It was a calm night in the forest, and the leaves were still wet after the rain. The air was full of fresh scents. It would be a usual night if not for the blue dragon laying on the grass. The whole forest was trying to avoid waking it. Most creatures gave it as wide a berth as possible until one careless deer jumped near it and made just a little too much noise.
Saphira opened her eyes, blinking twice to clear the fog from her vision. She lifted her head and looked around. She was sluggish and felt like a kull had stuck its blade in her brain. She didn't pay the pain any attention, realizing it was more important to find out what happened.
She could only remember how Eragon disappeared in front of her eyes. Suddenly, she'd started disappearing too and... and then she woke up here, alone in the middle of the forest. She reached out with her mind, trying to find anyone, but she didn't have any success.
"ERAGON!" she yelled.
She had expected to hear her own mighty roar fill the air, and feel its power in her belly. Instead, the language she spoke was not that of the mighty dragons, but the language of man. It was very strange. Perhaps she was merely dreaming, but if it was a dream, it was very realistic. Maybe pain in her head had tricked her ears. She would have to find out later. Now, she needed to find Eragon.
Galbatorix's final words to Eragon reverberated in her head. If the king was right, Eragon wouldn't see his friends again, or her. She waved these thoughts away with a shake of her mighty head. She would find a way to rescue them both. She was Saphira Brightscales and no simple spell would stop her from seeing her rider. She flew forward until a patch of firelight in the forest caught her attention.
There was a small group speaking among themselves, and she decided to find out who they were. Perhaps they would know where to find her rider.
Avoiding trees and trying to make little noise as possible she landed and moved towards the light source. She peered in between an opening in the trees, trying to see.
In the middle there was large bonfire with a figure standing near it. She hadn't seen anything like it before. It had grey skin and was as tall as three humans standing atop one another and several times thicker. It had a small head compared to its body, and Saphira figured that it likely wasn't very smart. In some ways it reminded her of a kull. Looking around carefully, she saw two more of these creatures sitting near fire.
"Take your legs off my head," someone mumbled.
She turned in the direction of the voice and saw several dwarves tied up and arguing softly.
These monsters were going to eat them! Saphira knew she couldn't let it happen.
The dwarves were good friends of her and Eragon. Well... most of them.
"Wait, you are making a mistake," she heard a voice behind one of the creatures say. "I mean with the seasoning."
"What about the seasoning?" said the largest of the beasts.
In that moment, they turned towards the first voice, and Saphira ran forward, crashing through the trees and sending the logs of the bonfire scattering. Her target turned at her roar and saw the might of a fully-grown dragon running at him, her jaw open wide to eat him.
He tried to defend himself with his hands, but he was far too slow and her razor-sharp teeth pierced his throat. Saphira was several times larger than him and it was easy for her to break his throat with a single bite.
The body fell to the ground lifeless. Slowly, she turned to her other opponents, and let her great wings unfurl so they could see her regal form. She could see fear in their eyes, and she grinned, showing several rows of teeth. They were terrified, having seen their companion killed from the sudden appearance of a dragon, and they were right to be.
"Who… who are you?" one of them managed to ask.
"I am Saphira Brightscales," she said, still unused to speaking the common tongue. "And if you value your life you will run."
For a moment, it seemed that the beast knew better than to disobey a dragon. However, the stupidity within it won out and the monster raised it's blade, moving towards her.
"You won't leave so easily. You can't just kill one of us and eat our prey."
Stupid like urgals, she thought and stepped aside before the thing reached her.
She curved her neck and let blue flames lick her opponent. The creature lifted its hands to defend its face from the flames, but they were too hot even for his thick skin. He dropped his sword and started to bellow in a deep voice.
Saphira used the chance and jumped onto beast, scratching and biting everywhere she could. Suddenly, she felt pain in her front leg. She looked down at the leg and saw a large spear protruding from it, held by the last beast. Furious, she dropped the dead body and turned to her last enemy. Seeing that there was no chance for him, he turned and started to run. Saphira's flames reached his back before he'd ran twenty feet, burning the skin from its skull.
