined the crowd in the outside toward the arena. The sunny morning was gathering many spectators to the games. They carried banners and chanted easy melodies. It was a joyful occasion. Eragon and Renir were swallowed by the big group.

"When will you take the cats with you?" Renir asked above the chattering.

"Why should I?"

Renir's lips were pursed.

"They've been scratching my door every night since you started to spend time in the treehouse." The last part was whispered near Eragon's ear so the passersby wouldn't listen. "It's annoying."

Eragon laughed.

"I thought you liked cats."

"I do, but letting them sleep with me is a different kind of liking. There's hair all over my bed and they keep moving around."

Eragon kept the smile but shrugged.

"They will find me if they wish to. I won't take them from their home."

Renir growled low, which made Eragon laugh again.

"They are too old to walk all the way toyou. How old are they, by the way? Twelve, fifteen? It's abnormal for a cat to live more than that, you know?"

"Our lives as Riders aren't normal, so why the creatures around us should be?"

Renir held a confused expression.

"What do you mean?"

"I'm talking about the dragons, of course. You can perceive the difference between life here in Arngor and Alagaësia better than I can since you've been residing there now. Doesn't the magic here change the land in a way that doesn't happen there?"

Renir kept confused but Eragon could notice he was thinking.

"I… don't know. It seems the same, I think."

Eragon smiled kindly and patted on his shoulder.

"One day you will see, but don't take too long because before we all know it, Alagaësia will be as magical as this place since the dragons will fly all over the land again."

"And cats there will live as long as the ones here? I can't wait." He said with a frown.

Indeed, Mount Arngor would see unexpected events more surprising than long-lived housecats. Once a crowd formed in a tunnel under the mountain hidden from all sorts of natural light just because the most exotic flower had blossomed between the rocks on the wall. And it still lived despite their excavation around it. It was odd and beautiful. Eragon couldn't classify such occurrence as a common and natural phenomenon, it had to be driven by the magic of the dragons.

Another time, two miners, a dwarf and a human, were found completely healed and well-nourished after being trapped in a cave for two weeks in an expedition east to find a good reserve of iron ore they could use. They couldn't remember how they had stayed healthy and strong for so long without having any food with them. The Eldunarí assured Eragon that they hadn't intervened but maybe the magic from the wild dragons living on the coast a few miles away was so powerful that it reached the cave and sustained the lives of those two men. Eragon wondered why, so they stated that the life of those who work for a bigger purpose than themselves would always be cherished and guarded if possible. No more explanations were given.

After that, he stopped being shocked when the unexpected happened. Not even when his people met with a group of eastern natives, far down the river, who were armed with spears and blades. They were confronted by the natives for a matter of territory because inadvertently they had trespassed the others' lands. The easterners suddenly lowered their weapons for no apparent reason and pointed the Arngor's residents to the nearest shelter so they could spend the night. From a confrontation to a warm welcome, no words were spoken for they wouldn't understand each other. Peace installed between them all, and it lasted. Fortuitous, but odd.

It was because of such spontaneous manifestations of magic that he would refrain from using his magical powers when it wasn't necessary. He felt like wasting a precious resource when he got rid of his facial hair or lit a fire with a word or two. It was silly, he knew it, for magic was infinite when energy was available, still, he felt better that way.

It was a shame that Renir still didn't have the sensibility to perceive those details regarding magic. Eragon feared that maybe Renir had spent too little time around his people, who were magical by nature.

That's silly. Some others perceive it, and they had never been in contact with magic before. Avelina, for instance. Saphira said as she passed flying by him to take her place in the arena.

Still, it worries me. He was capable of diving deep in the study of the true names, a powerful magic, but the subtleties of it are a mystery to him. How will he be able to take my place in the tutelage of the Eldunarí of he can't see it?

Patience, little one. He will see it.

Eragon sighed, which caught Renir's attention. He dismissed the other's concern and wished him good luck as they separated. Renir went to the competitors' area and he went to the bleachers to sit with his family.

Can you be patient? I mean, the faster he's ready the sooner we can go back to Alagaësia.

Saphira accommodated herself between Fírnen and Runalla as she responded.

I'm not as eager to go back as you. Fírnen may be a great reason to go, but I have other good ones to stay.

Eragon punished himself mentally. Of course she wanted to stay. Her eggs were in Mount Arngor. She would not separate from them. Besides, her duties were there either. And she was needed in the lair for the wild dragons would sometimes reach her for instruction since she was their elder.

You are right, Saphira. I'm sorry.

He saw Katrina waving at him, so he walked to her.

Don't be silly. You have nothing to be sorry about. You are distracted, it's understandable.

Nothing will distract me from you. Nothing or no one can distract me from you. We will stay how long you wish to, even when Renir takes my place and Vance takes yours.

He felt her laughing in his mind.

I would like to see Vance taking my place. He's too much of an intellectual for such heavy work.

Eragon laughed just as he dodged the people who were trying to find good seats. His humor raised a few brows.

We will have to see how it goes then.

Yes, little one. Don't stress about the future. Our present feels too good for us to get ahead of ourselves.

He smiled because of what she said but also because of Katrina and Ismira were greeting him.

Life is good, Saphira.

Life is good, little one.


After Eragon had left to meet Renir in the mountain, Arya accommodated herself on the big flat boulder by the river to wait for Avelina. Fírnen sat by her side and they enjoyed the sunlight together.

Beautiful morning, don't you think?

She hummed her agreement and looked at him to wait for his next comment.

And how do you feel? He asked.

Arya smiled.

You know how I feel, Fírnen, you know everything about me.

True. He moved from his hind legs to a laying position.

"How do you feel, Fírnen?" She used her voice to speak.

You know that too, don't you? He wasn't acting in his usual irreverent way.

"I know you are worried, I just don't know why."

He glanced at her then turned his head away, looking down the river.

You committed to him last night. He said without emotion.

"I did. Why is that worrisome to you?"

You didn't free him from his promise first. What if you committed to something you cannot do? You will get hurt. You both will.

Arya would never think that Fírnen would be so conservative about her choices. He was the one who usually pushed her to be more open and take risks.

"What do you think he will ask of me?"

To stay here. To abdicate the throne and come live with him.

Arya shook her head.

"He knows I can't stay, and he wouldn't ask me to abdicate. He said it before when he told me of his plans for preparing Renir to lead."

Fírnen blew a cloud of smoke and watched it fade away.

Whatever that is, then, allow him to say it. He should do it now not later when you will be too involved to refuse.

Arya narrowed her eyes and called his attention. He looked at her then glanced at the sky to see Runalla arriving with Avelina.

I'm not wrong, you like it or not. I told you to allow your feelings to emerge and show. To live a month at a time. Not to commit to something you don't even know what it is.

Arya also glanced at the pair approaching the treehouse but stared back at him.

"You are not wrong, but you are not acting like yourself. We will talk about this later."

The dragon tipped his head to show her he understood but didn't say anything else.

Arya feared he had information she didn't know. What could Saphira had told him that could cause such concern? Fírnen had always been supportive of her relationship with Eragon, she could not understand why he had second doubts all of a sudden.

Avelina dismounted from Runalla and smiled at Arya. She liked her friend's smiles. They were always so genuine and bright they could light up the darkest souls. The young woman pressed two fingers on her lips and greeted Arya accordingly to the elven tradition.

They sparred together for about an hour in hopes to get Avelina ready for her fight the next day. Arya considered her style to be very elegant, it reminded her of the old elven way of the sword, taught until the current days. It made sense, being Yaela her main instructor during her academy years. It was a swift and sophisticated style, but it lacked aggressiveness. Avelina was still young and she had never taken a life or been in a war. Arya hoped she would never have to go through such hardships, but she also expected the young Rider to grow stronger teeth and longer claws.

She pushed and pushed, advancing with ferocity. Avelina defended herself well, being the strong human woman she was, but Arya was using only half of her strength. Then she pushed a little further to see Avelina struggling to hold her advance. Arya attacked more ferociously just so Avelina would panic and retreat behind her shield as a powerful blow of Támerlein cracked it from top to bottom.

Avelina's eyes were wide as she looked at Arya. Her sandy hair was disheveled, escaping from her braids.

"You are very good, Avelina." Arya started walking to her. "In the academy, we have only seen one person better than you, but he's an elf. He has the advantage of strength and speed, qualities that you will achieve with time as Runalla's magic transforms you. But now, I need you to overcome your weaker constitution. I need you to be braver."

Arya watched as Avelina took a deep breath and stood up straight, lowering her cracked shield.

"Why would you need that? Because of the games? You know that I don't care about winning, I just want to fight."

Arya approached her and used a firm but amicable tone.

"It's not about the games. The day may come for you to take a bigger role. A leading role."

Avelina's eyes widened.

"Leading? What's wrong with master Eragon?"

Arya smiled faintly and put her hand on Avelina's shoulder to calm her.

"Nothing is wrong. But I fear that the outcome of his decisions may not be as positive as he expects. As we expect. If that's the case, I will need you to step up."

Arya, what are you doing?

Fírnen raised his head to see the two Riders.

That's the only thing in which Renir surpasses her. Eragon doesn't see it that way but Avelina would be a better leader for she is already better prepared. She just needs to take the final step.

Fírnen didn't say anything else but his approval was very clear in her mind. Again, Arya wondered what was it that he knew and was hiding from her.

"Arya, I don't understand."

The queen sheathed Támerlein and guided the young Rider inside the house.

"Come inside. Let's drink some tea and talk it further. I will explain it to you."


Eragon looked at the grandstand to see that Arya was absent. He turned his head to the dragons and didn't find Fírnen.

Saphira. Where are Fírnen and Arya?

Saphira was concentrated on the swordfight between two urgals. They were feral, and it was so entertaining that she took a few seconds to respond.

In the treehouse. Why?

No reason. I just found odd that they are missing the swordfight. It's their favorite.

Ismira and Katrina rose to their feet when one of the competitors was subdued by the other. The crowd came to life around them.

They're with Avelina and Runalla.

Eragon remembered that she had mentioned earlier the training session with Avelina before the games. He just didn't expect it to take so long. It was strange because the next fight was going to be Renir's, and they were going to miss it.

Renir entered the arena first, announced by the bard. His victories ten years before were highly praised, such as his position as a Dragon Rider. Next, the bard sang the many accomplishments reached by the champion, Dusan, as he walked to his position opposite Renir. He was armored with a fine helm and breastplates, not a single inch of skin or hair was seen under it all. His shield was a lean silver leaf, heavy decorated. Even from the distance, Eragon could see that he had gems encrusted on his chest and forehead forming a beautiful pattern.

"Is he some kind of prince? He looks wealthy." Ismira asked while squinting her eyes under the bright sunlight.

"If he were a prince, I believe the bard would've introduced him that way. Don't you remember him from the past editions in Ilirea? I had the idea that you were a customary spectator."

Ismira looked at him and shook her head, her red curls dangling around her face.

"I guess he was wearing a different armor then."

"Different how?"

She shrugged.

"Simpler. I don't remember seeing an elf displaying this kind of fortune in the games. The humans do it, though. It's a competition by itself to see who's carrying the richest equipment."

Eragon hated that. If one day that kind of behavior took over the games in Arngor he would have to intervene. But he wondered about Dusan. He didn't remember hearing about him being noble or wealthy. It was also odd that he would enrich with the prizes for winning the games. They were a fair amount but not enough to make a fortune. At least not like that.

Renir started the fight just how they had practiced. He circled, maintaining a defensive stance. Dusan attacked and Renir defended. It was a powerful blow to the Renir's shield. Then another one. And another one. Dusan attacked many times as Eragon had foreseen, but what he didn't anticipate was the fact that the champion seemed not to tire. Renir, on the other hand, was getting slightly slower by the minute. Eragon's heart raced to notice that Renir was the one who was getting frustrated.

"Just hold on for a little longer. Just a little longer." He said to himself.

Eragon wanted Renir to wait until his opponent made a mistake, even if it was a tiny one because until that point in the fight Dusan had been impeccable. Renir had other plans.

Letting the rage for being massacred take over, he counterattacked a perfect hit that Dusan had landed on Renir's shield. The champion was fast enough to dodge the diagonal cut and strike the other's legs. Renir fell flat on his back. When he hit the floor, Dusan's blade was already pressed against his throat.

"Argh! I told him he should wait!" Eragon rose to his feet.

The fight was over, and the public was quiet. They rooted for Renir for being a Rider and from Arngor but were disappointed that he lost. Little by little the public started to clap without any joy. The victor removed his helm and his shiny black hair fell on his back. He waved to the crowd, spinning to face all sides of the arena. His face was oddly angular, and he was a beautiful creature even for an elf.

Eragon felt a mind pressing against his defenses, a mind he thought was familiar, but he couldn't quite discern. He fortified his walls, but the stranger was insistent. Arming his mental traps, he allowed a superficial contact just so he could recognize the intruder. A voice echoed loud in his head.

It's him, Shadeslayer! The elf, it's him!

Helena? Who are you talking about?

He looked around in the crowd to find her but didn't see her anywhere near him.

The elf I told you about in the tavern that day I arrived here a while ago. It's him! The winner.

Eragon finally understood what she was saying. The elf who had told Oswald about the death threats against Arya was there, competing in the games, and he was Dusan.

He broke the connection with Helena and stood up to go meet the elf in the competitors' area and ask him about those threats. He had to know all about it.

I'll ask Blödhgarm to accompany you, Eragon.

There's no need, Saphira.

He excused himself to Katrina and Ismira and ran down the bleachers.

He may be dangerous. I will do it, and don't talk back at me!

Fine!

Eragon ran until he reached the field. He had to dodge all the people that crowded the way, but he finally was free to cross the arena and get to the opposite side where he would face Dusan and solve the mystery once and for all. When he took the first step to enter the field a hand grabbed his arm and made him turn.

"Don't do it, Shadeslayer. Let me take care of this." Helena said fighting for air as she had run to catch him.

"How do you intend to do it?" Eragon lowered his voice so only Helena would hear.

"Like last time. I will invite him to the tavern and then to my room, to make him talk. All you have to do is to give me the right questions."

Eragon frowned and shook his head.

"I can't let you do that."

The woman rolled her eyes and signaled for him to follow her. When they were leaving the arena Blödhgarm joined them and Helena asked him to come along.

She stopped by a tree that served as shelter along the pathway to the arena. With a low voice, she protected the three of them from prying ears and started to talk.

"Listen." She looked at Eragon. "You need to stop being such a defender of other people's honor. Do you want to find out about that elf or not?"

Eragon felt a warmth coming to his cheeks for being reprimanded that way.

"I do. But I can't ask you to do it for me, not because of your... honor. It's my problem to solve."

Helena motioned her hand to dismiss his concern.

"Stop being so proud as well. Take it as a thank you gift, for sheltering me when no one would. And I mean it with honesty."

Eragon saw that her teasing stance was very well hidden under her truthful expression. She was being sincere.

He looked at Blödhgarm for support. The elf nodded at him, and it gave him the encouragement he needed.

"Fine. I accept your help. Thank you, Helena."

The red-haired woman smirked and blinked and eye to him.

"This will be fun!"


"So, you want me to take his place as the Head Rider when he fails?"

Avelina was appalled at Arya's plan. She had blushed cheeks and her brows formed a severe "v" while she leaned forward in her chair at the kitchen table.

"Not when. If. If Renir fails, I intend to present you as an alternative."

The young woman shook her head making the loose strands of her sandy hair dance around her frame.

"No! I can't accept it. How can I be the image of his failure? Every time he looks at me he will see that he wasn't apt. No, I won't do it."

Arya took a deep breath. She thought the convincing would be easier. After training in the front yard, they had retreated inside for a cup of tea so Arya could explain her plans of preparing Avelina to lead. Among the four of them, the knowledge that Renir was being crafted by Eragon's hands to the position as Head Rider was no secret at all. But Arya wished to maintain her parallel endeavor as hidden as possible to the men, so it would serve as a security measure only. She had committed to Eragon. She wished more than anything to live that commitment to the fullest, and if he wasn't free to come to her, they wouldn't have a satisfactory future together. Arya needed Avelina.

"Avelina, please. You must understand..."

"No!" She kicked the chair back as she stood up. "I won't do it, Arya. Don't ask me to lead ever again! How could think I would accept such vile proposal?"

Avelina strode out of the house looking betrayed. Arya didn't follow but heard when Runalla took off flapping her wings away from the treehouse.

Arya was lost. She didn't expect things to go that away. Arguing with Avelina was the worst outcome possible because not only she had lost her security measure but also strained her relationship with a close friend. What a mess.

She got up feeling miserable and walked outside. How could a day that started so well turn into a big disaster? Fírnen was waiting for her at the same spot she had left him earlier. He had his amber eyes following her with sympathy.

My darling, I'm so sorry.

Arya sat by his side and leaned against his neck searching for comfort.

"I'm sorry as well. I made a big mess."

I think you need to calm yourself and stop trying to control everything.

"I had the impression earlier that you agreed with my attempt to prepare Avelina for leading."

I agreed. It was a great alternative since Renir seems to be a reluctant learner. He's brilliant but slow. Your attempt didn't go well, so the best you have to do now is to trust that Eragon's plan will work and you two will be reunited in definitive in the future, whenever that is.

Arya buried her face in the softer spot under his throat and wished it all to go away.

"All right."

Good. But don't forget to rid Eragon of his promise so you know what you are committing to.

"Argh!"

It's important, Arya, you know it.

She clenched her jaw in frustration.

"I know. I'll do it."

Good. Fírnen repeated and snuggled around Arya's petite body.

"I don't want to attend the games today." She stated inside his comfort.

So we won't go. Let's stay here and rest. Is that all right with you? He suggested in a caring tone.

Arya nodded and closed her eyes to enjoy Fírnen's protection.

At the end of the day right before sunset, Saphira landed on the grass by the river and Eragon arrived home with a pouring excitement. Arya could not feel the same, not even half of his good energy.

She was lying on the couch on her side as she watched the leaves move outside through the window. It had distracted her with the changing colors as the sun moved in the sky and cast a different shade on them now and then. It was simple and beautiful.

"Why didn't you two attend the games today? You missed a lot." He said as he entered the house.

Eragon stepped down to the living room and started talking about recognizing the competitor who fought Renir and won, and how he was working on pressing the elf about the death threats against Arya along with Blödhgarm and Helena, and...

"What's wrong?" He paused, standing in front of the couch and looking down at her. "Arya, are you all right?" Eragon's voice was concerned.

She didn't want to tell him why she had argued with Avelina. She didn't want to tell him she feared they would never have a life together. However, she needed to share her sadness with him. She trusted he would make her feel better.

"I had an argument with Avelina."

His eyes widened and he knelt by her head so he could look at her, eye to eye.

"I'm so sorry, my queen." He used the softest voice, and her heart melt a little.

When he caressed her face, she could not stop herself from closing her eyes and enjoying his touch.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

She shook her head and let herself being lifted by his arms so he would take a seat on the couch and cradle her in his embrace. His scent worked its magic to calm her down and surround her with security. She looked up from his lap to see his gentle eyes inspecting her emotions.

Arya tried to lighten up the mood and smiled faintly at him.

"Did you say something about Helena?"

Eragon raised his eyebrows then laughed quietly.

"Did I?" He ran his fingers around her face and traced the line of her lips. "I forgot."

Their eyes met. She saw her shelter there and there she stayed, at least until he made her close her eyes when he leaned in to kiss her on the lips he had so delicately traced. The kiss was careful, consoling. Soon his warmth surrounded her, and she found herself oblivious to what had happened before.

He kissed her until a scratching noise came from the door. They separated, and she saw that he had an expression of disbelief on his face.

"I can't believe he did that." He said.

Arya frowned.

"Who? Did what?"

Eragon started to laugh and shook his head.

"Renir. He sent my old friends to find me. I hope you don't mind sharing the bed with two more."

What did he mean by that? It was a crazy conversation.

He moved her gently to the side so he could get up and walk to the door. When he opened it, two senior cats entered the house. They were the same brown cats she had met ten years before.

Arya smiled and nodded.

"I'm sure we can make it work."

She was right. He made her feel better indeed. His care and affection didn't solve any of her problems, but it gave her a reason to keep fighting.

Chapter Text

The scenario that Arya had chosen for their shared dreams was their garden. It was night in the dream as well, and the fireflies gave it a special glow to the place. Eragon walked through the trees on the pathway behind Arya as she guided them to a bed of soft grass where the trees were sparser, and they could lie down and watch the stars. There, they spent the entire night studying the sky. Arya would point at a star and Eragon would name it, according to the convention they had set in Mount Arngor regarding the eastern sky.

In the physical realm, her naked body rested on top of his completely relaxed as his hand traced the curve of her waist, her spine and shoulder. Her warmth and her soft moans to his caresses would make him feel entranced. Her fingers also explored his body, with touches that went from his side to his chest. At times her nails scratched very lightly his chest hair or beard.

At one point, he felt that she was shivering slightly because of the cool breeze that entered through the open balcony door. With his other hand, he reached the blanket that was cast aside on the bed and put it over them both. A feeling of gratitude filled his mind.

Before dawn, as it was expected, the male cat rose from the corner of the bed and walked on top of their intertwined bodies. It startled her, and Arya cut their connection, turning to look at the creature that approached Eragon's chest with cautious steps.

