"Jenny of Oldstones" By Florence + the Machines

High in the halls of the kings who are gone
Jenny would dance with her ghosts
The ones she had lost and the ones she had found
And the ones who had loved her the most

The ones who'd been gone for so very long
She couldn't remember their names
They spun her around on the damp old stones
Spun away all her sorrow and pain

And she never wanted to leave, never wanted to leave
Never wanted to leave, never wanted to leave

They danced through the day
And into the night through the snow that swept through the hall
From winter to summer then winter again
Til the walls did crumble and fall

And she never wanted to leave, never wanted to leave
Never wanted to leave, never wanted to leave
And she never wanted to leave, never wanted to leave
Never wanted to leave, never wanted to leave

High in the halls of the kings who are gone
Jenny would dance with her ghosts
The ones she had lost and the ones she had found
And the ones
Who had loved her the most...

December 14th, FO2


Saphira's great eyes sprung open, casting pale blue light onto the stone floor. The hour was late, for the last of the embers were fading in the hearth. Yet the thought of sleep had been brushed aside from her mind in the wakefulness that came with the echo of magic thrumming through her body. Her wings shivered, the feathers letting lose a rattling whisper. Beneath them, Eragon stirred but did not wake. He had fallen asleep beside her again, too exhausted to climb into his own bed.

The room they shared was something that they had once thought would only be realised in their dreams. It was a room that seemed carved into the mountain stone, sung into shape by the magic they had woven in its creation. The main chamber was large enough that even Saphira could move about with no trouble. A gigantic hearth filled the room with heat at the northern end of the chamber – a simple spell cast upon the wood thrown into the fire made sure it emitted no smoke. Eragon had his own desk, twice as long as he was tall, filled to the brim with papers and letters and maps. He was the head of the rider order, yet not even he could've prepared for the amount of paperwork involved with that task. A slim staircase spiralled up to a chamber above them; Eragon's bedchamber and library, though he rarely slept there these days. Saphira had a comfortable nest, a bowl-like pit in the floor on the other side of the fire. Though she had a cave of her own in the adjoining peaks, this nest was for whenever she wished to visit her rider here, and often stayed overnight.

Carefully moving so as not to wake her rider, Saphira stood from her nest and padded away from the fireplace. She went to a large opening in the wall that led onto a balcony large enough to allow her to take off and land. Pausing at the threshold, the dragoness gazed out onto the glittering snow-speckled peaks around her. The dark velvet of the night sky was peppered with stars, each glittering like a dragon scale far above. From so high, she could spy the many pockets of caves dotted around the adjoining mountains. And far below, if she craned her neck over the balcony's side, she could see the large fortress, the home of the Rider Order, sprawled out across the mountainside, the roof dusted with snow.

The Dragonrider Order had done well in establishing this fortress. Nestled in the heart of the Grey Mountains, nothing surrounded them but miles of unforgiving terrain. These peaks were perfect for dragons, with plenty of caves and an abundance of prey in the ridges and valleys. The widest mountain had been selected for them to build the place where the Rider Order might bloom. Eragon, Murtagh, Saphira and Thorn had made the main hall first. And then later, with the help of all the races from both Middle Earth and Alagaesia, they had set about their monumental task to build the rest. Half built, half formed by magic, their Fortress appeared to both be built upon the mountain yet also was half carved within it.

From the main hall, they had so many different sections, as if an entire kingdom had been built here. Into the heart of the mountain was the vaults, filled with the most sacred artefacts, texts and secrets of the rider order, the secrets that could not be easily shared. As well as that, down in the bowels of the mountain, they came close to a vein of earth-fire that dwarf engineers used to traverse heat to the rest of the fortress. Beside this source of heat, Saphira had requested a chamber be built to house the eggs that had not yet hatched. It was warm and cosy and specifically made to allow her to come and go to tend to them. Each of them would be comfortable before they chose their time to hatch. Saphira found she came down to them most every day in order to turn the eggs, sing to them, and touch each of their minds. It was a responsibility she took with pride. And when an egg decided to hatch, she would take the hatchling away with her to her own nest to raise in the sun.

One tower of the fortress had been called the Hall of Colours, for it had been made with stain glass windows all around and gems embedded in the walls to reflect as much colour as could possibly be held. It was here that the Eldunari of all the dragons were placed; these were the council of elders that were the second highest authority of the entire Rider Order. The Eldunari of Glaedr, Umaroth, Cuaroc and even the Eldunari that had been imprisoned by Galbatorix (the peace they had known since being freed had helped them immeasurably to heal) all resided there. Eragon and Saphira had made their chambers in the eyrie, the tallest spire in the fortress, from which to preside and rule over their subordinates.

It had taken six years to fully complete, but at last, the fortress stood proud and tall and undeniable. They had named it Arngor, 'white mountain' in the dwarven tongue, for the stone in which the fortress was built was a bone white in colour.

A winter breeze whipped up around the mountain and trickled along Saphira's massive bulk. With it, came another whisper that haunted the edges of her mind. The echo of magic once more resounded inside her like a second heartbeat. She shifted from talon to talon, unable to deny the restless energy that was now flickering through her.

"You feel it, don't you."

She did not need to turn her head to confirm that Eragon had awoken. She could see through his eyes as he stared after her, perched upon the balcony, her form half shrouded in the veil of night and half within reach of the hearth's embers. She heard his footsteps as he walked up beside her. His hand was warm when he touched her wrist. She had grown over the past decades – now her beloved rider barely came to half way up her forearm.