He screamed in agony and fell to the ground, seizing and twitching while he died. The smell was terrible, and Saphira puckered her nose. Even urgals hadn't smelled so foul when burned. She turned to dwarves, all of whom were stunned from what they had witnessed. She carefully walked the tied dwarves and looked down at them. From their eyes they were expecting her to eat them.
She lift her front leg to dwarves, and one dwarf from the ground stood and shouted, "Don't you dare!"
She dropped him an unimpressed look and cut the ropes with her claw. The dwarves looked even more confused and stunned than when she battled the creatures.
She turned back and walked a little way away, trying to keep her front leg lifted.
How had she let that happen? It was careless... Probably because of that damn headache. She couldn't think clearly! The wound didn't look good, but she'd certainly had worse. She clenched the spear with her teeth, inhaled deeply and with one great jerk, pulled it from her leg.
She dropped the spear from her mouth and roared into sky from terrible pain. The spear went in deeper than she thought at first. The dwarves frowned at the sound. Saphira ignored them, then she looked at her leg.
The wound was deep, and it would need time to heal fully since her partner was nowhere to be seen. She glanced back at the dwarves who were standing around her at a safe distance. She saw several feelings on their faces, but none of the ones she'd expected. Instead she saw fear, anger and mistrust.
Why were they acting like this? Hadn't she just saved them?
One of the dwarves, the same one who yelled at her before, walked forward and shouted to her.
"Why what?" she asked, not liking his behavior.
Was she not a dragon? The mightest being in all the lands, and master of the land and sky! She found this dwarf's attitude towards her insulting. She was no mere dog or beast to be yelled at! She was a dragon!
It was unbelievable, she just saved them from get cooked and gotten injured for them, and now they spoke with her with such a tone. Back in the Beor Mountains, they had revered her!
"Why have you killed them and freed us?"
"I did not wish to see you eaten," said Saphira simply.
"Why even would you care?!" he shouted more demanding than asking.
"What is it with you ungrateful dwarves!?" she shouted, making them tremble. "I saved your life from whatever they were. So if you do not even see fit to thank me for it, silence yourselves!"
The dwarf was prepared to shout back again when an old man walked from the bushes, grumbling.
"You dwarves are impossible! I left you only for a half-day and you managed to make problems…"
His eyes fell on Saphira and a small smile came over the old man's face, causing his long white beard to move slightly. Saphira could feel the magic dancing around the old man and her heart leapt into her throat. He was a magician of some sort! He might be able to help find her rider!
"I made no such problem," said the same dwarf, still indignant. "Where you have been?!"
"I was looking ahead," he said, glancing at the three dead trolls. "But I look behind me and I find I have more questions than answers. Thorin, what happened here?"
"Everything was under control until your burglar messed everything up and we got captured. Then those trolls were discussing how to eat us when this beast started a bloody rampage here."
"This dragon does have a name!" hissed Saphira, turning to the old magic user. "You are a magician?"
"Yes," said the man, laughing. "I am a kind of magician, but my title is the Grey Wizard. Sorry for not introducing myself. My name is Gandalf the Grey, though the elves call me Mithrandir. Thank you for saving my dwarves and forgive them for their roughness, there is bad blood between dragons and dwarves."
"You give your name very freely, Wanderer. It is really your true name?" she asked, curious as to why he would give her his true name.
"Yes, it is my true name, though I don't worry about my name. I trust you. Still, why should I hide it?"
Maybe knowing another man's true name didn't have the same effect here? It was possible. After all, now she was speaking like human. Still, Saphira found that she quite liked that man.
He was polite and friendly, unlike the dwarves. She allowed the growing anger to dissipate.
"Then it is a pleasure to meet you, Mithrandir. My name is Saphira Brightscales."
"Brightscales indeed! Your name suits you, Saphira."
Gandalf smiled and tipped his hat to her.
"What exactly happened between dwarves and dragons?" Saphira asked the old wizard.
She hoped it wouldn't be the same story as with the Az Sweldn rak Abhuin clan.
"It is strange you don't know about it. This dwarf is Thorin Oakenshield; he is the heir to the kingdom of Erebor. The kingdom was destroyed long ago a by dragon called Smaug. If I might be honest, dragons there are evil and sly creatures. But I can feel power in you… good power and your actions just proved it."
Dragons! There were other dragons. How many more surprises would this land offer?