He laughed and opened his eyes to see the cat lightly stomping on him over the blanket and purring.

"That's him saying it's morning already and he wants to get out." Eragon said.

Arya rolled over and lay down on her back carrying the blanket with her.

"It's not morning, it's still dark outside." She complained.

"Don't I know?"

He turned to her and kissed her forehead before grabbing the cat and getting out of bed. He didn't even bother getting dressed because he had intentions to be back in an instant.

As he walked down the stairs the female followed until he opened the door and the pair ran outside heading to the garden. Some small rodent was about to die soon to serve as breakfast.

When he got back to bed, Arya lifted the blanket so he could get under it with her. He snuggled himself inside her embrace to feel her warmth again and let himself be carried back to rest.

"What are their names?"

He came to consciousness to the sound of her voice.

"Whose?"

"The cats."

"Oh. The female is Cherry and the male is Pie."

"Cherry Pie?" She said with humor.

"Made one for another." He joked and buried his face in her neck.

She laughed as her fingernails scratched his scalp softly.

"Are the other cats living in the garden their descendants?"

Eragon nodded.

"Interesting."

"You know what's interesting?" He raised his head to look at her. "I haven't seen Blagden yet. Where is he?"

Arya started to laugh and Eragon didn't know why.

"He's home. He refused to come. The last time, he was left behind and had to find the way back on his own." She explained with mirth. "You should have seen the way he looked like when he arrived."

Eragon smiled and laid his head back down in the curve of her neck.

"Didn't you feel bad for leaving him behind?"

"Of course, but I couldn't find him anywhere. So I figured he would follow us. I just didn't think it would take him an entire day to realize we were gone."

Eragon chuckled. "Weird creature."

"Indeed."

"Any new riddles sang by him lately?" His muffled question made her take a long pause to answer. Eragon thought she hadn't heard him.

"Yes."

Eragon raised his head again and frowned.

"And?"

Arya cupped his cheeks in her hands.

"And they are half unsolved, half unpleasant. How about we rest this subject for now?"

His frown deepened. She was hiding something, he could tell.

"Arya…"

"Eragon." She reached his lips with hers and kissed him with delicacy, then whispered "Trust me."

How couldn't he do her wishes when her soft lips tasted his so slowly? Or when her legs were encircling his waist? Or when her hands made him move closer to her? It was impossible not to oblige and let himself be lured into her game.

Eragon rode the white stallion to the village by the Edda. He had planned to meet with Helena before the residents and guests left for the games. It was very early, and the sun had only cast its first light on the land. The fire in people's stoves was still to be lit.

He knocked on the inn's back door no more than twice before it opened, and Helena's hand shot to his vest to pull him inside. She shut the door the minute he walked in.

"So, did you find out anything?"

She shushed him and led him upstairs.

They walked inside her room, and he settled himself on a simple chair placed in front of a small and old desk.

"He just left and might be still roaming the streets. You know how the elves have good hearing, it's better to be safe than sorry."

"Right. Sorry." He waited for her to lock the door and light up the candles. "Now tell me, what did he say."

Helena served them mead from the bottle she had on her bedside table. Eragon thought of refusing due to the early time of day but simply placed his cup on the desk.

At least it's not our production of ale you're wasting. Saphira commented with sarcasm.

Good morning, Saphira. I'm glad you're alert for this. I may need your help. He greeted her as she still lay lazily in the shelter.

Of course, little one. I'm here.

"He's hard to squeeze, that elf." Helena said and sipped her mead as she sat on the bed. "But I managed to catch a thing or two."

Eragon motioned for her to continue.

"Well, according to our plan, he met me in the tavern after I invited him to celebrate his victory. I'm sorry for that, but I had to give him more free drinks than it's advised."

Eragon dismissed her concerns about their profits and encouraged her to keep going.

"When he had one too many, but not enough for complete loss of memory, I started to compliment his armor."

"Did you ask if he was cheating?"

"And what does it have to do with the threats?"

Eragon shrugged. He had thought Dusan had accessed the energy in his armor's gems during the fight against Renir. But the elves that inspected the fighters and removed all spells and wards would have caught that kind of strategy. All stores of energy were blocked magically before the competition. He couldn't have cheated. At least not that way.

"You are right. It has nothing to do with the matter in hand. Continue."

"As I was saying... I told him how beautiful it was, and how expensive it might have been." She took another sip and smiled with a mean expression. "I don't like to brag, but my talents might have helped." She raised her right palm and wiggled her fingers.

Eragon rolled his eyes. He wasn't interested in her professional techniques.

"Can you get to the point already?"

Helena laughed.

"Always the honorable man, aren't you Shadeslayer? All right. He just brushed my comments off and said he didn't have to worry about gold. That his source was far from drying out. So, I mentioned how good must it be to be a noble elf, or a prince like him. He laughed and said he was no noble."

Eragon's head raced with all the possibilities.

"He must be stealing, or someone is providing for him." He said.

"Will you let me finish?"

Eragon signaled for her to go on.

"I pretended to be stupid, like I always do with men like him, and said that the costumes of the elves were a mystery to me. That the idea of an elf working to live sounded odd. Once more he laughed and said the one thing the elves did well as a proper paying work was trading."

"He's trading information." Eragon concluded, to what Helena grimaced. "Sorry. Continue."

"At that point, he was already getting bold with his touching. I suggested that we moved the conversation to my room so we wouldn't raise too much attention. When we got here, I tried to speculate what kind of trading he was doing. That was when he stopped talking altogether."

Eragon gritted his teeth. He imagined he would have more than that by then.

"Calm down." Helena said with a hand up to him. "I didn't say the story was over." She got up from the bed and lifted the mattress. From under it she retrieved a piece of parchment and handed it to him.

It was a letter in the Ancient Language, with a slanted and sophisticated handwriting.

"I only know a handful of words in the Ancient Language to work on my spells, but it seemed to me as a job order. What do you say?" Helena stood behind him as he read the letter.

She was right. It was a job order. It was full of riddles, and the names mentioned were hidden behind aliases. Even then, Eragon could understand its content with clarity. It demanded Dusan to gather information about Eragon and the Academy, especially his relationship with Queen Arya and the influence of the Order in the political affairs of Alagaësia. What else would it be?

"How did you get this?" He looked up to Helena.

"It fell from his pouch when he reached his coins to pay me. He was so drunk that it didn't occur to him that he had lost the letter. I've been serving him mead like it was fresh water. He could barely stand straight. It also seems stupid that he would carry it around. He should've burned it."

Eragon shook his head while examining the parchment.

"No, he couldn't. It says here he must present the letter to someone back in Ellesméra to prove his identity. It just doesn't say who."

"Oh! So he'll come back to look for it! What should I do?" Helena sat back on the bed.

I have an idea. Saphira said to Eragon.

"Wait. I may have something." He said to Helena and turned his back to her to place the letter on the desk as Saphira spoke.

You should tell her to go looking for him before he could come back. Tell her to give the letter back to him and say she couldn't understand a word that's written there. I doubt he knows she's a magician with basic knowledge of the Ancient Language. That way she will gain his trust and he won't get suspicious if you place a tracking spell on the parchment.

Eragon widened his eyes. A tracking spell! That was brilliant.

When I know the location of the meeting…

you can have someone there…

...to find out who is the person…

who's trading information with Dusan.

Their joined conclusion was perfect. He knew exactly what he had to do. So did Saphira, that didn't wait for his request to throw her mind toward the mountain looking for Elva.


Arya took a deep breath before knocking on Avelina's door. It didn't take long for the young Rider to answer it and let Arya in.

Avelina occupied one of the apartments destined for the Riders up in the mountain. Each apartment was below a niche with an opening to the outside. The two quarters were connected by a spiral staircase. Runalla didn't seem to be in her niche by the time Arya arrived.

"I came to apologize." Arya said as soon as Avelina closed the door behind her.

"I know." She said after a sigh.

"I should have thought about the implications of my request to you and Renir. I was only thinking about myself. I am so sorry, Avelina."

The woman was serious and had an impetuous look. Arya thought she saw a hint of what she was looking to develop in Avelina all that time. She had a drop of fierceness in her expression that made Arya consider that maybe what caused the scale to tip was Renir. It made sense, for the stories she had heard of their discussions.

"It was clear that you were only thinking about yourself. Do you think you are the only one who fears the future?"

Arya swallowed a bit of her pride. It was not the time to retort. It was time to listen and to make amends.

She shook her head, so Avelina continued.

"You are right. You're not the only one. So far, master Eragon had been kind to us by letting us be together in the north, but how long until our duties break us apart? How long until I tell Renir goodbye without knowing when will I see him again? Imagine that it happens at the same time I'm working behind his back to take his place."

Arya clenched her jaw. Avelina had understood it all wrong.

"You wouldn't take his place. You would take Eragon's place."

"That is meant for Renir! That's the plan, isn't it? So instead of helping him get ready, you are working against him."

Closing her eyes, Arya tried to get her calm back. She had come to apologize, but Avelina was making it too difficult. She breathed deeply twice before replying. Even if she thought that Avelina was being unreasonable, she wanted to be well with her friend.

"You are right." She said, swallowing the rest of her pride. "I made a mistake and will no longer speak of it again. I'm truly sorry, Avelina."

Avelina hesitated, and Arya wasn't sure if her humility would be enough.

"I accept your apologies. Only if you do not ask that of me again." Avelina relented and had a softer tone this time.

Arya went close to Avelina and put her hands on the other's shoulders.

"I promise I will never speak of this again."

Avelina finally gave her a shy smile and a hug.

It pleased Arya that Avelina had always been such a sparkling creature with a pure soul. That's why Arya did not let her pride speak louder for she knew that Avelina was incapable of cheating and lying, and she was so prone to accepting people's flaws that it was no mystery why she had befriended Arya, who was full of defenses and particularities. Charisma defined her, a quality that Arya cherished very much.

"I'm glad we solved this. Our discussion gave me a big heartache." Arya said with a sad smile after they separated.

Avelina gave her a sympathetic look.

"It was not only because we had a discussion, was it?" Perception also defined her.

Arya turned to go sit on an arms chair, followed by Avelina, who took the seat in front of her.

"I do fear the future as you said." She looked away debating with herself how much she wished to be honest, with Avelina, but most of all with herself. "I know it's too far ahead in the future, but I… I can't stop thinking about losing him."

Avelina leaned forward in her chair and seemed surprised.

"Why would you lose him?"

"For the same reason you fear losing Renir. Too much distance and too many misunderstandings. We are well known for disagreeing too often."

Avelina shook her head.

"Arya, you have to stop this. You only have a month to be here with him, so don't ruin it thinking about the ways you two can lose each other. Besides, I could bet all the gold in the world that Eragon is thinking about what he had gained instead of all he can lose."

Arya smiled. "He thinks he's so lucky to be with me. He has no idea that I'm the fortunate one."

"You both are."

Arya spared her a thankful nod.

"Anyway, I still have to approach him about his promise and see what his idea of commitment is."

"Well, I'm sure he wants you to agree on a backup plan to the possibility of Renir failing in taking the lead. I just hope he doesn't want me to get involved like you did."

Arya mimicked Avelina's stance and placed her elbows on her knees.

"Fírnen thinks he wants me to leave my crown and come here instead. And that's my fear as well." Arya said it with a somber tone.

"Then get ready for the possibility of having to commit to it… Or to tell him it's impossible."

Arya pursed her lips. How could she refuse his wish when he was willing to sacrifice his duty for their well-being? But on the other hand, she couldn't just abdicate her throne for personal reasons. What about all the people that depended on her? Would she leave them to the wolves? The ones who wished to start a war against other races for dominance and power? She couldn't.

"He will want me to come." She stated. "I know it."

"Will you?"

"You just advised me to think of the present, and I have to agree. Look what planning too far ahead caused to me and you."

Avelina smiled with sympathy, but Arya knew she had a complete perception of which conclusion Arya had just achieved.

"You won't come, will you? You won't leave your crown."

Arya felt emotion building up inside her chest. If it was hard to admit it to her friend, she feared the time she would have to say it to him. She would break his heart.

With teary eyes, Arya shook her head. Again, Avelina threw her a sympathetic look.

"You promised not to insist on your plan of preparing me to lead." She started. "So, it's only fair that I promise you something in return."

Arya frowned and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.

"What is it?"

"I promise I will do my best to get Renir ready for leading. I owe you this." She said with her hands on her chest.

"You don't owe me anything, Avelina."

"I owe you everything, Arya. You taught me a lot. You made me exceptional. You and Eragon. I owe this to the both of you." Arya nodded and felt grateful for such a strong friendship. "Renir will be ready to lead, even if I have to feed him all the knowledge with a giant spoon." She said gesturing the act.

Arya laughed faintly.

"Thank you, Avelina. I trust you."

They stared at each other for a while as Arya composed herself. Avelina started to play with the tips of her long hair that was firmly tied behind her head. She was ready for battle, as Arya noticed.

"Have you heard of Däthedr already?" Avelina asked in a casual voice as she curled the ponytail around her finger.

"No. I'm supposed to contact him tomorrow morning."

"It's a good thing you're not there."

Arya wasn't so sure. When the time came for her to leave to the east, her opposition worked to rush the debate about the opening of the forest for scrying mirrors and its regulation. They took years to touch the subject, but at the worst moment possible, it suddenly became a matter of life and death. It was crucial that she would be there to pressure the council to approve the measure because the other part would work against it. The problem was that not even her advisors and supporters were so sure about the relaxation of such law. Avelina celebrated Arya's absence considering that it was good for her to not see herself almost alone in defending the opening and facing the defeat by herself.

"I don't know. I may be accused of cowardice if we lose. And if we win, I won't take the credit for it."

Avelina brushed it off with a hand motion.

"Let them talk. You're not obligated to stand tall when your opposition parade their hate."

"In fact, I am. The opposition is part of the people, which I must rule. I fear what kind of reaction I will face upon my return."

"Nothing you haven't faced before."

"Still. It could be easier. They set the worst timing possible just to put me in a difficult position."

Avelina frowned.

"Arya…" She called in a warning.

Arya breathed deeply and smiled.

"Live in the present, right?"

"Right!" Avelina smiled and clapped her hands once. "That's the only way."

Arya laughed, admiring again her capability of lightening up a bad mood.

"We should move then." Arya stood up. "The games are about to start, and you don't want to be late for your fight."


Elva left the inn, and Eragon followed shortly after.

"Remember." He turned at the door to instruct Helena. "You need to pretend to be completely oblivious to magic and the Ancient Language."

"I know! Now go." She rushed him out.

He stepped out onto the street to feel the morning sun warming his face and the back of his neck. It wasn't severe, though, and he welcomed the feeling after being trapped for more than an hour in Helena's dark room. He intended to go to the docks in hopes to find Oswald since word said that he was an early riser and would probably be working on his boat by then.

Word told no lies.

"Hello, my friend!" Eragon greeted the large man with only one arm.

"Oh, hello there! What brings you here so early, Shadeslayer?"

Oswald was wearing a tattered shirt stained of the wax he used to polish the hull of his boat.

Eragon approached the man. "I came to ask a favor of you." He said in a low voice.

It's all I'm doing today, asking for favors.

As a good beggar you are. Saphira teased him and laughed.

"Anything, my friend, ask away."

Eragon looked around but didn't see anyone near.

"It's about those rumors of two years ago, regarding the Elven Queen."

Oswald's face became serious and he puffed his chest, assuming a posture of importance.

"What about it? What do you need, sir? I'm here to help."

Eragon smiled.

"I need you to deliver a letter. In hands."

"Just a letter?" Oswald frowned. "That I do every time. I have carried many letters of yours to all corners of Alagaësia, haven't I?"

"This time is not that simple. It's a letter to a Lord from Ellesméra. You must give it to him personally, so it will require that you wait in the last elven trading post until he decides if he will meet you, and then wait until he comes to you. It will be boring and annoying to deal with the elves. They ask a lot of questions, to which you will answer only the basics."

"What if they take the letter from me?"

"They can try but won't succeed. I'll make sure of it." Eragon raised his right palm, and the Gedwëy Ignasia shined its silver magic.

Oswald gulped and wiped his hand on the dirty shirt to extend it to Eragon. He grabbed the man's forearm firmly.

"I will do it, Shadeslayer. You can count on me."

"Great. But I will pay you, Oswald. A good amount of gold, you hear me?"

"Oh no, you don't have to. I'm a celebrated merchant back home just because I can call you my friend, you know? People trust me and I can charge the price I want for the deliveries, that I know they'll pay, you know? You don't have to pay me, no, sir."

"I insist." Eragon let go of the man's hand and kept talking so he wouldn't protest any longer. "When the time comes, I'll come find you so we can work on the details."

"Deal." He showed his gaping smile.

Eragon thanked the man and headed back to the inn where he had instructed the stallion to wait for him.

I hope this works. And that Arya won't be mad when she finds out that you are involving her most trusted advisor. Saphira said.

If she trusts him, that's her prerogative. Mine is to doubt whoever may be in the position to threaten her, and he is the first one being the closest to her. If Däthedr is involved in the plot against Arya's life, we will know.

He said that with confidence but deep inside he also feared Arya's reaction.

What if he is?

He can expect a visit of one or two Riders to take him to justice.

What if he isn't?

He shrugged and mounted on the horse.

We'll keep looking.

I wish I could bring the traitor to justice… Whoever that is.

The image she imprinted in his head gave him chills. He wished to cause that person as much pain as possible, but maybe it didn't include their skin to be licked off slowly from head to toes by Saphira's rough tongue.

He shook his head to wipe out the discomfort and started to ride to the arena. He had a full day ahead, choosing with care what he would write in the letter.


Arya stirred in her seat when she saw that Eragon had been so immersed in his thoughts that he was frozen in his chair during the entire lunchtime. Nasuada tried to pull him into the conversation about three times before giving up completely due to his short answers.

Arya wondered if his silence had anything to do with the talk he went to have with the red-haired woman. She nudged his mind with hers. Eragon glanced at her sitting in front of him and raised his brow in a silent question.

Are you all right? She asked.

He nodded slightly and allowed her into his memories of his morning. Arya spectated the whole conversation between him and Helena, then the agreement he reached with Elva. The strange woman was sent to watch Dusan's every step during his stay in Arngor and warn him if he was getting any closer to finding out anything relevant about Arya, the Order, and Eragon.

Arya watched as he elaborated and placed a tracking spell on the letter that Helena was to return to Dusan. When Eragon had the location of the meeting between the elf and his mysterious business partner, Elva would have to go find that person and retrieve all the information that was possible. A lot could go wrong. It was a dangerous move. She saw Eragon's fear of leaving Arya unattended in Elva's absence but was pleased with his trust in her capability of defending herself if something happened.

Arya was even more uncomfortable. She didn't know who her offenders were, but she was certain they acted on behalf of two or three powerful houses. If Elva stepped on their toes with her findings, she feared it would only speed up the process of her downfall.

She expressed it to Eragon, and he answered with a concerned look. Inside their connection, however, he sounded sure of the success of the mission.

What do you two think of that? She conferred with Fírnen and Saphira, who were silent spectators until that point.

I think it will work. Saphira said.

Of course you do, it was your idea. Fírnen mocked.

Mine or not, a great idea nevertheless.

Fírnen laughed at her pride, meanwhile Eragon inspected Arya's reaction with concern. He wanted her approval, it was clear to her.

How about you, Fírnen?

My dear, you know that if it depended on me, we would already have solved this. By licking each of your opposition's scalps off.

Her mouth curved upward almost unnoticeable at the simplicity and violence of his solution but also because Eragon grimaced with the horrendous image at the lunch table.

But since it's not up to me, I believe that Eragon and Saphira's plan is the best course of action. Fírnen stated.

They all silenced to hear what Arya would have to say about it. Nasuada tried to call Eragon's attention one more time, to which he simply told her he was having a bad headache and was in need to be silent. She respected his "condition" and started a conversation with Orik instead, who was sitting by Arya's side.

So, what do you say? He asked.

Arya took a deep breath as she bit a piece of a stuffed tomato.

It's done already. I don't think I can say much now.

She watched as his eyes fell to his plate in a repented move. He knew he had let her out of his plan in an impulse, again! At least this time she knew beforehand that he was planning something.

However… She continued. I couldn't have made a better plan myself. It's risky, but I trust this will work. He looked at her and gave her a discreet smile. I just don't think it was wise of you to bring Elva into this. Her tone was severe in the last part.

She is already involved in being your shield. Besides she's eager to prove to Saphira and me that she is worthy of becoming a Rider, with hopes that we can influence the dragons' choice.

It's not how it works. Fírnen said.

It's not, but she doesn't need to know that. Saphira responded with malice.

Very cunning of them, Arya thought. They were learning the ways of politics after all.

It's settled then. Arya said and continued to eat.

There's more. Eragon said with a fearful tone. But I don't want to discuss it here. People will notice our private conversation soon.

We will continue this at home. She said and cut the connection between them.

One more thing to worry about, just when she had decided to live in the moment. A month at a time.

When Arya entered the house, she saw Eragon focused on the parchment he was furiously attacking with a pen. He was sitting on the couch, with the parchment resting on a thick book on his lap, the pipe hanging from his lips, that she suspected had its fire extinct for a long time.

"We missed you at dinner." She said.

Eragon kept writing and only threw her a glance.

"A new poem? Or a story?" She asked as she unstrapped Támerlein and let it rest on the desk in the study.

Eragon mumbled without picking up the pipe.

"Neither."

Arya leaned on the fireplace and crossed her arms on her chest.

"Won't you tell me what it is?"

"A letter." He mumbled again.

She narrowed her eyes to his negligence in giving her attention.

"A letter to…"

Finally, he grabbed the pipe and looked at her.

"That's what I needed to tell you. I'm afraid you won't like it."

Her eyes were already two annoyed slits, but her forehead managed to increase her display of dissatisfaction.

"Why not?"

He took a drag before answering. The fire wasn't extinct after all.

"I considered keeping it a secret from you but now it's not the time for hiding information from each other."

She took a deep breath and went to sit by his side.

"Are you being reckless and impulsive again?"

He laughed.

"How would I know? I never think I'm being reckless and impulsive when I'm doing it."

"You would know if you told me."

His eyes turned warm and kind. He nodded and took a deep breath to prepare himself to say it.

"My queen… I made a side plan in case tracking Dusan's business partner didn't work."

"What side plan?"

"I will send a letter to Däthedr providing false information. If the information spreads, we will know he is the traitor. If he comes to you with concerns about it, you will know he is trustworthy. I fear you may have the enemy closer than you think.

Arya sighed and diverted her eyes from his, otherwise, she would melt under his stare, and that was something she didn't need at the moment. She was feeling annoyed with his intrusion. He didn't have the right to run an investigation around her reign especially when she was accused of being submissive to his command. Which she wasn't, but people would often say what they didn't know.

"Fine." She was feeling the anger escape through her feral words. "I won't tell you the many reasons why it's a stupid plan and how much it is disrespectful because I'm sure that your selfish mind could already figure this out." She said in a harsh voice and stood up to go to bed.

He didn't try to stop her, but she did anyway because she remembered something she wanted to ask him. Arya turned to speak but saw his saddened face. She hurt him again by calling him selfish. Brilliant.

Swallowing a painful lump, she found her voice.

"Do you mind if I use the eyrie to confer with Däthedr tomorrow morning? I don't want him to see this place through the mirror."

Eragon nodded and looked to the parchment, returning to his writings.

"You don't have to ask." He said low.

She felt divided. On one hand, he was the one crossing her political boundaries. On the other hand, Arya hated to leave such a strained situation between them. She hated that things were so difficult with him. Should she enclose the distance and apologize even if she thought he was the one to blame? Her pride was taking several hits that day.

Arya didn't have time to do dwell on it because Eragon raised his head again with a puzzled expression.

"Why don't you want him to see this place? I thought you were friends."

It sounded to her more as an accusation than a legitimate doubt. She just didn't know what she was being accused of.

"We are, but not enough to let him see the house you built for me. Not when that information could be used somehow."

"Strange friendship that you two have."

"What are you saying?"

"I just thought you wouldn't mind that your friends knew about us. But now you show that you mind indeed. It confuses me, that's all."

Arya was the one confused. He knew about the impediments for their relationship. He knew the council wouldn't approve and would try to either dethrone her or work to stop her from flying east. And that was the best scenario. The worst he didn't know about. If he knew, he wouldn't be there living with her; he wouldn't have built the house; he wouldn't have even tried to be her mate. Arya was sure that if Eragon knew that their proximity was risking her life, he would want to end it all. If he knew that he was one of the main reasons that a coup was being orchestrated against her, he would never forgive himself. And her, for keeping such a big secret. Thinking again, she didn't have the right to judge his malicious letter.

"I mind because if the council knows about us, they would try to stop me from coming here. Is that what you want?"

Eragon clenched his jaw and shook his head looking away through the window. He lost his stare at the darkened garden outside.

Arya sat by his side again.

"Eragon." She called and he looked at her. "It makes me feel powerless when you interfere with my reign or my personal matters. I feel like I don't have a choice, do you understand that?"

It took him a while, but he nodded.

"I do. But Arya… I would do anything. Anything to keep you safe. I know it's selfish of me, that you don't need me. But I need you. I need you alive, even if it costs our relationship."

He was doing it all for her, she then realized. Arya lifted her hand to touch the hair on the back of his head in the way they liked so much.

"I don't need you? Is that what you think?"

His eyes went dark as his thick brows furrowed in a grimace.

"What is it?" She asked.

Eragon didn't answer, and she saw a bit of red tinging his cheeks.

"You can tell me." She encouraged him. "What do you say we keep the secrets at a minimum as you mentioned before?"

He agreed and said still a little hesitant: "I feared… I thought you may be ashamed of me. By the way you wished to hide me from Däthedr, and from everybody else. Embarrassed that I'm your mate."

Arya widened her eyes. She didn't know if she should find his words funny or worrisome. Why would she ever be embarrassed of having him as her mate? It was absurd.

Like a cold steel piercing her brain, the memory of Fírnen pointing at her prejudices against Eragon took over her mind. Was it possible that he thought about that as well?

She twirled his curls around her fingers with tenderness.

"Why would I be embarrassed of you?"

He shrugged and looked away.

"You had listed the many reasons why I couldn't be with you in the past. They must be inside your head somewhere."

Arya had never considered that he would look back at their past once their future was set. It was disheartening for her to feel that her internal questions weren't so internal after all but offensive to the peace she wished to maintain with him.

She retreated her hand but turned her body to face him. He did the same after placing the book with the parchment and his pipe on the center table.

"They are in my head, you are right. But they don't represent a barrier between us anymore. They are motives for me to want to keep you and our life together protected from those who wish to harm us. It's not shame, it's protection."

Eragon's eyes darkened again for an instant but he nodded.

"And I must trust you will know what to do at the right time." He didn't ask but affirmed. "When to tell and what to tell."

She smiled.

"I hope you do. I said I'm committed to you, didn't I?" His face lit up even for a bit. "Which makes me think of what you believe commitment means."

"Are you ridding me of my promise?"

Arya thought about the conversation she had with Fírnen the day before and his guidance gave her the confidence she needed even if she dreaded what Avelina had pointed out to her earlier.

"I am. You may ask whatever you wish from me. If it's within my power I will do it."

Eragon smiled, and she suspected it was because of the discreet tremble in her voice in the end. She certainly was afraid of what he would ask.

"I believe you have already figured out by now."

The painful lump emerged again, and she swallowed it back down.

"I believe I do, but I need you to say it."

"I want you to promise that you will come to me in definitive if I fail to prepare Renir to replace me. I know it may take many years or decades for me to come to this conclusion, but I need to know that you are committed enough to plan our future together."

Arya could almost laugh at how synchronized they seemed to be if the situation wasn't so dramatic. She tried to prepare Avelina as an alternative to the possibility of Renir failing at being right for the position because she knew Eragon would pressure her to do what she could not even fathom how to do.

She hoped his plan would work for she hated the idea of failing her role as queen, even if it meant she would have a lifetime in the company of the person she treasured the most.

"Is that all?" She asked with pain in her voice.

"Aye. That's all I need."

"It's a lot, I hope you know that."

Eragon smiled with sadness.

"I know."

"Do you also know it would probably break me?"

His expression was all sadness, no smiling at that moment.

"I know." He whispered. "But I also know myself. I only need the promise, because when the time comes, I won't be able to hold you to it."

Arya was surprised. What good a promise can be without the actual effect it can cause? She did not see what good could come from the words of an empty promise.

"So why do I have to promise if I won't have to keep it?"

His hand touched her face gently, and she could feel a slight tremor on it. When he answered, his hoarse voice and the words that came out of his mouth broke her heart.

"For me to know you really want me for who I am."

First, her mouth opened in disbelief. Then her brows creased, and her eyes teared up. It wasn't possible that after all they have been through, he would still doubt her feelings for him. It was not possible. How much would she have to do to make him trust her commitment? How much would she have to do for him to get rid of his insecurities and trust her love?

Not do, my dear. Say. Say it!

"Eragon, I..." She hesitated.

Say it, Arya. He needs to hear it.

She damned the words that felt stuck in her throat and her cursed past for binding her to bad memories that left her forever with a bitter taste in her mouth.

Just forget it all. Say it, my dear. If Fírnen hadn't appeared into her life she wouldn't be half of the woman she was, the brave woman she wished to be. Of that she was sure.

"Of course I want you, Eragon." She started and grabbed the hand that was still touching her face. "Of course I do, for I love you. I love you, Eragon."

She could die right there because life had finally seemed meaningful to her. The look in his eyes was extraordinary. Breathtaking. It was the look of a man that felt loved at last. It was curious to think that hearing it from him was not as powerful as watching his reaction to the words coming out of her mouth. She would do anything to hold on to that look. She would make him feel loved every day of his life if she could. She would do anything. Anything.

"I promise that If you can't find a suitable replacement for your role as Head Rider, I will leave Ellesméra and come live with you here, for good. And you can hold me to it."

Eragon smiled with tears in his eyes and nodded satisfied.

Arya came close to him to kiss his lips that tasted like smoke and salt. She didn't bother as she didn't mind the roughness of his skin. She loved all of him and would do anything for him.

"So, you're not ashamed of me?" He asked in her lips with humor.

She rolled her eyes and backed away. She was amused by his jest when they were having a life-changing moment.

"How could I? You are the most celebrated man in the world. A true legend. How lucky am I to have you as my mate?" She said dramatically.

He laughed at her playful banter.

"Understood. You don't feel ashamed, I get it."

She smiled and kissed him again. And again, he spoke. Was he doing that to annoy her?

"So… We are keeping the secret, right? I just want to be sure."

Arya grabbed both sides of his face and looked deep in his eyes.

"Yes, Eragon. At least for now, all right? Now let me kiss you, please?"

He let her but only for a second because he backed away again to her annoyance and said: "I love you too, just in case it wasn't clear before."

This time she locked the hold behind his neck and answered with their foreheads leaning against each other "It was clear, my love. It has always been."

Chapter Text

"So I'm rebellious now?" Arya's voice came out high pitched as she lowered the letter and looked at him. She was leaning against the kitchen counter while he was having his breakfast.

Eragon almost choked on his tea when he laughed at her outrage.

She flapped the parchment in front of his face and joined him at the kitchen table. "He will never believe that!"

"He is not supposed to believe it. His job is to show you loyalty and bring to you any concerning matters."

"And why would he be concerned about me being a rebel Rider and prioritizing my duty as the Queen? He will be delighted to hear that."

Eragon was not disturbed by her argumentation. He shoved a cherry in his mouth and motioned for her to keep reading.

"Just read the letter, Arya."

Her eyes flicked to him before passing through the lines in black ink. She gasped and turned to him again.

"You asked him for help?"

Eragon laughed hard of her disproportional reaction, that was even louder this time.

"Why would I send him a letter to tell him that you've been defying my command if I won't ask for something? A letter must have a motive, you know?"

"But..." Her cheeks were red in annoyance. "That's absurd! It tinges my name!"

Eragon downed the rest of his tea and got up to wash the cup in the basin.

"On the contrary. Imagine that he spreads the word that you are a rebel Rider that has no regard for the chain of command in our Order. It will divert the eyes from our involvement at the same time it will tell you he is a traitor." He turned to face her while drying the cup with a dishrag. "If he tries to help me to get you back under my command, the word won't get out, but you will know that his loyalty is volatile, it depends on his motives. Now..." He pointed a finger at her. "If you hear it first when he comes to warn you against me, there's still the chance he is doing it just to separate us even further, but it's a good sign that you have a loyal advisor and friend."

Arya stood up with an unwelcoming expression and moved to be in front of him. Eragon put the cup and the rag away and they stared at each other.

"There's a lot of ifs in this plan of yours." She pushed the parchment to his chest. He grabbed it without diverting his gaze.

"What does it mean? Should I cancel it? Rework it?" His eyes lit up. "Oh! We should work on this together! It will be fun to come up with a story."

She sighed and blinked slowly to control her temper as he assumed.

"It means that I don't like it. Not only the story but the whole plan. It's manipulative, dirty and it makes me look bad even to my ally. Even if he thinks that ridding myself of your influence is a must."

Eragon felt disappointed. He wanted her to support him and give the same importance to the death threats as he was giving. He felt as he was the only one trying to protect her well-being. It wasn't fair!

"I wish you were engaged in fighting the danger against your life. It's not easy to be a world away just waiting to hear about how someone tried to or succeeded in killing you, you know? I wished you could fight back!"

"Let me finish..." She said in a commanding tone, to which Eragon took a deep breath and looked away, clutching the letter in his fist. He was the angered one now. "I don't like your plan, but it doesn't mean it's not worth a try."

He looked at her again. She relented, but he was still in a fighting disposition.

"I would do it anyway," he challenged her.

Arya licked her lips and encircled his waist with her arms. His anger faltered a bit, but it was just a bit, so he didn't hug her back.

"I know. You told me you would do anything to keep me safe, and I believe you." She placed her humid lips on his neck then brought them to touch his ear. "Just don't push the chord too much, it may snap."

A shiver ran throughout his whole body. He suspected it was for two reasons, one being the amazing sensation of having her so close breathing on his skin. The other one was scary, for her words, being slippery as the elven manner mandated, sounded too much as a threat. It wasn't, for he knew she was only warning him of the consequences of straining their relationship in the future, but even then, he didn't want to see that happening.

"Arya... I hate thinking of losing you. But if I do one day, it will be with a clear conscience even if it hurts like nothing else, because I will know that I didn't turn my back on you when you needed protection." His tone was still serious, upset.

She didn't back away and kept the contact of her lips on his skin.

"I know, my love." She kissed his left cheek and moved away.

They locked eyes as she waited for his mood to lighten up. Eragon took a deep breath, closing his eyes. He did it five times before looking at her again. She blinked an eye and smiled softly.

"Go on now, before you arrive late at your meeting with Nasuada."

It amazed him how sweet she had learned to be around him, how careful. Of course, she had a temper and raised her voice when something was not of her taste, like that bloody letter, but when she had time to calm herself down, she would show him she cared. It was heartwarming and he could easily get used to it. It was her way of enjoying their time together instead of letting it slip through their fingers when they didn't have too much of it.

"I wonder why she wants to see me alone before meeting with us all."

Arya smiled because of his new tone of voice and started to walk up the stairs.

"Wedding arrangements, perhaps?"

"Oh. Yes, it makes sense." He stepped to the living room and looked up to see her almost at the top of the stairs. "Which reminds me..." Arya halted and looked down. "We will need a safe place to have the wedding so Orrin won't know about it."

"Yes, and?"

"And I was thinking..." He brushed his mustache with two fingers. "Would you mind if I offered them the hill? Afterward, we can hold a small celebration by the river, just a dinner among friends."

"Shouldn't you be discussing this with the bride?" She tried to keep serious, but her eyes were gleaming with playfulness.

"Well... Yes, but it's your hill. Our hill. I mean..."

"Eragon." He stopped and stared at her. "Lend them the hill. And the river. It's all right." She said and restarted her climb.

"Right. I will do that."

From up there, she added.

"Why don't you offer them the house for the night as well?"

Eragon frowned. Is she mocking me? He rushed to the bedroom to see that she had already entered the washroom.

"Arya!" He called and waited until she answered.

She opened the door just enough for him to see her face, knowing very well she had undressed her nightgown and robe for a bath already.

"Yes?"

"What do you mean, offer them the house?"

"They need a place for the wedding night, don't they? Or do you expect them to spend such a special moment inside that moldy mountain of yours?"

Eragon was surprised. And a little offended by the way she spoke of his mountain, crafted with a lot of effort and thoughtfulness.

"Are you serious?"

"Don't be silly, Eragon. You know I can't lie in this language. Now go meet with her and make the offer."

"If that's the case..." He smirked, "I can't offer her the house."

Her brows creased.

"Why not?"

"It's not my house to offer. It's yours. And you aren't supposed to know about the wedding, so..."

She let out a heavy breath.

"Fine, do whatever you want." She was already closing the door when his foot got in the way. "What now?"

His malicious grin told her exactly what he wanted. Maybe his wandering eyes that traveled throughout her exposed body helped to get the message across.

"Oh no. You will be late for your meeting. And I have to scry Däthedr as well."

"I'm the Head Rider, you are the queen. I'm sure we will be forgiven for our lapses."

Her head nodded no, but her hand allowed his entrance and pushed him to her.

"Don't make me regret this." She whispered in his ear as he lifted her by the thighs and placed her on the counter.

"You won't. I promise."

As foreseen, he was late. Terribly. His feet moved so fast on the steps to Nasuada's floor that he thought they might have seemed like a blur. Being with Arya was like flying during a gale: full of ups and downs, laughter and tears. Not to mention the constant butterflies in his stomach. He dreaded the times she would spend too much time in silence, fearing she would find a matter to fight him for. Or she would snuggle up against his body at night and say sweet words in his ear that would make his limbs go numb. She could advance with a ferocious stare or a lustful gleam in her eyes. He could never know what to expect.

The thought made him chuckle with excitement for being loved by such a complex creature. Yes, he was loved by her, now he was sure. Hearing those words coming out of her mouth was an incomparable feeling that he wished to share with the world but couldn't. We can't have it all, can we?

He finished his run and approached Nasuada's quarters. At her door, he composed himself, fixing his tunic and hair, and knocked three times.

"Enter."

He walked in to see Queen Nasuada at the table enjoying her breakfast with his half-brother. Her expression couldn't be farther from the anger he was expecting.

"Good morning, your majesty." He bowed.

"Good morning, Eragon. And please, no formalities. This is a family gathering."

She motioned for him to join her and Murtagh at the table. Her servant poured juice into her glass, left the jar on a trail on the sideboard, and left the room.

Eragon sat down beside Murtagh and opposite her.

"I apologize for being late. I... lost track of time." A half-truth is better than a full lie.

"Don't worry, brother. We just started." Murtagh patted on his shoulder and smiled friendly. "I bet you haven't eaten yet, I didn't see you in the dining hall earlier."

Murtagh started to fill Eragon's cup with tea.

More tea? I will be made solely of herbs if I drink much more than that.

Saphira was amused as she listened to his thoughts from the Hall of Colors. She had gone to watch her eggs with Fírnen.

"I haven't. I'm starving." He lied and accepted the cake Nasuada was offering him.

"So, Eragon. I'm glad we are having this opportunity to talk freely. As you have imagined by now, we're here to talk about my pregnancy and our wedding." She glanced at Murtagh before staring at him.

"Aye, I've imagined it. And I would like to congratulate you, Nasuada. A child is always a great joy."

She bowed her head with beaming eyes. The lines around her lips and eyes creased with a content smile, revealing that she was already a mature woman.

"Thank you, Eragon. I'm glad that we will be bonded by family ties soon. And I'm forever grateful to you for agreeing to help us keep this a secret. I feared you would refuse."

Eragon forced the cake down his throat to speak. He was not enjoying the idea of having two meals just to hide his relationship. Well, maybe he was enjoying just a bit because Nasuada's cooks were the best in the entire world, and that fruit cake tasted like pure bliss.

"I must be honest... When Murtagh told me all about this, I thought I would refuse too. It's not right that the Order interferes directly with the political games played in Alagaësia, games you must agree that your pregnancy will ignite. But then I reconsidered and thought that above all the politics, we are dealing with family matters, as you said."

Nasuada smiled grandly, and Eragon thought he saw her eyes shimmer because of tears.

"Thank you." She said simply. He nodded and took another bite of the cake.

I guess you are starving after all that exercise, huh? Saphira joked.

He felt his face warming up and the food getting stuck in his throat. Drinking some tea to wash it down, he thought of something to divert the attention from him.

Eragon cleared his throat and said, "Have you thought about the details already? When is it going to be, where?"

The couple traded looks and then got their attention back to him.

"We were hoping that you could suggest what you think is best. We wished it was as soon as possible," she said.

Oh great. I'm the main event again.

He leaned back in his chair.

"It can be sooner than soon. Tonight, or tomorrow. And I may have a place. It's a small hill by the river."

"The Tialdarí Hill?" Murtagh asked with a smiled. "I saw it on the map Arya has in her study."

He felt himself getting warm again.

Damn it, I hate secrets! They make me feel nervous and clueless about how to act.

Saphira was having too much fun to answer him.

"That's the one."

"Isn't it close to the house you built for her?"

Eragon inhaled deeply and tried to sound casual.

"Aye. I thought she would feel more at home there than here, inside the mountain."

"Hasn't she spent many years leaving inside a mountain? Farthen Dûr. I imagined she had grown accustomed to mountains by now" Murtagh asked Nasuada in a jesting tone.

"Leave him be, Murtagh." She reprehended but kept a smile the entire time. "Don't worry, Eragon. One day you will have with her what I have with your brother. Just give it time and don't give up hope."

If it were other times, he would feel saddened by her suggestion. However, being so cornered in the way he was, he couldn't feel more relieved that she thought he was only a man whose love hadn't been reattributed yet. He sighed in relief, but it looked like a heartache. Good.

"I won't," he smiled back at her. "So, what do you say?" They traded meaningful glances again. "I can even ask Arya if you can spend your wedding night at her house. I'm sure she won't mind staying one more night inside the mountain since she had lived many years in one, right brother?" He narrowed his eyes to Murtagh, that laughed softly.

"Right, brother. For me, it's settled. How about you?" He asked Nasuada.