She observed this information. She was truly in a foreign land, and she would need to find out more about her situation. If that dragon Smaug was as evil as Gandalf said, she wouldn't seek his help. Still, her options were wearing rather thin. She could wander alone though an unknown continent, but that wasn't a smart idea. She needed a native person from this land. Gandalf would be perfect, if he wasn't with the stubborn dwarves…
Saphira nodded and said, "This Smaug, where is he?"
"Under the Lonely Mountain. Truth be told we are traveling there ourselves. Perhaps you would care to join us, Brightscales?"
Thorin grabbed Gandalf's hand and walked a few steps away. Saphira's heart sank again. She was sure the dwarf would convince Gandalf to leave her. Not that she couldn't track them on her own, but it would be much harder. She bowed her head and started to lick her wound.
"What are you doing?!" whispered Thorin with rage.
"Ensuring our safety," Gandalf said, as simply as discussing the weather.
"But we are talking about a dragon. I trusted your choice of burglar, but this I do not like!"
"Trust me, my friend. There is something else about this dragon and I have met some dragons before. We can trust her."
Though they was talking silently as they could, Saphira still was able to hear them. They apparently didn't know how acute a dragon's hearing could be.
Thorin stood in silence for some time, as if seriously pondering what the wizard said. Then he looked at her again.
"My friend, I only want what is good for you, trust me. But it is your trip and I will agree with the choice you make."
Thorin couldn't deny the fact that she had just saved them fighting against three huge trolls, but she could see it still was a hard choice for him after all he had experienced.
"I trust you, wizard, but not her."
"You will in time."
"Very well, it will be as you said, but if anything happens…"
"I will be responsible for it, I know, I know. Between us Thorin, you've caused far more problems on this trip than I have."
Gandalf turned to her and smiled.
"We decided to let you travel with us. If of course, that is your want. I would never presume to make the choice for such a mighty dragon as you, Saphira."
She could hear the dwarves' muttering their complaints, but it looked like the best option for her.
"Yes, of course."
Saphira wasn't willing to hope, but she needed to try.
"Maybe you saw an elf lad around here? His name is Eragon, we were separated."
"No, I am sorry but I haven't seen an elf around these days. They very rarely visit these places. Can I ask what business you have with this elf?"
She liked Gandalf and he clearly respected her, but she didn't trust him with her rider's life.
"He is just a friend," she said, softly.
He nodded and motioned towards the wound in her leg.
"Oin! You are responsible for the party's wounds, don't you see that Saphira is hurt?"
The little dwarf with a strange thing in his ear stepped aside with fear in his eyes.
Saphira didn't like these dwarves, but she trusted Gandalf.
"I won't hurt you," said Saphira slowly stretching out her leg.
Oin, hearing her voice, slowly stood and walked to her. He took a long look at the wound. Eventually, he took some herbs, mashed them up, and lubricated the wound. Saphira clenched her teeth from the discomfort, but it quickly dissipated until it had almost entirely left her. She tested her weight on the leg and barely felt any pain.
"Thank you, Oin" she said, briskly.
"You're… you're welcome," he said and walked back to his group.
"Good job, Oin. Anyone else is hurt? No? Good," said Gandalf. "Ah, but where is Mr. Baggins?"
"I am here!" answered a quiet voice behind the dwarves.
"Everything alright?" asked Gandalf.
"If by good you mean did we somehow get through a bunch of trolls who wanted to eat us, and an actual bloody dragon, then yes!"
Saphira recognized his voice
"You distracted those… trolls? What did you want from them?"
"I wanted to delay time until dawn," he said. "But I am happy that you intervened here, because I didn't know how I will do it, exactly."
"And who are you, little one? I would say that you were a dwarf, but you have no beard." said Saphira, suddenly feeling another pang of longing for her rider after mentioning his nickname.
"I am a Hobbit from the Shire, Bilbo Baggins. Few hear about us," said the little creature.
She indeed never had heard about Hobbits before… more proof that this land was very far from her home indeed.
"You I like, hobbit from the shire," praised Saphira.
"If everyone is done with the meet and greet, we should move on," called Thorin. "Those trolls should have a cave nearby to hide in during the day."
"I can smell it from here," Saphira said. "This way."