"If Arya agrees, why not?"

"Brilliant!" Eragon said wishing to slip away from there and their prying eyes. "Is that all?"

Nasuada's expression turned serious, and his spine froze.

"I'm afraid not. We need to speak about Orrin."

Eragon didn't have enough disposition to avoid the conversation or to pretend he had. His shoulders dropped and he saw Murtagh stir in his chair, looking from one to another.

"Don't tell me the situation is this bad."

Nasuada looked down for a second like a child that's been caught in naughtiness.

"King Orrin is… difficult. As you know."

Eragon rested the fork on the plate and wiped his mouth after a sip of tea.

"Allow me to say this, Nasuada, but you are not easy yourself."

The comment raised a sadden chuckle in her chest.

"No, I'm not. But no one rises to power being too friendly and amicable. We all need our fair dose of poison in our fangs."

It made him think of Arya's "poison." What could it be? Did her people fear her?

"Anyway," she restarted, "Orrin has always been difficult, but since the agreement has been signed our relations are taking an irreversible toll."

"Was it because of the ultimatum you sent him?"

"It helped, I can't deny. But he wants my crown, it's not a secret. I only figured that after twenty years he would've settled with the second best."

Eragon thought of what she said, and in his mind, it all sounded like a big load of sh…

Eragon! Have more respect. Saphira reprehended him.

They're not listening!

But you are making that face. The uninterested and petulant face. Stop it right now!

How do you know which face I'm making?

I can feel it like it's my own. Now pay attention, she's talking.

"…but the problem now is that he's slowly moving up the borders."

Eragon blinked and shook his head.

"Wait! What?"

Nasuada breathed heavily and looked at Murtagh who encouraged her with a nod.

"Orrin is provoking a war, Eragon. I have sources confirming that he is trying to push the borders until I recognize it as an act of war and raise my armies against him."

"Why would he do that? You can crush him. Not to mention that you would have Orik's and Arya's support. He can't win."

Murtagh intervened for the first time.

"He is provoking the Order as well by doing that. It's our duty as you know well to protect the peace. By threatening such peace, he is inducing us to act. He wants people to see that the Riders are not so impartial as it seems. He wants the people to rebel against us and Nasuada, for the fear that history is repeating itself. If he succeeds, no dwarf or elven army can stop him."

Eragon's jaw dropped.

How can I be so naïve, Saphira?

You're not naïve, you're good. You don't have the poison in your fangs, as Nasuada said.

Arya is good…

Arya is old. She's seen a lot.

He felt lost. They couldn't be worrying about borders and territory when a real threat was knocking on their door.

"This seems so foolish to my eyes. We shouldn't be discussing this, we should be worrying about the magicians in the north! The real war!"

Again, another look between Nasuada and Murtagh.

"It's precisely what I need you to think about. Look, Eragon…" Nasuada leaned forward on her elbows, "I need your permission to hide the information from Orrin. He will use it against me to substantiate his allegations of favoritism by the Order toward me. He will say that you are giving all your attention to my territory and none to his."

Eragon shook his head.

"It's not right. It's not under our moral code. The whole land should be protected by the Order."

"Brother, listen," Murtagh reached his shoulder and squeezed it, "he will not stop until he has Nasuada's head on a pike. He wants her throne. He will use everything he can to do it."

She is doing the same as it seems. Saphira said.

She is! How can they pretend she is not?

Measure your words carefully, Eragon. You don't want to create an indisposition with the queen, who's about to become your sister.

A heavy breath escaped his lips.

"Nasuada, try to understand. Whatever the actions the Order takes, it will never be political. We are under a powerful oath, lifting the heaviest of burdens. You asked, but I must refuse," he saw her eyes sparkling with fury and her chin raising an inch, "I will tell everyone about what happened to the lord of Ceunon and I will hear everyone's demands equally. There's no other way."

They traded stares for a while before she nodded very slowly.

"I remember you pledging your sword to me once."

"I did. I will keep my word, but there's a stronger bond tying me to my obligations with the Order. If those two oaths collide, I have no choice, my obligation as Head Rider takes precedence over my loyalty to you as a vassal. I'm sorry."

"Very well. I guess I will have to find another way to deal with Orrin."

"I'm afraid so. I'm sorry, Nasuada. I'm already keeping your pregnancy and marriage a secret because it's personal, but I can't hide a matter that important to the safety of the whole Alagaësia."

"I understand, Eragon." She smiled cordially.

Oh, she does not understand. Saphira observed.

I will suffer for that.


"You could choose another time to come. When we don't have to deal with all this political drama and just be together by the river."

Arya noticed his lack of motivation by the way he dropped himself in the chair next to her in the conference room before the rest had arrived. They had agreed with a meeting with the other leaders, but before he went to see Nasuada in her quarters. Arya suspected it had been a tense conversation.

"I would if I could."

She watched as he rubbed his face too hard for her taste with intentions of hurting himself. Her hand stopped his and she brought his right hand to her lap. Saphira and Fírnen, that were accommodated behind their chairs traded looks in silence. Through their bond, Fírnen was passing the general emotions Eragon had during the meeting with the human queen as Saphira shared with him.

"I hate it. Why can't people live in peace? Why complicate things? Why so many secrets?"

Arya sighed. She wished she had the answer to those questions as well but knew she was one of the aggravating factors to his discomfort being so entangled in her own political drama and secrets.

They were early to the meeting, so she let him speak. He told her what she wasn't supposed to know for Nasuada trusted in his confidentiality. Nevertheless, whatever they had discussed it would be kept hidden since she wouldn't betray neither of their trust.

"I don't know where you will stand if there's a war soon, but if I were you, I would start thinking about it."

"What makes you assume I haven't already?"

His mouth opened humorously.

Arya spared him a small smile before putting on her hard mask again. The one she wore when talking politics. She hated to use it with him.

"I will be forced to join her armies if she marches south due to our alliance, but it will complicate my situation."

He frowned as his hand squeezed hers.

"Why is that?"

She debated with herself how much she should say. It was more cautious of her to hold her tongue and ignore his question, but she found herself more prone to sharing information with him those days. She guessed it was because she trusted him too much.

"Going to war, a human war, at the expense of elven lives, just to keep an alliance will not be seen with good eyes by my people. And that's all that I'm telling you."

"Right," he bent his head in agreement, "And how was your meeting with Däthedr?"

"It was better than I anticipated. And that's all I can tell you as well."

He nodded and looked away lost in thought.

Arya took the chance to study him. She noticed he looked tired all of a sudden. The meeting added twenty years to his unchanging youth so he could wear it around his eyes and forehead. In nothing he resembled the fiery young man and the passionate lover of that morning. Politics took a big toll on him, and she wished to take all the heavy load from his shoulders and place it on hers.

It was her turn to squeeze his hand so he could look at her. Eragon received her reassuring look and relaxed a bit almost smiling. Changing completely the color of their morning, he told her about the arrangements for the wedding. It would happen the next day at sunset, after the games on the hill. Nasuada and Murtagh would spend their wedding night at Arya's house, but before they would all dine by the river.

"I'll ask Katrina to cook, and I'm guessing Ismira will be in charge of the music," he added.

"You have to prepare your speech."

Eragon didn't have time to respond, because their sensible ears captured the sounds of steps at the end of the hallway, so she let go of his hand and spared him a last fond smile. Her hand felt cold without his.

The meeting was a disaster. Eragon never had a chance, he was massacred, and there was nothing she could do, for she was not there as a Rider but as a monarch, like the rest of them.

At his narrative of what had transpired in the north involving the Lord of Ceunon, Renir, and Murtagh, Nasuada and Orrin fought for the bigger influence on the Order; Orik threatened to burrow the dwarf nation even deeper in the Beor Mountains, if Eragon didn't send him more Riders to fortify the region; and Garzhvog resented being left out of the fight. Arya just watched and fantasized on digging Támerlein deep in each one of their throats for putting Eragon in such a difficult position, but also for making preposterous demands.

"I don't believe you understand how the Order works," Eragon said to them all after much discussion. "I'm not a leader of a nation like you that must take sides. We don't take sides, we fight for all people."

Orrin's eyes sparkled and Arya saw the corners of his mouth twist in an evil smile.

"That's not what I understood from our conversation the other day."

Eragon dug his nails into his palms and his cheeks were flushed. All eyes were on him. Arya didn't know what they were talking about, but she feared that Eragon had stepped out of line.

"That day we both said things we should regret." He was making an immense effort to sound controlled and polite. "If I offended you, your majesty, I'm sorry, it was not my intention."

"Offend me?" Orrin scoffed. "You threatened me. Do you deny it?"

"I understand how it might have sounded like a threat, but..."

Orrin's hands fell heavily on the table startling those around it.

"You are a coward, boy! Now that you are under pressure you are incapable of telling the truth." His voice was loud, and his face was red like a tomato. He then turned to Arya and said, "is that the leader you want for your Order? Is that the man you all admire? This fickle-hearted child?"

Arya's heart started beating like a drum inside her chest as her hands formed two tight fists on her lap. When the guttural sounds that came from Saphira's and Fírnen's throats echoed through the room she thought it was the sound of the growl she didn't know she was letting out.

Very slowly she rose to her feet and leaned forward on her palms planted on the table. Arya faced Orrin looking down to him on the other side of the table and let her breath out three of four times before speaking in a low and feral voice.

"I don't know what he said to you, Orrin, but of two things I'm sure: first, he is not a boy or a child. In fact, you would do yourself a favor by treating him as your equal. Second, the matters of the Order do not concern you or your political moves, but I will grant you the courtesy of telling you that Eragon is the best leader this Order could have. Now, if you have any problems concerning the decisions taken by him, you are welcome to stay in this room and attend our meeting to expose to all the dragons and their Riders how inappropriate you think our leader is. But of course, you would be going against the man who thought them almost everything they know."

Arya could practically touch the fear emanating from Orrin's body. It was a rotten smell that she would find in the most coward men when facing her blade. At that moment, her blade had nothing to do with his fear, but her stance did. She was a ferocious beast protecting her own, and Orrin was an outsider that threatened their peace. She would never allow it.

Orrin cleared his throat and looked away from her hovering angry eyes.

"I believe that it's not necessary for me to stay," his voice trembled, "I already said what I had to say."

Arya straightened her body and looked around at the others.

"And I believe this meeting has taken an unwanted turn. What do you all say we continue this another day, so we have time to breathe and collect our thoughts?"

"I agree," Nasuada said.

"Aye." Garzhvog and Orik agreed as well.

"Very well," Nasuada stood up, "meeting adjourned."

As soon as the leaders left the room, Eragon dropped his head and banged it on the table, letting the loud thud travel around the room.

"Stupid. I'm an idiot." He did it again, stronger this time.

Arya sat back down and asked with a serious voice, "Eragon, what did you say to him?"

"Nothing that could justify calling me a coward," his voice was muffled being his face pressed against the table, "he said that he knew how I was plotting to have him removed from the agreement, and I simply told him that he could be surprised by the Riders one day. It wasn't a threat, not clearly at least…"

"Eragon! What did you do? Will you ever stop being so reckless and getting yourself in trouble?"

That's what I said. Saphira commented.

I think Orrin had it coming. What a petulant little man. Fírnen moved to stand behind Eragon in a symbolic gesture of support.

Arya sighed and continued her scolding, "I don't think you ever stop to ponder on any matter, you just take important decisions as they are frivolous and casual chores. I thought you had grown by now, but it seems nothing had changed."

Arya… Fírnen gave her a warning.

Her words caused Eragon to keep his punishing, as he banged his head on the table once more, whispering offensive callings to himself. He was defeated.

Arya knew she wasn't all wrong but couldn't help feeling bad for saying he hasn't grown. She knew he had and saying that was as meaningless as Orrin's accusations. Intended to hurt but as false as the notion of the sun rising in the west.

Her left hand slid through his back and rested between his shoulder blades.

"Thank you for defending me even though I don't deserve it," he mumbled.

She massaged a tense spot on his back and replied with a calmer voice, "You deserve the defense but also the criticism. You could've been better, Eragon. You know it."

Arya was ready to stop his head from banging on the table again, but when he raised his body it wasn't to hurt himself.

He looked into her eyes with a defeated expression. "I know. I was wrong to talk back to Orrin that day and…" The words were left hanging on his tongue and his eyes became unfocused.

"Eragon?"

Arya removed her hand from his back and touched his face with concern. She looked around and saw that Fírnen was watching Saphira as she froze at her spot as well. They waited.

Half a minute later, Eragon regained motion and looked at Saphira with a deep line of expression creasing his forehead. With his mental voice, he resounded inside their heads.

We need to take this meeting to the Hall of Colors. Immediately.

Chapter Text

The dragons and their Riders were gathered around the Eldunarí in the Hall of Colors. After twenty years of the new Order, there were seventeen pairs of acting dragons and Riders, not including Eragon, Arya, Murtagh, and their partners. Inside the room, only nine pairs were present, the others were left behind protecting Alagaësia.

"Master, what is the reason for meeting here?" Golak, the first urgal to become a Rider in history, asked as Eragon knelt by Glaedr's Eldunarí.

Fildr, the first dwarf Rider, poked his fellow on the ribs with more strength than needed and motioned him to be silent. The others simply observed their seniors picking on each other.

Eragon turned to look at Saphira. She was already expanding her mind to engulf all the minds in hers. It was a powerful experience, and Eragon felt pride for being bonded with the strongest dragon alive. Saphira's mental capacity increased year by year. She was able to stretch her consciousness to reach a big portion of the Beor Mountains and the Hadarac Desert, and the eastern boundaries of Du Weldenvarden were no stranger to her either. She couldn't hold the reach for too long, but it was still impressive. Saphira was dedicated and disciplined when training her mind, all so they could be better as a team. One day, her power would be enough to do what their elders did, scout the land from afar using only her consciousness.

At the contact of her mind, the Riders and the dragons flinched and looked at each other, feeling all the simultaneous connection with their peers but with the Eldunarí as well. There was a crowd inside their heads. Eragon emanated a reassuring thought toward the others because it was easy for them to lose themselves in that vast sea of voices.

Watch carefully, my friends, Saphira started, for what we are about to show you could mean the first danger you will face as dragon and Rider.

Glaedr conducted the experience from there. He put them all in the same frozen forest Eragon had seen in his mind years before. They stood still as a hooded knight rode his warhorse through the snow. It was dark but they could see well when the knight looked behind him at something that startled the horse. The animal sped up to create a distance from whatever was there to catch them.

The horse gained an immense speed as it passed by the watchers. They all turned to see as it went deeper into the forest. A noise made their heads turn, and on the horse's trail, a luminosity followed. It was so bright that they had difficulty to keep their eyes open, but they did and saw that it was a person showered in light. It was a woman, Eragon recognized, and the light came from her palms. But the most surprising fact about it was that she was gliding, not walking or running. And she was fast! So fast that Eragon imagined she could cross the entire desert in just a day if she never stopped to rest or if there was an infinite energy supply to power her magic.

And then she passed by them as well, her eyes were also luminous and her skin was glowing faintly. Eragon couldn't perceive her features, if she was young or old, to which kind she belonged or the color of her eyes and hair. The only thing he knew was that she was evil and dark magic was her dominium.

The vision changed and again they saw the knight. He rode in the morning still at great speed, but the threat wasn't after him anymore, neither the snow covered the ground. It must have passed at ten days since the frightening encounter with the luminous entity, the time someone in a rush would need to leave the forest and arrive at the known part of Alagaësia. Still, he rushed and they saw as the gates of Ceunon came in sight to receive the man. He lowered his head to remove the hood and the guards let him pass but before he was inside the city, one of them made him stop. He said, "We don't bring a good account of the recent events, Urien."

The man frowned and readied his horse to rush inside at the guards' tellings. "What happened? Is it the lord?" His voice was deep and sounded almost like a grunt.

The guards glanced at each other before the first one confirmed with a nod and said, "His fever receded last night, and he even opened his eyes for a while, but this morning he was cold as ice, gone."

Urien let out a mournful hiss and kicked his horse to enter the city.

Glaedr brought them all to reality again. It was alarming to see all those faces with started eyes and gaping mouths. They were afraid. Eragon sighed and rose to his feet, so did Arya. She stared at him with concern but he also saw a thousand questions floating in her green eyes.

"And that last vision happened today, earlier this morning. You must vow to keep this matter among ourselves. Do it now," he commanded, and so they did what he asked. "Now, as you could see, we finally put a face on the threat in the north. Or better said, a figure, since the face was unclear to see."

"Why only now?" Amara, an elf that performed her duties in Teirm, asked with suspicion.

"Our elders have been relentlessly scouting the frozen north in search of more information about the dark spellcasters, but they've been hiding well for many years. We suspect they know we can watch them and only let us see what they want us to know."

"So, they know we saw that crazy woman? She wanted us to know about her? Why?" Avelina was so puzzled that a deep wrinkle changed her feature.

"I don't know," Eragon said and look at Murtagh who had a somber expression squatting by Thorn's side.

"It's a trap!" Someone shouted from the back, and the chattering erupted in the hall. The Riders' voices combining with the mental intrusion of their dragons formed a maddening rumble in Eragon's head. He flinched.

Enough! Fírnen's deep voice stopped all others. It's time to listen, not speak.

"Thank you, Fírnen." Eragon threw him a grateful glance, "I don't know what she wants, but it's clear she possesses a big power. She's most likely using speechless magic. I know that in your education this type of magic was discouraged for being too dangerous. I don't regret not teaching you how to use it, but I believe now it's time for you, not the students, you to start training. It's good that a great part of the Order is here, so we can work on a good schedule for practice. The others will have to come sometime in the next year. And you will rotate, so everyone gets the chance to be proficient in the use of speechless magic under the tutelage of the Eldunarí. I must warn you, though, it's a dangerous practice. You could be killed or seriously hurt. So you will have to make a choice: you either take the training and fight the dark spellcasters when the time comes, or you refuse and stand back. I won't force you to fight, but those without the proper training will be forced to stand back."

The Riders without exceptions looked at their dragons. Some even traded encouraging touches. And all without exceptions agreed.

"Good. Questions?"

He spent the rest of the morning answering their questions. Arya and the dragons helped, but the elders were the biggest providers of information. The most ancient Eldunarí would impart some of their knowledge in a primal way that Eragon had to translate, but in general, the Riders, that had taken their seats on the floor near their dragons, were gaining confidence with each piece of new information.

Why did she stop pursuing the man? It was clear she was faster than him, but she let him go. Why? Vance asked.

"We can only speculate, but I believe she chose to save her energy. Or she wanted him to speak of her. To cause fear."

"It makes sense," Arya opined, "the problem is that his tellings may cause too much fear, people may want to move South."

"We can't blame them," Renir said, "If it happens, what should we do? Should we try to stop them?"

"People are free to come and go on Nasuada's territory. She made sure of it. Let them go," Eragon answered.

"We need a plan," Arya stated and stood up, "Avelina and Renir will stay in the north, but they can't hold it alone. We need three or four more Riders with them. And another one with me in Du Weldenvarden."

"No," Eragon said, "We need more. Five more in the north: one in the valley, one in Ceunon and five patrolling the area. And you need at least two because you are not as mobile as it would be ideal."

"All right. Seven. We need seven volunteers to go north."

Again the Riders looked at their dragons and they all raised their hands.

Great. We only need one more, Thorn said, how about Gulart and Silvian? They are doing a very good job as a patrolman in the Beors.

Gulart was the second dwarf Rider that Eragon had sent to Orik's kingdom in accordance with their agreement. He was indeed a good Rider, and his dragon Silvian was a strong light grey female, prepared for battle like no other dragon there.

"Great suggestion, Thorn. I will get in contact with them," Eragon tipped his head in the dragon's direction, "How about this: Avelina and Runalla stay in Carvahall. Thom and Lorgas go to Ceunon. Renir and Vance, you are in charge of the patrol. Take Golak and Walbor, Amara and Norfir. Fildr and Inqen, go with Arya and Fírnen. Murtagh and Thorn stay in Ilirea as a reference to you all. Does it sound good?" He asked and they all approved. "Brilliant. I will relocate two new Riders to the Beor since Fildr and Gulart will be moving north. I hope King Orik doesn't oppose."

"What if he does?" Fildr asked.

"Then, I will have to improvise. Either way, it's settled."

Saphira mentally searched for Ästrith and requested her to fetch them some sheets of parchment and ink. There, Eragon drew a rudimentary map of the north of Alagaësia. They worked on a rotation system for the patrols and the right course of action if there was a combat. They also discussed the training in speechless magic, which was decided that it would start the next day, there was no time to waste.

There was, however, something he had to do, and it would not be easy.

It felt strange to get back to the Games after discussing such important matters. It seemed to Eragon that those people cheering on the bleachers were also spectators of life itself, watching the heroes and their enemies battle for power and justice. He took a deep breath and walked to the competitors' area looking for Lord Dain. He was about to compete in archery, general category.

The bard called the archers and Eragon finally saw Dain moving among the group of competitors. He decided not to tell him about his brother at the moment. It was more merciful of him to let the young man compete with a clear head.

As expected, Dain advanced in the competition, being as precise as he was when shooting an arrow. It was time. Eragon hated that. Dain's eyes met with Eragon's from afar and he knew immediately. Dropping his bow, Dain let out a deep breath and walked toward Eragon.

"No..." he cried.

"I am so sorry, Dain, but your brother passed away."

The lad did something Eragon was not expecting, and he saw himself locked tight into Dain's embrace. Inside Eragon's arms, Dain seemed like a little boy, crumbling in tears. There was nothing left for him to do but to pat on the other's back and hope he could ever recover from the loss.

That night, he felt too agitated to rest. It was far beyond midnight when Arya went down the stairs to find him sitting at the desk in the study, staring out the window. He had been doodling random patterns on a parchment after failing at writing something meaningful. He wanted to forget his concerns and work on a speech that could show Murtagh and Nasuada that despite all the political entanglement in their lives, they should be considered lucky to have each other. They were lucky because many would go through life without finding what they had found. However, that thought could not be translated into written words without sounding like a commonplace, a worn-out statement. So, he procrastinated. And now, all he had was a sheet full of lines in tint.

"How about that speech?" Arya asked as she approached him.

He grunted and ripped the parchment in tiny pieces.

"There's no speech at all."

She leaned on the desk and watched as he fetched another sheet and dipped the quill in ink.

"Why don't you be spontaneous?"

Eragon threw her a suspicious look.

"Spontaneous? You are telling me not to prepare? You?"

"Yes, me. Now stop punishing yourself with so many worms in your head as Saphira would say and come to bed."

Arya grabbed his arm and pulled him up, and he followed her lead.

"Fine, but if I can't find the words at the right time the fault will be yours."

"I don't think you can ever run out of words. Or can you?"

He laughed thinking she was probably right. How many weddings had he performed in the last twenty years? How many speeches he had given? Too many to count, still, each time he would feel his stomach sinking and his mouth drying from the anxiety. Being so close to the couple, their family, could only make his nervousness worse. Arya must have noticed his troubled state and pulled him to her chest as they lied down to sleep. She whispered a melodious spell in his ear that made his lids fall heavy, and soon his waking dreams were all he could see.


It was too early for Eragon to get out of bed in Arya's opinion. He slid from inside of her embrace before dawn and started to fill his bag with his clothes.

"What are you doing?" She said sitting up on the bed.

He closed the wardrobe and went to the dresser to collect his socks.

"Packing. Nasuada's servants and Katrina will be here at sunrise. You don't want them to see any signs of my presence here, do you?"

Grabbing a handful of socks he headed to the bed and sat on the edge where he tried to find the right matches and roll them in pairs.

Arya observed him for a while. He was serious, and a grimace creased his features. He wasn't content with that. Not the fact that they were lending the house for Murtagh and Nasuada's wedding night, but he was unhappy with the secrecy. She knew it, it was eating him inside.

"Eragon?" She called and he glanced at her before getting back to his socks. "Do you wish to tell them?"

He left a pair of socks half-rolled on his lap and looked at her.

"Tell who about what?"

"Your family about us."

Realization came to him and he breathed deeply.

"Of course. But we cannot. I understand that."

Arya nodded so he could go back to packing. The secret made both unsatisfied, but to be honest, the people which Arya wished could know about them already knew, as Avelina and Renir, and she didn't have a family to confide in. That was what made her discontent the most. Despite that, she even enjoyed their hidden intimacy. It felt like a game in which she was the winner every night when she returned to his arms without the scrutiny of the public. Politicians, leaders, spies. All of them beat by her who kept getting her prize night after night, kiss after kiss. But Eragon felt uneasy. She knew he didn't feel like a victor. Instead, he showed signs of exhaustion, as the way he sighed heavily before leaving the house in the morning or the way his shoulders seemed unusually low when he returned. He didn't want to spend time in the dining hall after dinner to smoke with the others, afraid of letting anything escape. He did that for her because she wanted them to stay hidden. But what was she doing for him?

"We should tell them," she stated.

His eyes darted to her.

"We cannot," he said slowly more to himself than to her.

"I know you want to, by the way you try to spend as much time as you can at home to avoid falling into a trap of telling anyone."

"I want to spend time at home because of you!"

Arya scooted over to where he was sitting and passed her legs and arms around him so she could hug him from behind.

"I know you wished to have what they have. A wedding, a marriage. Children, a family."

He shook his head with vehemence.

"I don't want that."

"Eragon..."

"I want you, Arya! And I have you, do I not?" He turned his head so she could see his eyes.

"Aye, you do. But..."

"Stop it. You won't make me feel like I'm missing something in life. I'm not."

She rested her chin on his shoulder and waited as he packed another pair of socks.

"I just want you to be comfortable with your family, to have it all," she said finally.

"And you think that telling them about us will do that?" She nodded on his shoulder. "It will not, my queen. I will feel less comfortable. If Nasuada needs to hide her future marriage and child for fear of the accusations of being influenced by the Order, well, I believe we should do the same, for I may seem that I'm favoring your people. More than Nasuada already think I'm doing, of course. Remember that my family is not just my family. They are important players in the political game of Alagaësia."

"I don't forget. But Nasuada knows it's not true that you favor the Älfakyn for we hold a strong alliance with the Kingdom."

"Still. Nasuada... Well, using her own words... She has a dose of poison inside her fangs. And she knows how to use it. I'd rather not give her, or anyone else, the means to hurt what we have. You were right all along. We should keep the secret."

"But it hurts you, the secret. I can see it."

He turned again and she could see his sad smile.

"What hurts me is the thought that in three weeks you will leave again for another ten years."

Her arms held him tighter as her stomach turned upside down.

"Then don't think about it."

She kissed the back of his neck and felt as a shiver ran through his body. Her quick hands rid the bag of his grip, and he was free to touch her thighs that enlaced his waist.

Good morning, little ones. It's almost dawn and I hear horses coming this way. Saphira said.

How close? Eragon asked as Arya kept her kisses on his shoulder and neck. Do you think I can still use the door without being seen?

Too close.  I think it's prudent to jump out the balcony. And hurry!

Arya jokingly put up a fight when he tried to escape her. She laughed as he peeled her fingers off his chest and moved away. He put on his boots and checked the room for any missing item. Sure that he had gotten it all, he leaned into her and gave her a last kiss before jumping out the balcony.

Saphira! She heard as he called for his dragon in anger and went out to see him mounting on her back. You said they were close!

Saphira laughed. Her belly roared with mirth.

I thought it was going to be fun seeing you jumping out  of  the balcony in a hurry. And I was right.  It  was!

Arya laughed with her as they took the skies. As painful as it was, she knew it was only for a day. Then they would have eternity together. The eternity of three weeks...

Chapter Text

At first light, Arya had welcomed Katrina, Ismira, and Nasuada's servants into her home. Mother and daughter were polite when entering her space, but the three handmaids sent by Nasuada looked like a tornado devastating all in sight, sweeping, washing, cleaning. The treehouse soon resembled more like somebody else's home than her own. They changed the table cloth, the sheets and the position of the flower arrangements and paintings on the wall. The books were removed from the shelves and dusted one by one, then organized in a way that made no sense to Arya. More than once, Arya's heart clenched at the sight of Eragon's careful touch being wiped out from their little home. She made an effort though to calm herself and remember that he would be there to help her put their belongings back in place. They could make a day out of it, just the two of them, organizing their private space.

Katrina and Ismira, sensing her distress, invited Arya to the kitchen while the handmaids worked on the bedroom. There, they started to prepare the food for the wedding dinner. Among other things, they were preparing pork meat. Arya was against eating meat, but she understood the social norms in those kinds of festivities. A good human celebration would be lacking if there was not a fair amount of good meat and lots of ale and wine, even if it meant feeding of the energy of innocent creatures. She concentrated on cutting the carrots while Katrina brought the freshly slaughtered animal from the wagon and the smell made her stomach churn. She gritted her teeth and put even more attention on the carrots and what Ismira was saying.

"Poor Dain," she said, "he rode west on a horse before dawn. He said sailing back would take too much time, especially considering that Ceunon is in the far north. Hope offered to take him on Breddor, but Saphira advised against it, being him too young to travel such distance with two people on his back and in an incredible hurry."

Arya took a shallow breath to speak.

"She's right. It would be too straining for Breddor. Either way, he wouldn't be able to get there in time for the funeral."

"Dain knows."

Ismira sighed and squatted before the oven to feed the fire. Arya had watched the girl grow up over the years. She knew about her involvement with the young Lord of Ceunon even before her parents, because she was in Ilirea when the two had met during the Annual Games and watched it happen. It was a predictable relationship since the pair was very much alike in personality. Their position of importance in the future of the Valley and Ceunon was also a contributing factor to their union. Arya was glad they had managed to overcome any adversities and stay together. They were good to each other as she observed over time.

Ismira was comfortable enough in Arya's presence to confide in her when she needed the advice of a wiser one. Arya made sure to offer her all the support she needed as a close friend of the family. It felt that sometimes she would be taking Eragon's place in Ismira's life, which made the responsibility even bigger.

Arya turned to look the girl in the eyes, leaving the carrots chopped in slices on the table.

"Were you two hoping to have your wedding here in the east?" She asked.

"I was," she shrugged and stood up, "so uncle Eragon and Saphira could be present. However, Dain had second thoughts. He wished his people could participate as well. But now we won't be able to choose, will we?"

"You were able to choose to do it in the first place," said Katrina, who bathed the pork in a sauce made of fat, butter, and herbs. "You have your uncle to thank for it. He put some reason into your father's head."

Arya smile because Katrina had a severe tone in her voice and a creased feature just to think about how Roran had been difficult about letting Ismira marry Dain. Arya didn't take Roran's reason, however, since he was only doing what was right. It was a matter of perspectives, she considered.

"True," Ismira agreed. "I just wished I could have them at my wedding as well. Arya, maybe you can convince uncle to come back to Alagaësia. Tell him it's just for a few days, there's no harm in being away for a few days, is it? I'm sure he will listen to you."

Arya felt bad for Ismira when she had her brown eyes beaming with hope.

"He's not allowed to leave Fell Thindarë, I mean, Mount Arngor, in self-indulgence."

"But the other Riders do it! Renir travels to wherever Avelina is. And that's self-indulgent." Ismira crossed her arms and looked angry, an exact imitation of Katrina.

"The others don't have duties as strict as his. Even mine allows me to fly free. If only my other duty could be as forgiving as this one." She signaled the diadem over her brow and spared the girl a sad smile.

"It's not fair," Ismira complained. "Did he choose that? Why would someone choose to be bound forever to a place or a duty?"

"He chose to come here, indeed, so did Saphira. To start a new age of the dragons and Riders. It was the right thing to do," Arya said, feeling as discontented as Ismira.

"If you knew your uncle, my child," Katrina finished preparing the pork and grabbed the pan to put it in the oven, "you would know that he must do what is right, even if his means are a little, you know, unconventional."

Arya nodded.

Ismira breathed deeply.

"Fine. I guess you won't try to convince him, then?"

"I cannot."

The girl stayed in silence as she helped Arya with the vegetables. When they finished, Ismira moved on to mixing the ingredients for the bread dough, and Arya sat at the table to watch her. The young woman glanced over Arya's delicate crown.

"Is it too demanding, your other duty?"

Arya held a complacent smile.

"Can't you imagine?"

"I believe it is, but I could never imagine how is the life of a queen. Especially an elven queen."

Katrina, who stirred the logs in the fire with an iron poker, meddled in the conversation, "Ismira! It's not proper of you to question a queen about her duty."

"It's all right, Katrina," Arya adjusted herself in the chair as she was entering an unwelcoming environment. "It is very demanding, indeed."

"You implied you don't feel free," Ismira said coyly.

"I am not. A queen must live for her people. Fortunately, my nature was always of giving myself to others, so this is not what plagues me."

Now even Katrina was interested and threw the dishrag she used to wipe her hand over her shoulder and leaned against the counter to listen to Arya.

"What is it?" She asked.

Arya crooked her head to the side and thought about what she could tell them.

"Our politics are… complicated."

"Haven't you always dealt with politics?"

"Yes, but I was the ambassador, always mediating. This is different."

"Is it boring? It seems boring." Ismira lifted her brows as she worked on the dough.

Arya laughed lightly.

"It can be boring, yes. But overall, it's tiring. And dangerous, sometimes."

"How so?" The girl's concern was apparent.

"Imagine a place in the ocean where the current splits in other smaller currents, each one revolving in different directions. Turbulent and dangerous waters, that is the result."

Mother and daughter stared at her with confused eyes. Arya knew how to be deflective as only her kind could be, but she found herself being blunter with time, mainly when talking to humans. So, she adjusted her speech.

"What I mean is that conciliating different opinions can often be troublesome. And that's what a queen must do in the majority of the time. Powerful people demanding different things may cause chaos."

Katrina nodded, swaying her red curls. It seemed like she knew what Arya was saying. Ismira, on the other hand, looked sad.

"Can someone try to hurt you because of those demands?"

Arya stared at the girl. That was the moment where the elves would normally get around and bend the language not to tell the whole truth. Humans would lie completely, saying that she couldn't get hurt just to keep Ismira's mind untroubled. But Arya thought that she deserved the truth.

"Yes. I'm not immune to it. None of us is, not Nasuada, Orrin, Orik…"

"Uncle and father. And Dain," Ismira completed the list.

Arya breathed heavily.

"I'm afraid you were born into a family bound to do grand deeds, but also suffer for it."

"Not only my family, Arya. You too, my friends."

Arya bent her head slightly and smiled.

"We will be all right. All of us. You will see."

Ismira's fingers dug into the dough with too much force, and Katrina shook herself out of her trance to get back to cooking. It was easy to tell lies in the human language, Arya thought to herself.

It was around midday when the men arrived. Roran announced he was going to arrange the hill along with a reluctant Orik, so he left. Eragon stayed to work on the site by the river where they would dine and celebrate. He entered the house to drag the dinner table outside and his face turned pale when he looked around the kitchen and the living room. His eyes captured all the changes made there by the handmaids then crossed paths with Arya's look. She mouthed I'm sorry to which he seemed to agree.

The rest of the day was spent working on the preparations for the wedding. Arya only stopped working on the kitchen when the handmaids gathered to leave two hours before the sunset. Katrina and Ismira were supposed to leave as well so they could bathe and get ready for the ceremony, but they hesitated to leave Eragon in charge of finishing to prepare the meal.

"I'm telling you, Katrina. I know how to do it. Go, we will be all right."

"Promise?" She raised a brow to him, inspecting the pie he was working on.

He laughed.

"I promise. Now go."

"Fine," she said and came closer to Arya, who was cleaning the dishes in the basin, "you keep an eye on him, huh?"

Arya whispered to her, but Eragon heard it all very clearly.

"Don't worry, I won't let him out of my sight."

"Good."

Katrina turned on her heels and left. It was the perfect time for Eragon to approach Arya and steal a moment of her attention.

When he rubbed his face on the nape of her neck, she retreated and gave him a side look.

"Eragon!" she reprehended him in a hushed voice, "they may see us!"

"We're alone," he said against her skin.

"Roran and Orik are here!"

"Can't you hear them nailing the flower arrangements on the structure by the river?"

He was right, they were busy. Slowly she relented and turned to reciprocate his caresses. His hands were full of flour, so he held it away from her, but his body pressed her against the counter. She ran her fingers up his arms and ended the motion on his face, where she scratched his still growing beard then held him with tenderness.

"If someone sees us, it will be your fault."

"Aye, all mine."

His smile was the last thing she saw before closing her eyes to receive his warm kisses.


Ismira's voice was so sweet he almost missed when Murtagh and Nasuada walked to him on the Tialdarí Hill that was decorated with lilies forming a pathway for the couple to walk through. The melody coming from his niece's lips was romantic with a touch of melancholy, different from the old joyful Palancar Valley wedding songs chanted for centuries. At least, that was how he perceived it, for the moment was bittersweet to him. His brother's marriage with the Queen was a troublesome occurrence: it would bring lots of happiness to the couple, but it could also throw a veil of conflict and darkness over the land.

Eragon breathed deeply to stop his heart from stomping on his chest from the stress and looked ahead. Nasuada was a vision. He gasped to see her in a light lilac gown adorned with laces on the sleeves and neckline, with flowers on her head in the place of her crown. She was the definition of beauty. And power. He could never describe Nasuada without asserting her power.

Murtagh looked handsome with his hair combed back and his red formal attire. The smile on his face was so big that Eragon wondered if his face didn't hurt from the strain. It caused Eragon to smile as well. Behind the couple, Roran and Katrina walked so they could speak for them as their closest family members and friends.

Eragon decided not to open the ceremony the usual way that consisted of allowing the small crowd a moment to object against the union if there was a plausible reason for it. He looked around and saw his most treasured friends knowing that they would all be lying if they silenced to the question of a possible impediment to that wedding, so he was the one to silence. He searched for the inspiration he required to give his speech in each one of those faces: Orik and Hvedra – that were there for Nasuada only as they had made clear more than once during the day –, Roran and Katrina, Arya, Ismira, Iain, Saphira, Thorn, and Fírnen. Even Angela inspired the words that would come out of his mouth.

"Welcome, friends. Tradition speaks that we must give a chance for people to object against this union. But tradition also speaks of companionship and sacrifice, important aspects of a joint life," his voice wasn't loud, for he was speaking to a small gathering. "So today, instead of allowing tradition to act against you, Murtagh and Nasuada, I will tell you a story of love and sacrifice that I hope will inspire you."

His eyes wandered once again, lingering a second too long on Arya's before looking away at the setting sun. The red and orange light painted the hill and its flowers, and Eragon inhaled deeply to start his telling, "Once there was a man who had the fame of being odd. He lived on the outside of a small village where everyone knew everyone. Not a single word was spoken there without being heard by the entire population. It enraged the man, that wished nothing more than privacy to live alongside his loved one. So, he hid for years in his hut with only the company of his wife, and that was the perfect life for him. Winters were his favorite, for the snow would muffle the voices brought by the wind from the village. He was happy this way, or at least as content as one can be when dealing with the scarcity of a poor life."

Eragon paused and noticed the eyes focused on him. He loved the power of storytelling and often marveled by the innate search for representation carried by humans, elves dwarves or whoever walked the land with an intelligent brain inside their skull.

"One winter day, the man decided he had spent too much time feeding of their stocked supplies, not knowing if it would be enough for the entire season. He wanted something fresh, something new, despite what his wife said that they were fine and she wished he could stay inside, warm and safe. So, he gathered his bow, a hunting knife, a change of clothes, a blanket, and some mead for the road," he blinked an eye to Orik, who chuckled and pulled his beard, "and he left. He walked through the snow all day only stopping for quick rests. The more he walked, farther from the village he got. He traveled for two more days without the sight of another creature, intelligent or not, until a camping site came to his field of view. The snow there was still as abundant as around his village, and he could see a lone figure sitting by the fire. Careful not to scare the person, he shuffled his feet on the ground causing much more sound than his experienced hunter steps normally would. A pair of eyes focused on him and he saw an old man, his wrinkled face was tinged by the marks of tears. The man came even closer and greeted the elder. It was when he saw that at his feet a body of an old lady lied lifeless. The man was speechless, looking from one figure to another. What happened?, he asked. It's my wife, said the older man, she didn't wake up this morning. For almost fifty years we stayed together, not once she woke up after me, but this morning... I should've known something was wrong."

Eragon paused again to give time to the audience to prepare for the rest of the tale and then restarted speaking, "The man helped the other to wrap his wife in an improvised shroud made of an old sheet and dig a hole. On his last words to the woman of his life, the old man said, I may see a thousand faces and hear a thousand voices, but I will forget them in the same instant I turn to pass them by, and that will make me feel relieved for your voice and your face will forever keep me company. When they lowered the woman's body into her grave, the silence of the forest was so loud in their heads that he thought he heard something. In a trance, he followed the sound he recognized as a voice for many miles and uncountable hours, leaving the old one behind. And there it was, the village from where he had escaped, right in front of him at the end of the day."

Eragon made another pause to catch his breath. "He walked on thick snow, finally realizing he had been going around back to his hometown. When he stepped on the streets of his village the voices were silenced at once and all eyes were on him. All the people were quiet as they knew he hated their chattering, all standing outside of their houses looking at him. They were quiet and atypically warm. The woman he loved walked through the crowd, so he followed her into the little town, deeper and deeper, until they entered the healer's house. She conducted him further into the house through the hallway and into a big and bright bedroom. Laying on the bed, the old widower from the forest was looking terribly sick and even older. The man approached him confused, feeling just as sick and sad. His loved one touched his shoulder and said, I woke up early every morning for fifty years so I could see your face without any worry lines before you would get up and fill yourself with the day to day concerns. It was my favorite part of the day. And now you will sleep forever. Was it all worth it, the concerns, the fighting?"

Eragon could tell his audience was apprehensive, worried that he would spoil the ceremony with a sad story, but he wouldn't. He smiled gently and continued, "Regret came to the man, who realized he was the old man. He ran out of the house and through the people one second after the image of his wife and his old self dissipated like smoke in the air. He ran to the outskirts of the village until he reached his hut. He wanted to scream her name, but his throat was cold and sore from the freezing wind. He barged in and strode to his bedroom to find his woman lying on the bed, sleeping. The first beams of morning light entered the room as she woke up. Her face that was peaceful and serene became worried and tired all the sudden to the sight of him, so he understood. What is it? Why are you home already?, she asked. He smiled fondly and said, So I could see your face before I could worry you with my day to day concerns."

He looked at Arya as he finished speaking and saw her lips forming the faintest of the smiles, reserved for him when they were in public. It was her eyes, however, that offered him the clear idea that she loved him and worried for him the same way he worried for her. Eragon tried not to smile back and diverted his eyes to the couple in front of him. They were trading loving looks, possibly sharing their interpretation of the story, one filled with their own meanings.

"We worry the people we love, and we get worried by them. But it's proof of love to prevent them from suffering for us, and it's a big sacrifice to silence our sense of self when dealing with our beloved's feelings. What I see is that you, Nasuada, and you, Murtagh, are committed to making each other feel as tranquil as one can be in your marriage, and this is love. Are you committed to this?"

Again, the couple traded looks and answered together, "I am."

Eragon smiled and continued, "Who speaks for Murtagh Morzansson?"

Roran came closer to say, "Murtagh has neither father nor uncle, so I, Roran Garrowsson, speak for him as his cousin.

Eragon nodded and looked at Nasuada. He knew that being a descendant from the Wandering Tribes and if she wasn't the sovereign of the Broddring Kingdom, Nasuada would be expected to hold a wedding ceremony by the tribes' traditions, preferable being tied to one of its members. But she had long adopted the Kingdom's rules being the ruler herself.

"And who speaks for Nasuada Nadarasdaughter?"

Katrina stepped forward to claim such duty. "Nasuada has neither mother nor aunt, so I, Katrina Ismirasdaughter, speak for her as my blood."

Looking at Roran, who despite being similar in age to Murtagh looked like his father, Eragon asked, "What does Murtagh Morzansson bring to this marriage, that both he and his wife may prosper?"

Roran took a deep breath, and Eragon knew why. Murtagh was a Rider. Carrying such a title meant that he couldn't own anything, therefore he couldn't bring a house or gold to his marriage. He couldn't offer his sword as well, for his loyalty would be to the Order; nor his name, for it was a tinted one. Eragon was anxious to hear what Roran had to say.

"He brings his honor. He brings the promise that he will be faithful. He brings the promise of companionship and sacrifice."

It was satisfying for Eragon to have his tale being cited. So, he smiled and turned to Katrina.

"Do you accept this offer, Katrina Ismirasdaugther?"

It was an abstract promise, or an emotional one rather than material, but it wasn't a surprise when Katrina accepted the offer on behalf of Nasuada.

Katrina, on the other hand, offered more than anyone in the entire Alagaësia could offer.

"She brings a castle. She brings gold and a great fortune. She brings her title as the Queen of the Broddring Kingdom and offers him the title of King Consort, knowing that his duty prevents him from acquiring riches and ruling her people."

Eragon frowned. He wasn't sure if having a title that didn't grant any privileges apart from the prestige would qualify as being against the rules of the Order, and he soon noticed as the others couldn't tell either for the eyes were all on him, expecting his approval. Saphira intervened by linking her mind to the Eldunarí in the mountain and as soon as their response came, Eragon nodded slightly to Roran, who breathed in relief.

"Do you accept this offer, Roran Garrowsson?"

"I do."

After that, Eragon performed the rest of the formalities with the thought that once again in his lifetime he was watching history being made. Above all, he was part of history, for many reasons, but now he was also the brother of the King Consort of the Broddring Kingdom. It might have been imprudent of Nasuada to offer him that title, and even more imprudent of Eragon to allow her to do so, but in the end, who was he to stop her candle to burn, or Murtagh's? He once defended them to Arya, and he would keep doing so.

With their wrists crossed and tied by a red ribbon, the couple listened and rejoiced as Eragon declared them husband and wife.


"I would like to speak a few words, if I may," Orik said and the table went completely silent.

They were sitting by the river to celebrate. Eragon had put Arya's dinner table under an improvised gazebo that Roran and Orik had spent the afternoon building. It was simple, and Eragon thought it was not worthy of a royal couple and their royal friends, but it was beautiful, intimate.

"As you all know," Orik started, "the groom and I aren't exactly friendly with each other, but it doesn't mean that I don't wish the couple all the happiness." He raised his cup to them and received a cordial nod from Murtagh and a cheerful smile from Nasuada. "We all have been through the worse one can go through. Looking at all of you here, it amazes me that we are alive and well, in celebration. Nasuada, you were so young when I met you and now you make history with every breath you take. It's an honor to be part of it and be your friend and ally. Congratulations!"

Orik finished his speech and downed his ale. They all toasted, and Eragon went inside to help bring the food to the table.

"I told you to improvise and you did that? A story?" Arya spoke softly as Katrina left the house with a pie in hands.

He grabbed the pan with the pork and looked at her.

"Improvise? Oh no, the story is one of those I wrote for you. It's in your library. I would tell you in which shelf but now I have no idea where it is."

Arya frowned and followed him to the outside.

"I should have thought it through before lending them the house."

Eragon smiled and stopped to look at her.

"No, you did a good thing. We can organize the house together. And maybe even work on that table you want to put outside."

Arya smiled back at him and he saw her green eyes beaming with joy. He still had to get used to cause such reaction on her.

"Now come, they are waiting for us," he called.

They drank and ate until they could no more. Until Ismira pulled her harp and played the wedding songs from Carvahall and other ones of her creation. Murtagh and Nasuada stood up to dance and were shortly followed by Roran and Katrina, who motivated Orik and Hvedra to join. Eragon was feeling hazy by the ale and all the food, so he sat back in his chair and laughed at his clumsy cousin stepping on Katrina's foot more than once.

"Oh, what are you laughing at, boy?" Angela stood up and offered him a hand. "Do you think you can do better?"

He threw a helpless glance toward Arya, who held an amused expression, and took Angela's hand.

"I'm sure I can't, but I can try."

And he did better than expected, considering his state, not once he tripped or stepped on Angela's feet.

"Is this a good moment to tell you I will stay?" Angela said to him as they danced.

"Stay? You have been staying for the last ten years."

"I have gone and come for ten years," she shrugged, "but now I wish to build a life here. Have my own shop in the village."

Eragon narrowed his eyes and paused the dance.

"Why? Now that the agreement on the magical laws was signed you don't have to run from Alagaësia anymore."

"I'm not running from Alagaësia, and I have already told you that this name is only a convention, have I not?"

He was confused. He faintly recalled her saying something like that in the past, but it wasn't a clear memory in his head.

Saphira, what do you think she is trying to say with Alagaësia's name being a convention?

The blue dragon had been drunkenly humming the songs played by Ismira by Fírnen and Thorn's side.

I believe that it has something to do with true names. Renir would know more about it, don't you think?

True names?

Saphira let some smoke out of her nostrils.

Stop thinking about it now. You're leaving your partner unattended.

Right.

"Sorry," he said to Angela, "yes, I remember. Anyway, if you are not running away, why would you want to settle here?"

Angela opened her arms and motioned to the mountain as she walked back to the table. He followed her.

"Look at what you have done here. This is where things happen. And you know me, I want to be where I can be part of things."

She sat by Arya's side and he took the seat in front of her.

"I don't know what you think happens in Arngor, but the day to day life can be pretty dull around here." Eragon served them ale from the jar.

"Don't I know? Thank you." She took the cup he offered her. "But I have this feeling, you know? And as I told you once, you make life interesting, Shadeslayer. I think it's that ability of yours for finding trouble."

Arya laughed over her cup, and Eragon felt outnumbered.

"Fine, do as you please. But why are you telling me?"

"As I said, I wish to build my shop in the village and was hoping you would agree with that."

Eragon almost spat out his ale.

"Are you asking me for permission? You?"

Angela rolled her eyes.

"I know there are rules about commerce here in Arngor. I may be unconventional, boy, but I tend to stay away from the criminal side."

He laughed and shook his head.

"I think this boat has sailed away a long time ago, Angela."

The herbalist spared him a little smile.

"So? May I have my shop?"

"Of course. You can discuss the trading laws with Blödhgarm later."

"Brilliant!" She raised her cup, "To new business opportunities!"

They toasted and drank. Then Angela signaled for Eragon and Arya to come closer and said, "So, when will you two tell others about your relationship?"

Eragon's stomach sank and he saw the same panic in Arya's eyes.

"Oh, relax. I'm not going to tell anyone."

"How… how do you know?" Suddenly, his mouth was too dry, so he drank a little more.

"It was Elva who told you, wasn't it?" Arya's voice was deep.

"Elva? No, no one told me. In fact, I wasn't sure of anything, until I saw the stupid look on your faces," Angela mocked.

"Is that obvious?" Eragon asked.

"Not on your part, for you have been acting like the fool in love since you first saw her. But Arya, if you wish to keep this a secret, then you should keep all that happiness to yourself. People will start to notice."

Angela was having her fun at their expense, and Eragon didn't know what to do. He looked at Arya, who seemed worried but mostly annoyed. Maybe he could have his fun as well, relishing on the fact that Arya was at her most vulnerable when exposing their relationship.

"I don't think she can, Angela. Now that she knows how good I am to her, it will be hard for her to conceal her joy."

They shared a laugh as Arya threw him a death stare.

He didn't have to suffer her wrath for too long, for she invited him to her temporary quarters for the night. It was late night when they all said their last congratulations to Murtagh and Nasuada and left them by the river to head to the mountain.

Eragon hugged his brother tight, pounding on his back.

"I wish all the happiness in this world, brother. To you, your wife, and unborn child. And you know you can count on me, right?"

Murtagh let go of his embrace and grabbed Eragon by the shoulders.

"I do, brother. Thank you for everything. You're too good to me."

"Don't say that."

"No, Eragon, he's right," Nasuada came to put her hands on his cheeks, "you are good, to the both of us. I hope our political divergences don't spoil our family relations, because I have a deep appreciation for you. You should know that."

He closed his eyes when she kissed him on the forehead.

"And I, you, Nasuada. Sister," he said with a great smile.

He shared her concerns about their divergences. Eragon liked Nasuada and felt they would be the closest of friends if it weren't for the distance and political views. She was cunning and ambitious; he was righteous and brave. Those qualities spoke too loud when dealing with official matters, and he considered their positions to be ideal for one another. He could never be king. And she would make an intransigent teacher and Head Rider. They were where they had to be, so he could only hope that those two roles could work well together.

Even though Arya had forgiven him, he could tell she was restless because of what Angela said. She had closed her mind to him and turned on her side on the bed, with her back to him.

"Arya?" He whispered.

"Yes?"

"I'm sorry."

Arya sighed but didn't turn.

"I'm not mad at you."

Her voice wasn't strict or annoyed, but he heard a note of concern. He took the chance to close the distance between them and hold her by the waist. She adjusted herself into his embrace.

"What are you mad at?"

"Myself. I thought I could hide us but then thought it didn't matter, we should tell the world we are mates. Then, I got afraid of the consequences just to try to convince you to reveal our secret to your family. And now I don't know what to do."

"Someone wise said to me last night that I shouldn't be worrying so much over a difficult task I had, instead, when the time comes I should improvise."

He felt her shoulders relax a bit.

"You are telling me to improvise in front of the council?"

"Well, to be honest, I wasn't thinking about the council, but why not?"

She laughed.

"That's absurd."

His hands turned her so he could face her. He brushed her hair out of her face and caressed her cheek.

"You will know what to do, Arya, I trust and support you on this. But don't forget about Dusan and his mission. You should be careful when trusting people."

Arya blinked slowly, leaning into his touch.

"I say the same to you."

He smiled, "I will be careful, I promise. Anything for you, my queen."

Eragon's sleep was empty of dreams, like a deep meditation. He kept his mind fixated on Arya's breathing next to him to help him control his stray thoughts. It was working. They were faintly connected as she wasn't allowing him into her concerned mind, and through their bond, he could perceive glimpses of her agitated dreams. He tried to ease it, but she kept him at a safe distance. Against her mental force, he would never dare to battle. He also felt agitation coming from Saphira in the eyrie, so he extended his mind to her, exiting his slumber state.

Saphira? Are you all right?

She didn't answer, instead, his mind was filled with afflictive thoughts. Saphira had been working on augmenting her mental reach a bit every morning, and every morning she would make progress, small but important progress.

That early morning it seemed that she was wandering through Du Weldenvarden.

Saphira, talk to me.

Little one… It's happening.

What…

A loud noise echoed in his head like an explosion, making him sit up straight at once, and so did Arya.

"What happened?" she asked confused.

"I don't know. It's Saphira, she was scouting the forest."

Shh, look at this.

Saphira pulled them and Fírnen to her vision.

There were flames all around from an explosion in the north, burning the trees, melting the snow.

Saphira, how far are you?

Far, very far. North of Du Weldenvarden. I've never been this far before, her voice was scared and strained. I need to cut the connection now, for I'm not strong enough to keep it. Did you see all you needed?

No, they didn't. His mind was racing with unanswered questions. Why didn't she go to the Eldunarí for help? Eragon traded looks with Arya, who said, cut the connection, Saphira. Preserve your strength.

Like a chord that had been pulled too far, Saphira's consciousness snapped back and they all felt the emptiness of their own thoughts, for the dragon was too weak to keep the connection that became a thin thread, only enough to make them know she was all right.

Eragon stared at Arya already knowing what she was thinking.

"No, you don't have to go," he said.

"I do, Eragon."

He grabbed her by the shoulders.

"Listen to me. I can send the others, they can take care of it."

"The others? How many of them are responsible for my people like I am?"

His eyes were pleading when hers were resolute.

"Please, you just got here. We still have three weeks."

He watched as she kicked the sheets aside and started dressing. Next, she collected the few items she had brought to the mountain and put it in the bag.

"There's no time to waste. The rest of my belongings you can keep in the treehouse for the next time I come. Can you do that, please?"

He was too appalled to speak, so he nodded. Noticing his heartbreak, Arya climbed on the bed again and sat on his lap. She ran her hand through his hair.

"I need to do what's right. You understand, don't you?"

Eragon felt his eyes burning. He felt like a child who was told he couldn't play outside because of the rain. His voice was weak when he spoke.

"I hate it."

Arya smiled sadly.

"And I don't like it more than you do. But it's the life that we chose."

"Did we? Did we choose that?"

Arya seemed distressed, as talking about her duties would often make her feel. Eragon then shook his head and pulled her to him.

"Forget what I said. You go, but be careful," he said into her hair.

"I am," she replied, and he felt her breath on his shoulder.

"Take Elva."

"She didn't touch the eggs yet. She won't go."

He grunted and moved away to stare at her.

"You can't go without her."

"Ask Renir to take her later. I can't wait until she is finished touching all the eggs."

"It will be quick. We will take her to the Hall of Colors immediately then you can go. Please, Arya, don't leave her behind."

Arya clenched her jaw and grabbed his hair with too much force for his taste.

"Fine. But we go now and wake her up."

Eragon nodded.

"Renir and Vance will follow you, so will the others. We'll think about the training later."

Her hand clasped the back of his head more softly and her nails scratched his scalp. He could tell she was anxious to leave, and suddenly the melancholy he felt at the wedding for other reasons became so strong he could barely breathe. So, he forced a deep breath, inhaling as much as her sent as he could. He also ran his hands around her waist, thighs, and arms, to memorize the touch of her skin.

Too soon, she retreated and left after a soft kiss on his lips. It was too abrupt, too sudden, too unfair. He was left in the middle of the bed, feeling the tears running down his cheeks, while she exited the room to go to Elva's.

Too soon, he spoke to himself between a sob and another, it's not fair.


Chapter Text

Elva's face was unwelcoming, to say the least, when she answered the door still sleepy to see Arya and Eragon standing on the hallway. They explained to her that she needed to go with Arya as soon as possible, but before, Eragon would keep his promise to let her touch the eggs in hopes one would hatch for her. Arya hated that agreement, mostly because she despised being watched and protected by a child like Elva, but also because she didn't want Eragon to be entangled in a pact with a suspicious creature like her.

They walked to the Hall of Colors, and Arya noticed how Elva was trying to control her anxiety by clenching her fists on her sides. From time to time, she would throw Arya a side look, surely sensing her distress over the fire in the north forest and her rushed departure but would keep her impressions to herself and get back to her own concerns.

Eragon opened the door to the Hall of Colors to let them in. There, they gathered near the dragon eggs, that displayed all the different colors possible.

"Now what?" Elva asked.

Arya watched as Eragon pointed at the eggs that were displayed around the room on cushions on the floor but also in niches on the wall. There were many of them. He said, "Now you touch them."

"If one is to hatch for me, it will happen immediately?"

"That's how it is expected to be in these times of peace. The dragons don't have to wait for a better moment to hatch, they feel safe now, especially here. Go ahead."

Arya crossed her arms on her chest to keep her hand from moving impatiently. She knew Elva wouldn't be chosen, or she hoped. Someone with her powers would unbalance the scale of justice. Arya feared that if Elva became a Rider, she would be unstoppable, not she or Eragon would be able to stop Elva if she decided to go against them. And she knew that Eragon shared the same opinion, for his eyes were attentive and dim.

Elva knelt before the first egg, a red one. She hesitated but touched it eventually. She waited while Arya and Eragon held their breaths.

Nothing happened.

Elva sighed and moved on to the next one. And the next one. And then the next. She was frustrated and angered by the time she reached the last one. Dozens of eggs and not one chose Elva. She threw a disgusted look at Eragon, that Arya could only interpret as envy. Elva rose to her feet and walked toward Eragon and Arya.

"Well, I guess I will try next time. I just hope it won't take me another ten years."

Arya received Eragon's look and knew what he was thinking. It had to be in ten years, for Arya wouldn't come east any sooner and he wouldn't agree with Elva leaving her behind. She hoped he was diplomatic enough not to oppose her with these matters.

"As I said, you are welcome to touch the eggs as many times as you wish, as long as you keep watching over Arya."

Elva displayed a smug smile and crossed her arm as well. The colors reflected by the Eldunarí danced on her pale skin and silver scar and gave her strange eyes a sinister look.

"You are a smart little snake, aren't you, Shadeslayer? Crafting an agreement without a date to end. I could spend my whole life walking on the elf's heels and still be without a dragon."

"Or you could have one hatching for you right now, and all the protection I had hoped for Arya would be ruined."

"Are you saying that you risk more than me with this agreement?"

"Of course. What do you have to lose? Some people would kill to be living in Ellesméra, but there you are, being sheltered and fed, away from trouble. All you had to do is to sense danger when it's close to Arya. Or if it's close to Arya. You don't even have to fight when it comes to it, you just have to warn her. In exchange for that, I let you have the chance to try to become a Rider one day. I don't see how it's bad for you in any way."

Her smug smile became meaner, and Arya feared that her manipulation skills would take him as a victim. Elva stepped closer to Eragon to look him eye to eye, which made Arya clench her fists, prepared to jump on the girl if needed.

"But for you it's bad, isn't it? What will you lose if I fail?"

Eragon swallowed hard. Arya knew that Elva could sense her heartbreak for being away from Eragon in Ellesméra, but she had never said a word about it. Elva knew about them, and if Arya could bet, she would say that the odd woman would not think twice in selling that information to the best buyer, despite working with Eragon in the plan to watch Dusan.

"Do I have to say it?"

Elva laughed.

"You don't, indeed. We all know. The entire land knows, it's in your eyes. But do you know that you still lose if I succeed?"

Eragon narrowed his eyes.

"What do you mean?"

Elva uncrossed her arms and walked to circle him. When she came behind his back, she turned to wink at Arya.

"If I succeed in preserving her life, you still lose. She will never feel the need to flee from danger and come to you. She will thrive as the queen. Her power will be bigger than ever, and her people will worship her as a goddess. Her roots will be forever deep into the forest's ground, never inside your mountain. You are expandable. You, Shadeslayer, will be forgotten," the last words were whispered in his ears and they made Arya gasp.

Arya already held her fists tight, but she dug her nails even deeper in her palms. How does she dare to speak of what she didn't know? Speak to him as she knew their hearts, as she had the right to play with their feelings. Besides that, Elva was provoking him just for fun, since it wasn't a good deal for her to have Eragon as an enemy and have her agreement broke off. Arya saw Eragon's shoulders drop as he believed her dirty lie. A grunt came out of her throat and she grabbed Elva by the arm to speak to her face.

"Don't expect me to be as lenient as Eragon when listening to your mean lies. Your poison will not harm me."

Elva squinted and raised her chin in defiance, but Arya saw fear crossing her violet eyes. Arya gave her a feral smile.

"Oh, you can sense that? Good! Now go get your bags, we're leaving."

Elva struggled to free her arm, but once she did, she turned her back to Arya to talk to Eragon.

"How about Dusan and the letter?"

Eragon that seemed shaken by the interaction between the two women focused his eyes on Elva to answer her with a faint voice.

"Follow Arya and leave Dusan to me, but the rest of the plan will remain the same. I will let you know when the time comes for you to go meet his mysterious employer."

She nodded and turned to leave.

Eragon cleared his throat to address her again, "Did you find anything while following Dusan?"

Elva scoffed.

"It was just a couple of days. He competed, drank, and slept with that prostitute friend of yours last night, nothing else. If someone knows anything, it's her."

"Right. Another thing…" he started and walked closer to her, "what was the name of your swordmaster in Ceunon?"

"Why do you want to know?"

Eragon shrugged.

"I may know him."

"You don't, he would have told me if he knew the famous Shadeslayer. Anyway, his name is Urien. Sir Urien, member of the lord's guard."

"You are right, I don't know him," he lied, "you can go now."

Elva shook her head and rolled her eyes like a bratty child that Arya thought she was. She left, so Arya could finally relax.

"You didn't have to explode like that, you know?" Eragon said.

"She was clearly manipulating you, and you let her!"

How could he be so blind? How could he oppose her when she was trying to protect him? There were details in his personality that Arya felt she could never understand.

"Of course I let her for I don't want to antagonize her, and that's how I manipulate her, or do you take me as a defenseless child? Arya, try to understand. She is my first line of defense when it comes to you. If you're in danger, she will act first, not the Riders, not your queen's guard, not your army. Not even you, since you tend to take the threats against your life so lightly. I need her to believe we are equals in this pact, that she is not working for me, but with me, that's why I'm so passive to her provoking."

Arya forced herself to remember his words whenever he would act that way, secretive and cunning: I would do anything. Only that could justify his recklessness, right? It was what kept her from going insane with his desperate actions.

She breathed deeply to calm herself.

"I understand. I just couldn't let her say those words. They are too mean."

"Because they are true?"

"What? You believed her?"

"It makes sense, doesn't it?"

He walked away to sit in front of Glaedr's Eldunarí.

"It makes no sense unless you have a short memory and have forgotten everything that I promised you."

Arya saw his shoulders rising and falling back in a deep sigh.

"I haven't forgotten. I'm sorry, I believe you, not her."

Arya wondered sometimes if they would fight every day like that if they were together in definitive and forever. She wondered if this tense manner of looking at things was only because they didn't have much time to spend together or if it would always be like that. She feared it was the second case. But to be honest, would she have any other way? She couldn't help a faint smile from emerging on her lips with the thought of their complicated dynamics.

She walked closer to where he was sitting and placed her left hand on his right shoulder.

"Thank you," she said.

"For believing you? That's what I must do since we are mates, isn't it? You don't have to thank me for it," he said without emotion or looking up.

"For protecting me. Again."

Eragon looked up and she met his brown eyes. They were her doom, for she already missed him and their home, and his eyes showed her how much she would lose when she would fly back west.

He nodded and looked back at the golden rock. It hurt her a bit that he wasn't as affectionate as he usually was.

"If Glaedr and the others agree, would you take a few Eldunarí to help you in the north?"

"You know I would. It would be an honor," she replied and sat by his side.

Eragon closed his eyes and contacted the elders. Arya was included in their mental bond and through it, she could see several images passing fast, but above all, she felt their anger.

What is happening? She asked Eragon in private.

They are not happy that Saphira wandered so far away without being ready for it. She could have been hurt. Now, they are scouting the forest, looking for the source of the explosions.

We know the source. It's the dark magicians.

An image stuck in their head before Eragon could confirm or deny. It was the fire, still far away from the cities of the elves – as they could perceive by the snow in the middle of summer – but consuming their trees. In the center of a spiral of flames, they could see a group of hooded people, she didn't know how many. Their hands glowed with energy, and Arya could notice they were manipulating with great effort the fire around them without letting themselves be touched by it.

How many of them? Eragon asked.

Glaedr counted inside their link and they knew without his use of words. Ten. They were ten magicians, burning the forest.

Why are they doing this? Arya asked the Edunarí.

Umaroth rose from his introspective rage caused by the event and said, My guess is that they are practicing.

Practicing?

Practicing for when they must attack your cities and the human villages. Look at their powers, still hectic and wild. They are simply learning to control it.

Whatever it is they are doing, it's more than what our Riders can. Arya, you go now with Renir and the others, but start their training in speechless magic as soon as possible, since you are proficient in it, Eragon instructed.

Agreed, Arya. You must go, now. But tend to the forest only, for I believe that if they are still there when you arrive, they will flee as soon as they sense your presence, but you must not follow. This is important. Do not follow! We don't know the full extent of their powers, Umaroth said, and Arya had to oblige, even if her instincts told her to hunt those monsters and chop off their heads one by one.

I won't follow, master, I promise.

Good. Now go.

Master, Eragon called, I wish to ask if some of you would go with Arya and Fírnen to offer them strength and support.

Umaroth silenced for a few seconds. Arya heard a low chattering on the back of their mental connection, so she looked at Eragon. He had expectant eyes when he stared back at her. The silence was too long and too deafening.

Master? He called again.

Patience, child. We are working on your request, Glaedr finally addressed them with words.

A few minutes passed and no response from Umaroth, so Arya reached for Eragon's hand as they waited. She traced the calluses on his right hand where he had altered his knuckles so they were thicker and more resistant to impact. It looked horrible, but they were functional, that she could agree. Functional for fighting, for war, not for teaching, building, administrating.

He must have read the thoughts in her head, and she checked to see if she was indeed keeping her consideration to herself. She was, still he knew what she was thinking.

"I should've turned it back to normal," he flexed his fingers inside her grip, "but I thought I should keep it as a reminder of darker times."

"Just like you do with your nightmares?"

He was surprised by her comment by the look in his eyes. Soon, his surprise turned into embarrassment.

"I guess. Maybe I will get rid of all those reminders someday."

She smiled with fondness and squeezed his hand.

"Whenever you're ready. You don't need to rush."

Eragon smiled back and nodded. One day he would succeed in taming his damaging thoughts, Arya had no doubt. She had faith in his capability to always improve himself and show signs of evolution each day. Forgetting his traumas, however, wasn't a matter of being better or skilled, for they didn't turn him into a bad or broken person. She considered them a dark company that anyone could have. Whenever she felt the presence of her own dark companion in her mind, she knew it would be the beginning of some hard times. Managing to keep it a bay would take a lot of practice and self-knowledge that in nothing had to do with one's power or ability, it is simply a matter of looking at one's own heart and finding the meaning true self, a work in progress for her still. He would get there, she was sure of it.

All right, Shadeslayer, we have our volunteers. Umaroth said, breaking Arya's line of thought and bringing her back to their link.

A group of five dragons announced themselves to Eragon and Arya, and their Heart of Hearts glowed brighter among the others. Eragon collected them and passed it to Arya, who performed the spell that opened an invisible pocket behind and above her. Eragon said the words and she repeated, carefully drawing energy from the Eldunarí. When it was over, the colorful stones were hidden in space and time.

"Time to go," she announced.

The warm wind was rushing through her hair as she flew on Fírnen's back heading west. Arya could feel the energy emanating from the Eldunarí behind her back, but most of all she felt the consciousness of Saphira and Eragon flying beside them.

They had said goodbye in the eyrie, where she held him tight for what felt like an entire hour, as Fírnen entangled his neck around Saphira's neck and also stayed like that for a long time. Arya spoke in Eragon's ear nothing more than necessary, for she wouldn't make him promises she couldn't keep. All she said was her true name, engraved with the love she had for him and the promise she had made of joining him in the future if he couldn't come to her. His hands grabbed her back with more eagerness to the sound of it and the feeling of her words running her through her core. Then she said his name, carefully studied by her in the last years. To her surprise, it failed to move him.

She stepped back in his embrace to look at him. He was smiling at her.

"Try again," he said.

Arya ran the possibilities in her head, remembering all that she knew about him. She combined words from his previous names, invented new ones, but still, they weren't enough to shake his being completely, only parts of it.

Eragon laughed at her frustration and pulled her close again. In her ear, he whispered his essence, and it amazed her.

What she hadn't been capable of figuring out was the impact of her words of love and acceptance to his constitution. He was modified once he heard of her love for him, forever changed, turned into a blessed man. Fírnen had been right all along, Eragon needed to hear it, not only know it or feel it.

So she said it again, and again until it was time to go.

We must go, my darling. Fírnen said and stirred to make his saddle accessible. They would fly from the eyrie and meet the other at the mountain's foot.

I know. But I hate it. It's too soon.

It would never be late enough. Now come.

Arya pressed her lips tight on Eragon's in a desperate kiss. They clasped to it as it was their last one. Finally, she fought her way out of his embrace and stepped closer to Saphira to receive a warm touch on the forehead, standing under her smoky breath.

Goodbye, Saphira. I will miss you.

I will miss you as well, Arya, but our goodbye doesn't have to be now.

Arya frowned and looked at Eragon, that said, "would you mind if we fly with you and the others for a few miles?"

If she minded? She would love to fly with them, it was one of her favorite things in the world.

Fírnen and Saphira flew ahead, side by side. Behind them, Vance and Runalla, and Lorgas, Inqen, Walbor, Norfir, they all formed an amazing image. Beautiful, but worthy of fear.

That's where we part ways, friends, said Saphira to Arya and Fírnen.

They were approaching a curve in the river that was thirty miles away from Mount Arngor.

All right, goodbye Eragon and Saphira, Fírnen said and Arya could feel his heartbreak form the bond, We'll send news.

Thank you, Fírnen. We look forward to it. And be careful the two of you.

We will be, my love.

Arya turned to look as Saphira slowed the speed of her flight to let them pass her. Slowly she was staying behind. The dragons roared in a respectful goodbye, but Arya wasn't ready to cut their connection just yet, so she lingered in their bond until Saphira and Eragon were just a thread of consciousness inside her head. It was enough, though, for her to hear his last words, Goodbye, my queen. I love you.

Chapter Text

Arya's lips were dry and chapped from the cold. Behind her, Elva showed signs of discomfort, with the way her fingers quivered when grabbing the back Arya's cloak.

Fírnen had been flying in immense speed for five days, boosted by the energy spared by the Eldunarí, only stopping a few times for a quick rest. Behind him, the other dragons fought the cold wind with the same bravery. They left the hot summer of the east to enter the balanced climate of Du Weldenvarden just to be hit by the forever cold of the frozen north. The trees there were hardened, and the eternal winter and the ground had been covered in snow for as long as Alagaësia had held intelligent life or even before that.

How long until we get to the fires? Runalla asked mentally. She had a velvety voice, right for lullabies and bedtime stories, Arya thought.

A few hours I believe, Fírnen said, but we will make a stop before so we can better prepare. We will let you know.

Runalla agreed and retreated from their minds.

It wasn't long until they found a stream of frozen waters deep in the forest. Fírnen started the descent, followed shortly by his fellow dragons.

Arya wiped a boulder clean with one hand and opened a small map of Alagaësia on top of it. The Riders gathered around her as she bent forward and pointed at the extreme northwest of Du Weldenvarden. Elva kept a vigilant distance from the group.

"The fire was first spotted somewhere around here by Saphira. The Eldunarí gave us instructions of battling the fire only, not the magicians, so if you see them running, let them go."

Amara was the first one to speak, even faster than Renir, who already had his forehead creased in disbelief.

"It's our duty to bring them to justice!"

"I know what our duty is, Amara. But right now, we don't know the extent of their capabilities, it would be imprudent of us to fight them without that kind of knowledge."

"So, we just let them walk free?" Renir asked looking disgusted with the idea.

Arya sighed tired and stood upright to face him.

"For now. And you won't have to do it, for I'm placing you on the rearguard, while Fírnen and I take Amara and Norfir, Fildr and Inqen further north. You will be responsible for putting out the fire. The rest of the Riders will be under your command. Can you handle it?"

Renir was ready to defy her orders until he heard the word command. Arya knew he wasn't a natural leader and preferred to study and research, but since Eragon had decided to build Renir for leadership, he had been taking all the right opportunities to prove his worth. She knew he would never let his master down by refusing to lead when it was required of him.

It looks like you said the right thing to make him give up the fight. Fírnen said.

I've been learning, have I not?

Indeed. The council meetings have turned you into a sharp negotiator.

It's only been twenty years, after all. Arya almost smiled in sarcasm.

Renir gave the smallest step back possible and bent his head.

"As you wish, master."

"Good. Now, pay attention, all of you."

They gathered around her again so she could discuss the last details of the mission. When they all had their assignments, they worked on their protective spells and mental wards. Arya insisted that they closed their minds even to their partners and communicated verbally if needed. She could see the pairs of fearful eyes looking at each other, being alone in their heads for the first time in a situation of danger. It was a daunting feeling even for her, the emptiness, the silence, but it was needed, there was no other way.

"When I say the word, you all close your minds, no exceptions, you hear me?" The Riders nodded. "We should go now. Good luck."

Arya approached Elva.

"You don't have to go with me. You can stay back, with Renir."

Elva rolled her eyes and headed in Fírnen's direction.

"You brought me here already, haven't you? I might as well follow you into the fire, what difference does it make. Besides, I will never have my dragon if you die here today."

Maybe dying here today would be good for something after all. Arya wiped those morbid thoughts from her head and followed Elva.

Back on their saddles and up to the sky, it didn't take long until they saw the smoke battling the heavy clouds that covered the frozen forest. It contrasted with the white of the trees and ground.

Fírnen glided over the burning forest. The flames were impressive, and the cold air soon became unbearably hot. The smell made her lungs constrict and her eyes tear up. It was too much, and even with the protective spells she had cast on herself, Arya kept suffering the effects of the intense heat. She gritted her teeth when she watched the trees becoming vivid red to turn completely black and dead after that. They had been burning for days. It broke her heart. How could someone even consider doing that to the forest and its beings? How could someone have so much disregard for life in the world? It was inexcusable.

Arya wiped her eyes with the back of her gloved hand and reached Fírnen's mind.

Go around, Fírnen. It's too hot!

Fírnen took a steep turn to the right, and Arya looked back to watch the other dragons do the same. Arya extended her mind to touch Renir's.

Close your mind to Vance and tell the others to do the same. This is our last contact. Do you have any doubts regarding the plan?

No, master. We are ready to go.

We will see you soon.

After that, she felt alone in her head. Completely alone. Arya patted on Fírnen's neck to let him know she was flying with him, flowing her movements to follow his. She fortified her mental walls and intensified the hypnotic music that could transform a man into a puddle. Instinctively, she looked back at the pocket in space that held the Eldunarí without seeing anything except a faint ripple in the air that faded in a second. Even if she couldn't see them, she knew they were there and they were vigilant of them all, ready to fight. She wondered if they were connected to the ones in Mount Arngor, showing the ones there all that was happening to them.

Encircling the fire, Fírnen and Arya found no trace of the magicians, so they kept heading north. Renir and Vance flew over the burning area to evaluate the extent of the damage, while Amara and Norfir, Fildr and Inqen followed north with her. The rest began fighting the fire with magic under Renir's command. Arya imagined that the burning area was about a square mile, but it could be more, she wasn't sure.

The three pairs of Riders and dragons flew for a while until the fire was just a weak thread around a clearing. It was empty, so Fírnen descended toward the opening in the woods. Inqen hovered above the clearing to keep guard, but Norfir joined Fírnen on the ground.

"Look for any signs of the magicians," Arya instructed Amara as they armed themselves and dismounted. Elva slid off the saddle and grabbed the hilt of her sword tight. It was clear for Arya that she was afraid. Understandable but also satisfying.

The odd girl became Arya's shadow, hiding under her shield.

Amara nodded and flicked her blue eyes around the area. The dirt was stomped like it had been the perfect site for camping of a small group.

"It's fresh," Amara said in her habitual whispered voice, "the footprints are recent. They must be..."

"WATCH OUT!" Elva screamed at the top of her lungs and tackled Arya to the ground.

A big ball of fire hit Amara on the chest and sent her several feet away.

It took an instant for Arya to process what had happened, but as soon as she saw the Rider fallen on the floor, she got up and ran to her with Támerlein already in her left hand and her shield on the other one. Fírnen and Norfir roared and stood on their hind legs to appear bigger, prepared to fight the invisible threat coming from between the trees.

Amara rolled on the ground to Arya's confusion, but she soon recognized that the Rider was trying to put out the fire from her clothes. It was a ball of energy that had hit her in the breastplate and caused it to ignite in flames. It was clear that the attack was intended to hit Arya instead. It made a shiver run through her scalp to think Elva had saved her from getting hurt.

When Arya knelt to help her, the fire seemed out already. Amara gasped and widened her eyes.

"It went right through my wards," Amara said in panic, struggling to get up.

Arya caught her hand and helped her up. The attack was weak, but that kind of magic didn't respect the laws of the Ancient Language. Amara had shielded herself with the most powerful wards she knew, they all did the same, still, it wasn't enough. She was right to be afraid.

"There, I can see someone!" Fildr shouted from Inqen's saddle.

"Do not engage! Do you hear me?" Arya shouted back, "Do not engage!"

"But they engaged first!"

"Fildr, do not attack!"

Arya watched the dwarf cursing but retreating to the ground, where they all formed a circle, their swords and shields in hands.

"Amara, are you all right?"

"I am, master. It didn't pierce my leather armor; it just burned the coat around it."

Arya nodded in relief and looked around. The logs sizzling to their sides were the only sound they could hear. There were no signs of a living soul near them.

"How many? Are they close?" Arya asked Elva.

Elva's eyes were widened and unfocused, as she was trying to figure something out.

"I had sensed only one before, targeting you. But now there's no one. He must be on the move."

"We are easy bait on the clearing when they have us in view, we need to take flight, fast," Fildr said in a hushed voice, his lips barely moving inside his thick red beard.

"It's only one, we can take him," said Amara.

Elva shook her head, "I sensed only the one who attacked, it can be more."

Fildr was right, they couldn't stay any longer, they should leave, just as the Eldunarí had instructed. Fight the fire, not the magicians.

"Go one by one," Arya commanded. "Amara and Norfir, you go first. Head south, toward Renir and the others."

Amara jumped on Norfir's back and he leaped to flap his wings and fly away.

"Now, you go," she said to Fildr.

He didn't wait for a second incentive and with Inqen he followed the other two heading south.

Arya still looked around once more before placing her shield on Fírnen's saddle and mounting. Fight the fire, not the magicians. They will flee when they see you. But they wanted to fight her, not fleeNot the others, her. Why would that be?

"Go, Fírnen, but don't go south, we need to give them time to work on the fire."

Fírnen couldn't respond due to their closed link, but if he could she was sure he would have agreed with her. But she also knew he shared the same thirst for justice.

"No! What are you doing?" questioned Elva.

"I need to distract the attacker."

"But you just said that you were instructed to let them go."

Arya ran the conversation she had with the Eldunarí inside her head. She knew she would be defying their orders if she followed the attacker and she had promised them she wouldn't. However, he intrigued her. Why would he hit her with such a weak attack? If he wished to hurt her or even kill her, he should have done better.

"I won't follow. I will distract him."

Elva narrowed her eyes but didn't reply. They mounted on the saddle in silence.

Fírnen gained altitude quickly and soon they were on the track, following the direction of Amara's attacker. It wasn't long until Arya saw a black dot moving through the trees.

"There! Dive!" Arya shouted to Fírnen, who didn't wait a second more to commence his descent toward the ground.

Arya felt the wind almost pulling her out of the saddle, so she held on to it. About ten feet high Fírnen steadied the course of flight to be at a horizontal position. Before he did, though, he gave her a slight signal with his head. She knew what it meant; she should jump. As a catapult, his body worked to boost her movement forward over his head before achieving the parallel position. Elva should find something else to grab that wasn't Arya's cloak.

Arya flew several feet forward, and while on air she spun to face the hooded figure. When she landed, one hand on the ground, the other clutching Támerlein, the figure halted. Arya hissed and stood straight. Above their heads, Fírnen circled and spat a big column of fire to the clouds.

The enemy raised his right hand, which made Arya's grip even tighter around her sword's hilt. Slowly, the person removed the hood to reveal the harmonious features of a young human man.

"Tell me who are you and why did you attack me," Arya ordered in a firm and loud voice.

The man didn't seem afraid, nor willing to comply. It made a bitter taste come to Arya's mouth, to think he was ready to face her sword just to avoid being questioned.

"I will ask one last time. Who…"

"I heard you the first time, your majesty," he was calm and respectful. It didn't make her less watchful. "But I cannot follow your demand."

"So we reached an impasse."

"I don't think it's an impasse at all, your majesty. You wish to kill me, and I'm ordered to try to do the same to you, as I tried before but failed. I believe we are in agreement here."

His fists glowed in red.

Arya knew what was coming. She couldn't be soft now.

"Ordered? Who ordered you to kill me?"

The young man gave her a wicked smile.

"This is not the time for words."

Arya raised her hands in a sign of peace.

"That's all I want. Words. You say them and then go. I won't follow."

He squinted and creased his forehead. She was negotiating, and he wanted what she had offered.

"I… I can't," he said.

Arya stepped ahead just the slightest.

"Why is that? Have you made an oath to someone?" He nodded. "I can rid you of it, and you shall be free."

His face lit up.

"Can you?"

Arya stepped forward again.

"I can. Would you like me to do it?"

The man looked around as he was afraid of someone watching them. He finally let the light of his palms die out.

"Yes, I would. Rid me of my promise, your majesty."

Arya breathed in relief. She murmured the Word to erase his oath from the fabric of the world and felt the air changing around them for an instant. Whatever had to happen was done.

"There. Try it. Who ordered you to kill me?"

She watched the words forming in his tongue and dying inside his mouth. He tried again, and again he failed. He widened his eyes.

"It should have worked!" She said.

The young man was desperate. He looked around again, his face glistening with sweat. Arya feared he would take a wrong decision, so she decided to arm herself against him.

As she reached for her magic to shield herself, two balls of red energy came her way at an incredible speed. It was fast enough to catch her before she could avoid it. Knowing her wards would probably fail her, as it happened to Amara, Arya only had time to raise Támerlein in a reflex. Her magic acted instinctively and deflected the attack. Her intentions guided the energy to form a green dome around her, coming from Támerlein. She felt a drop in her energy level that was quickly replaced by the Eldunarí.

It was easy. Too easy.

He knew she could defend herself, so why did he attack?

She decided not to let the fight last long enough for it to be hard.

"Run now, or I will have to fight back," she said and stepped forward again.

He stepped back as they were connected.

"There's nothing I can do, your majesty. I can't go back to her, and I can't tell you what you wish to hear. Let's finish this."

He prepared to attack once more, but she was faster.

Arya's attack wasn't as predictable as his, and her magic hit him in the chest and threw him backward until he hit a tree and fell sitting on the hard ground. She walked to him as Fírnen landed behind her to watch her rear.

The young man had his eyes closed and his head hanging to the side. A stream of blood ran down his neck and shoulder. Arya poked his chest with the round tip of Támerlein to see his body falling to the ground as he breathed deeply, fighting for air. When he rolled to the side, she could see his skull cracked open in the back. He was on the verge of death. She felt bad for he was suffering more than she intended.

"Alive," she said to Fírnen, "but barely."

He nodded and walked toward the body. Elva jumped to the ground and walked away. Arya sensed his mood and went to stand by Elva's side. She wanted to turn her head not to see like Elva was doing but forced herself to watch. His savagery was part of who he was, a small part, but still, she thought it was her duty to witness. Arya might have forgiven the man, but Fírnen never would.

Fírnen came closer to the almost dead man, sniffed his bloodied clothes, stepped back and threw his head to the air. He opened his mouth and from his throat, a flux of fire started and was released. A faint growl was all that Arya could hear coming from the man, and in five seconds, his body was completely torched.

Fírnen ended the fire and sat on the ground, waiting for Arya and Elva to mount.

She breathed in the air that smelled of smoky flesh. It made her sick to her stomach, but she forced herself to hold its content.

"Let's go meet the others," she said and joined him to fly away.

The fire was out when she arrived at the site they had agreed to meet. All was left was the smoke escaping the fuming black logs. They gathered again and flew south to the safety of the civilized Du Weldenvarden. Before they could arrive at the first scouting post of the elves, a few miles north of the Röna Lake, they stopped to spend the night.

Renir and Avelina had cleared a space on the ground and laid down a few blankets so they all could sit by the fire started by Golak, the urgal Rider. Thom cooked a vegetable stew, and that was how they rested in the evening.

"What happened? You disappeared and wouldn't come back." Avelina said to Arya as Fildr passed her a flask of mead to help with the cold.

She breathed heavily to prepare for that conversation. Earlier, Arya had retrieved the Eldunarí from their invisible pocket and placed them on the blanket. Their silence was disconcerting, so she let them be, being alone in her mind only with Fírnen's consciousness touching hers once they had reconnected.

"I went after the attacker to distract him from you."

Renir and Avelina traded serious looks, and even Amara seemed upset. Thom and Golak diverted their attention to the stew that was boiling on the fire. Elva had gone to sit by herself several feet away from the group and watched them with uninterested eyes.

It was Fildr who reacted first, too disrespectfully for Arya's taste.

"You told me not to engage. How could you contradict your own orders?"

A bright and old voice reverberated in their heads. It was a female dragon whose voice Arya had never heard before. She had been the bonded partner of an elf born many centuries before and killed a few years before the Fall. Unfortunately, Arya couldn't remember any of their names. She even suspected she had never learned it.

Watch your tongue, child. She might have taken a questionable choice, but she is still your elder.

Fildr looked down to his feet and scratched his beard nervously.

"It wasn't my intention to offend you, master. I'm sorry."

Arya simply tipped her head to him and said, "I am the one to be sorry, Fildr. You are right to question me when you see that I do what you consider wrong. What happened was that I really wanted to divert his attention from you, since you don't have the training he had. Also, I needed to know why he attacked us being alone and so underprepared."

"And did you find out why?"

Arya accepted the flask from Avelina and took a sip.

"I have my theories. He was under coercion, that was clear. I imagine he was forced to attack at all costs even if he didn't have the capabilities."

"Coercion by an oath?" Renir asked.

Arya nodded, "But not in the Ancient Language. I guess it's something similar to the Order's Oath."

Arya could almost touch the discomfort they were all feeling. It was clear in their faces and the way they froze in place, and it had nothing to do with the cool night air.

Similar but not the same. The Eldunarí spoke and her lilac stone shone brighter than the others on the blanket. The Order's Oath is constructed by our magic and it's unique. That boy must have pledged himself using his native tongue but bound by speechless magic, by the force of intention.

"Would he be strong enough to create such a powerful spell?" Renir asked.

Oh, it wasn't him, that's very clear. Someone powerful bound him to his words, and if we don't know exactly what are the intentions behind it, it will be impossible to break the oath. That's why I urge you once more, don't go looking for them. You have the support of dozens of us and two fierce leaders, so let us figure out all that we can before engaging the enemy. For now, rest, tomorrow you fly back to the safety of the elven cities.

After that, they ate in silence and retreated to the warmth of their dragons to sleep. Arya, however, stayed awake for a little longer. She was feeling guilty for defying her masters' instructions, but most of all she felt bothered about the young magician she and Fírnen fought.

You gave him a choice, Arya. Rest.

I cannot. And I don't think he had a choice, Fírnen.

If she wouldn't come to him, Fírnen would go to her. He nestled by her, nudging her to lie on him, so she did.

Because of the oath?

Yes. I wonder if all those magicians had come north by their own will or if they were forced. Kidnapped, maybe. What if they are all young people who got lost from their homes and are used by that powerful spellcaster? And how many of them are there? They were sighted on the northwest where they attacked the Lord of Ceunon, now they are on the northeast. It could be thousands of young people, coerced to do evil deeds. What if we killed an innocent, Fírnen?

I killed no innocent. He was trying to attack you, he said proudly.

You know what I mean.

Fírnen placed his head on the ground and gave her a side look.

What I know is that you are not going to solve this puzzle tonight. In the morning we will go home and decide there what to do next. In fact, we already know what to do, we received Eragon's orders to train the Riders, so that's what we are going to do next.

Arya massaged a painful spot on her right temple.

All right. We will follow his orders.

Good. Now rest.


Eragon came to himself just as Fírnen's fire finished torching the young magician. He blinked to get used to the shiny colors of the Eldunarí and sat back leaning against Saphira's shoulder. In his head, only one thought kept pounding his mind, how he wanted to be there fighting those threats.

She defied our recommendations. Saphira commented.

"I suspected she would. She looked at me the way she does when I say something she doesn't like."

I have never taken her as a rebel.

Eragon laughed.

"No? She rebelled against her mother's demands to join a resistance group. Isn't it rebellious enough for you?"

You may be right, but she refused to keep her promise to Umaroth. It's unlike her to break a promise.

"A promise with which she didn't agree. She bent the language like she brilliantly does. Let her be, Saphira."

I imagined you would be angrier.

Eragon stood up and stretched his back with his hands in the air.

"My anger won't change anything. Arya will always do what she thinks is best, there's nothing I can do about it, except to let her make her own decisions, that I have to trust will be the right ones in the end."

Saphira followed Eragon outside the Hall of Colors and down the stairs to the dining hall. On the way, she concluded that if the roles were swapped and Eragon were on Arya's place, he would've done worse with the rebellious behavior, and in that sense, Arya and Eragon looked like the perfect reflexes of each other. She also said that she would be surprised if the person Dusan was supposed to meet in Du Weldenvarden turned out to be involved with the mysterious spellcaster that floated on air with glowing hands. Saphira said it so casually that it made Eragon stop and look at her with questioning eyes.

What? I thought you had the same impression.

"It's too much, don't you think, to mobilize an entire army of magicians just to kill Arya?"

An army to defeat a monarch? I believe we've done something similar in our time.

"But she's not a tyrant. She could be defeated politically, there's no need for the use force."

Someone will always think of us as the tyrant of their world. We just don't know who.

Eragon shook his head. The plot of his life was getting thicker and thicker with time, just when he thought he couldn't get any farther from the epicenter of intrigue in Alagaësia. That name seemed to be only a convention, after all. Who would know?

Chapter Text

The treehouse had been closed since Murtagh and Nasuada left in the morning after their wedding night, more than two months before. Eragon could notice the signs of their presence everywhere he looked. It seemed more theirs than hers. He sighed in dissatisfaction.

Eragon took the first step into the house and closed the door behind him. He walked to the left on the broad space and reached the kitchen. Instead of Arya's herbs for tea, on the table, he found the rest of a strong wine that he knew had come from Nasuada's court. He collected the bottle and the glasses stained of dark red and put it all on the counter. Facing the river through the window, he decided he wouldn't mourn Arya's absence, or he would go mad with wanting. Instead, he opened the windows and felt the fresh morning air blowing from the Edda. He closed his eyes and raised his chin. In the air, he could smell the first signs of rain, that faint smell of wet dirt. He liked it. But not as much as he liked the smell of crushed pine needles. Eragon rolled his sleeves and got to work.

The Arngor Games had ended in the month before. Without any surprise, Roran reached the finals in wrestling, and without any surprise, he lost. He accepted the defeat as an honorable man like him would, he congratulated the elf who beat him and thanked him for the amazing fight, the best Arngor had ever seen. Nasuada even said it was the best the Games had ever seen in all its editions, and that Roran only lost because the elves were very difficult to beat, impossible even, only a Rider could win against one of them. It was her saying, but Eragon agreed, that's why he discouraged anyone who wished to sign up for wrestling in the general category. It was stupid and reckless.

Dusan winning in sword fighting was no surprise either, in both categories. Without Renir and Avelina to stop him, it was easy for him to put all the other competitors to shame. Surprising was how little he did to investigate Eragon's life during his stay in Arngor. Eragon even asked Helena about it, and she said that he had lost interest after Arya left. Apparently, Duran wasn't a dedicated investigator or an attentive one. The first rule of watching a target: staying sober. He failed that immediately. One day, Eragon approached Rílven to ask him about the type of behavior displayed by Dusan and so unique among his kind. He simply shrugged and said that elves could be whatever they wished to be, and if Dusan wanted to be a drunk and a libertine, it was his right to be one. It was odd, he emphasized, but no one would question him about it. The twitch on his upper lip showed that Rílven did not agree with Dusan's choices in life, so Eragon left it at that.

Murtagh and Nasuada kept their marriage a secret for the rest of their stay in Arngor and their trip back to the Kingdom. On the first day after their arrival, however, they reunited her court and announced their union, such as the arrival of their future child. It was a shock to all, but if they were against it, no one said a word. They smiled and clapped, there was even a toast. Or that was the recount made by Murtagh via scrying. Eragon couldn't shake the uneasiness off his stomach. Something bad was bound to happen. And it did.

When he arrived in Surda, King Orrin heard from his advisors about the new marital status of the Queen of the Brodding Kingdom, as she wasn't hiding. Tale told that he was enraged, and that was what the sailors told Eragon in the tavern one night as well.

"I'm telling you, sir. Queen Manuella's handmaids told me personally just before I traveled here," one of them said, "that the king was so furious they kept him in the dark, that he threatened to start a war. He questioned the secrecy. It was the queen who made him see the reason again."

Again? When did he saw the reason? Eragon confided to Saphira, who was flying nearby, scouting for food.

He is not a mad man, Eragon. He is a good strategist and general.

Fair, he agreed grudgingly.

"What else is new in the west, my friend?" He asked the man.

"Well, the king didn't start a war, but he's provoking one. He moved the borders again. Word says that Queen Nasuada is already moving her armies south."

Eragon shook his head as he swept the kitchen floor. He could never understand the need to rule over more and more land. He found it extremely difficult to manage just a small territory, he imagined how it would be to rule over a whole country like The Kingdom.

That's because you don't rule and they don't manage. Managing is harder than ruling.

Saphira was lying in her shelter to wait for the rain. She wished to take the opportunity to train for more difficult flights, such as the one to the dragon lair. As soon as the first drops fell, she would take the skies. For now, she watched the skies.

You know, I have been thinking about a governor for Arngor.

I know what you think, Eragon. Now try to see what I am thinking.

He laughed but did what she said. It didn't take much effort.

No, Saphira. I don't want it.

Why not? As I said, you do the hardest part. Why not be the ruler of your country?

Arngor is not a country, is a dragon hold, and it doesn't respond to any ruler. I'm a manager, yes, and I lead the Order, but I do not intend to call myself a ruler.

So who do you think could be this governor you talked about? And what's the difference between that and a ruler?

The governor will manage. This person will take my place as an administrator. I will have more time to focus on the Riders and their training. Besides, I do not wish to claim this land a separate land from Alagaësia.

Saphira kept silent for a while, and Eragon thought she had dropped the subject.

It may be a good decision. We will discuss it further in the future.

He smiled as he moved to the living room, still sweeping.

Eragon had been considering this matter for a while. He wanted more time to properly train the Riders. Even to mentor the oldest ones, to guide them. It was a common affair to interrupt a lesson for a problem in supply distribution. It annoyed him that after more than twenty years he was still working on bureaucracy.

He also wished to dedicate more on watching the land along with Saphira and the Eldunarí. The scouting had proven crucial just a few days before when he watched Elva keep up with their plan.

Dusan had left for Ellesméra on the same day as the rest of the guests. Eragon would reunite with the Saphira every day at dawn and dusk to track his progress. He would reach for his magic inside and say the words that would allow him to access the tracking spell on the letter the elf carried. It was a slow trip, so Eragon and Elva had all the time they needed to prepare.

On the eve of Dusan's arrival at Ellesméra, Eragon asked the Eldunarí for their help, even knowing he would have a hard time convincing them to do so. He wanted them to lend him and Saphira their energy so she could expand her mind and watch Elva's moves and possibly guide her from afar. The dragons argued that they were acting in self-benefit and because of that they would have to refuse to help the Rider and his dragon. With their refusal, the pair would have to act all by themselves. It was fair. Painful, but fair.

Eragon and Saphira flew for miles and miles, for half a day, as close as they could to Alagaësia, so Saphira's reach would be increased, but not far to the point where they wouldn't be able to return in time if something happened at the Hold. They settled on a plain with lots of trees and hid under a big one. There they ate until their bellies were full and their energy was restored. They waited until the time was right. Gathering all the energy she could, Saphira expanded her mind as far as possible, father than she had ever gotten, and soon they saw themselves transported to the forests of Du Weldenvarden. More precisely the eastern limits of Ellesméra, where Dusan had set camping, waiting for his contact to arrive. They sat on the grass far from the elven realm as Elva threaded the forest with caution, observing, hiding. It was midnight when Elva's violet eyes started to capture the first signs of movement between the trees. Eragon wished that he could communicate with her, and as soon as he had that thought the sound of cracking twigs made him alert.

They didn't have much time as Saphira was already exhausting her strength just to take them that far, so communicating with Elva was out of the question. How Eragon wished the scrying laws in Du Weldenvarden had become more flexible by then. It would be much easier if they could just watch Elva through the mirror.

But then we wouldn't see who Dusan's hirer is for we don't know this person.

He could not argue with Saphira with that, she was completely right. Unless they did know him, in that case, scrying would be perfect.

They watched as Elva, light as a cat, followed the sound. She couldn't get too close or they would sense her presence, but Eragon knew she was close enough to sense their presence, which was more dangerous to them than to her.

Saphira moved their perception close to Dusan, so Eragon saw as the elf greeted the newcomer, a tall person wearing white clothes under a dark cloak.

"You are Dusan, right? I expect the trip has been fruitful." A masculine elven voice chanted the words in the Ancient Language and sounded soft in the night.

Dusan nodded and gave him the letter that worked as a contract.

Get everything you need, Eragon. Fast, I can't hold for much longer. Saphira said and the image wavered in his head.

Quickly he reached for the ring his father gave to him, Aren. Saphira's effort to keep the mind expansion was fueled with more energy, allowing them to have a few more minutes of it.

"Trophies, gold, good ale," Dusan said in a smug voice, "you can say it was fruitful."

"That is great, child. But I was referring to our agreement. I believe the instructions passed to you by my vassal were clear."

Vassal? He must be a lord!

Silence, Eragon! Let's hear them.

Dusan seemed relaxed, as he had the world at his feet.

"The Shadeslayer, well, both of them are… Discreet."

The man approached Dusan and Eragon thought he looked feral. He didn't know him, now he was sure.

"Discreet? That's not what we have heard. In fact, rumor says they are rather careless when they think no one is watching. Were you watching, Dusan?"

Dusan shrugged, and Eragon marveled at his ability to look less like an elf and more like a human teenager, more and more.

"I would be lying if I said I saw them interacting the way you would think they would. They really were discreet, what else can I say?"

The man sighed.

"Fine. What else? The Order, the Riders, tell me everything you know."

Dusan looked up as he was trying to remember.

"The Head Rider has a right hand, Renir."

"That we already know."

"Right." Dusan cleared his throat. "I don't know how important it is, but the entire Order left the Games earlier, following our queen."

"You don't know how important it is? Let me tell you, it is important. It's the kind of thing you rush to tell us."

Dusan didn't seem fazed by the dark tone used by the other, instead, he seemed satisfied with his contribution.

"Great! So now you know."

A somber laugh escaped the man's throat.

"Yes, we do. As we knew yesterday, and the day before, and weeks ago when they arrived at Ellesméra. You're late, boy. And now I won't pay you."

"No! You have to pay me!"

"You failed your mission. You brought nothing but old news. You didn't even have evidence of the queen's proximity with the Shadeslayer, which was the easiest task you had. I will keep my coins."

The man turned to leave, just when the image wavered again as the surface of a lake.

Not now, Saphira! Hold on.

I can't. Unless you can give me more energy, I can't hold any longer.

Eragon reached for Aren once more and gave her an enormous amount of energy, without emptying it all. It was a lot of energy, all he had stored in twenty years, but Saphira was still inexperienced in that kind of mental practice, it took her too much of her strength to keep the image alive.

Is it enough?

He felt her body shake a little behind his back.

For a little longer, yes.

Dusan followed the man for a few steps, still trying to reason with him. Eragon couldn't see Elva but knew she was lurking in the darkness. And that was what saved Dusan's life.

"Wait!" He said grabbing the other's arm, who turned with a fiery look. "You have to pay at least the costs of the trip. It's not cheap to come and go."

"You just said you received gold for winning the tournament. It seems to me that you would go east either way, hired or not."

Elva started moving, Eragon could see her silhouette approaching the pair, but the men were too absorbed in their conversation that they didn't see her coming.

What is she thinking? Eragon asked nervously.

Maybe she sensed danger.

Dusan grabbed the hilt of his sword and unsheathed it.

"You pay me now, or I will have to end you."

The man raised his palms.

"Calm down, child."

Two steps brought Dusan closer to the man.

"Calm? You are deceiving me. Pay me what you owe me. Now!"

The tip of Dusan's sword went to meet the other man's chin.

Very slowly, the man reached for his pouch. His hand was trembling with fear. He detached the pouch from his belt and let it drop in Dusan's open hand.

"May I go now?" He asked still in fear.

Eragon would like the situation to be solved right there, but he didn't know those people, he didn't know what they were capable of. If he thought Dusan would take the gold and leave in peace, he should be called an optimist. In fact, he could.

The man held the pouch back as Dusan made to retract his hand. With one hand the man grabbed the pouch, with the other he reached for a dagger attached to the back of his belt and motioned to strike Dusan in the chest. What stopped him from doing so was Elva's quick hand, that grabbed his elbow.

The image faltered and Eragon noticed Saphira was trembling uncontrollably now. And then it faded.

"No! We need to know what happened next."

I'm sorry, little one, but I couldn't hold it anymore.

He sighed and got up to face her. There was more energy in Aren, but he didn't want to sacrifice it.

"It's all right, Saphira. You did well. Wonderfully, actually." He patted on her jaw. "I'm proud of you." Saphira hummed to his compliments. "But we need to keep working on our minds. It should be easier in the future."

Eragon frowned just to remember the encounter he witnessed through Saphira's mind. He put the broom aside and went to look at the fireplace. The fairth he made of Arya's family was nowhere to be seen, such as the other one, so he searched for it inside the desk drawers. It was there, where Nasuada's servants had put it. He retrieved it and got it back to their right place.

Do you know what I just remembered? Saphira started. Vance gave you a gem filled with energy. We could've used it.

Eragon sat on the couch and kept looking at the two images, Islanzadí and Evandar with baby Arya, and Arya and Saphira in the sunrise. Yes, they had forgotten about it at that moment. He would forget about it all the time and it still surprised him how much energy was stored in the emerald.

Let it rest. It's doesn't matter now.

He stared at the two pictures and realized it was lacking.

Something is missing.

Saphira laughed.

You, maybe? Fírnen, most certainly.

I think you're right. But I will let her take care of that if she wishes.

Wise.

Eragon leaned his head back, thinking of how life would be from that moment. A lot was happening for him, but at the same time, there was so little he could do about it. Elva had made a powerful enemy when she re