She was not the only one to have changed. Her Eragon, partner of her heart and mind, had changed also. No one would believe she had chosen a scrawny farm-boy if they saw him now. He was tall and his shoulders were well built. The enchantments that made him elvish-looking had enhanced his ears to even pointier end over time, his facial features sharper and handsomer than was humanly possible. Those same spells had robbed him of the ability to grow a beard (though Saphira could not understand his desire to grow fur around his muzzle – he was no dog, after all), so instead, Eragon had grown his hair into a great bushy mane that he braided and entwined trinkets amongst the locks.

"You know I must go." She said to him, her thoughts mingling with his in a form of embrace, her excitement and anxiety washing through and all around his trepidation and curiosity. "I set us upon this path. I must see it through to its conclusion."

He smiled and looked up to her so that she could see into his one remaining eye. She did well to mask her shame upon gazing at the one eye clouded with mist and unseeing – a testimony to her failure. "Even after all this time…"

"82 years, by two-leg standards." Had it truly been so long? Her eyes drifted to one of the caves on a nearby peak. She hadn't visited there often, not since her own children had flown the nest for good. Her tail sagged and her wings snapped open and closed in grief. The loneliness had almost been forgotten without that little reminder.

Eragon's hand rubbed short circles into her scales. "Time is the ultimate healer. Perhaps now it has finally done it's work."

"I will be careful," she vowed, touching her nose to his chest.

He hugged her back fiercely. "I know you will." He touched his forehead to her snout and allowed their essences to mix completely. Saphira crooned to him softly, touched with his love and apprehension. "Come home soon."

"As soon as I am able."

With one last puff of breath to ruffle his hair, Saphira leaned into the wind and flung herself over the edge of the balcony. She allowed herself to freefall for three seconds. And when the jagged rocks of the valley floor came rushing to greet her, she snapped open her massive feathered wings and soared upwards. Past and around Arngor Fortress she made her way, her mind briefly reaching out to the Eldunari that lay within the Hall of Colours. She needed only send them a fleeting image of her destination, and even that was done out of a sense of curtesy.

"Take heed of your Rider's caution," came the voice of Umaroth. "He has changed enough to break his bonds, that means not that he has changed in the way you hope."

"I must see for myself regardless."

Without another word, she flew higher than their minds could reach her. Even when she had grown so massive, she was still the greatest flier in the Rider Order. None could match her speed and agility; if anything, her added size had given her wings strength to boost her abilities.

She heard the beat of a pair of wings and turned her head to acknowledge a pair of dragons, their riders (one human and one Urgal) atop their shoulders. One was deep blue-black, the other a seaweed green. They were both males: Tuvanar and Rethung. It was their turn to be on patrol. Though spells and wards were in place to protect Fort Arngor and to alert everyone should danger be imminent, it was considered a good strategy to have the younger riders take turns for guard duty, to encourage vigilance and cooperation.

Saphira remembered these two males. Tuvanar, the darker of the two, was quiet and reactive. Rethung took after his Urgal rider, and was prone to showing off for what he perceived to be glory. "Dragon-mother!" Rethung called to her in the Ancient Language, as he and the other riders had been instructed to converse in the tongue to improve their vocabulary. "You would leave us?"

"Fear not," she told them. "I hope to return before the sunset of the seventh day."

They let her pass, even when she could feel their concern for her. She snorted. They needed to better conceal their true emotions; though she would not begrudge them, for their worry was flattering. Even if they had wanted to stop her, they would not oppose her, for she was the alpha dragon amongst them all, as well as being the mother who had raised them and the mentor that had trained them.

Her students were left in her wake as she flapped her wings with a mighty clap like thunder. Wheeling on an updraft, Saphira used the currents of air to point her south east and made her way out of the reach of all friends and allies. She did not need the dawn to make out the singular mountain on the distant horizon…

It had always fascinated Saphira as to why dwarves, one of the smallest of all the races she had come across, would build their halls of stone so large that even dragons could not fill them. As Saphira stepped through the threshold of Erebor, she was mesmerised to look up at the vastness of the ancient statues and echoes of a lost kingdom. How could she have forgotten the splendour of this place? So many memories were kept here, she was bathed in them all at once, rooting her talons to the spot.

She was not as small as she had been when last she walked these chambers. But even with her added height, she could easily step through the front gate and need not worry about keeping her wings tightly closed once inside. She snorted when the stale air assaulted her nose. Had everything been covered in so fine a layer of dust when she was last here? Had there been so many cobwebs? Had everything truly looked so faded? Since when had the ancient stone faces of the dwarves crumbled under the duress of time?

A flutter of tiny wings seized her heart, and she hesitated. Some part of her warned her away, that this place was not hers to trespass. With a steeling breath, Saphira lashed her tail. She feared nothing and no one. If she was to receive consequences for past sins, then so be it. She would not hide from it like a coward. This was the path she had set the world upon, and now she needed to see it through to its conclusion. The scrape of her talons on the stone floor echoed around her, her breath steamed before her eyes. She couldn't remember the inside of the mountain ever being so cold, even in the dead of winter.

A crumbled stone column bared her path and she paused. The stone had been uprooted from its place amongst its identical brothers by a powerful force that had shattered it upon impact with the floor. On some of the larger chunks, Saphira could make out deep gouges from where talons had sliced into the stone.

Memories of the battle that had caused such marks returned to the forefront of her mind. Her jaw chittered nervously, her tail twitching lower to the floor. Once more that nervousness coursed through her veins. What would happen if he did not wish to see her? Well, then she would leave, she reasoned. She came here because it was her duty to be here. And because she needed to see him once more, to set him free of any ties to her with her apologies and forgiveness. Even if all he did was attack her – and there was a possibility of that – she would take it in stride and still deliver her message. Then she could return to her life, alone once more, but at least the pair of them would be free.

So many years ago, the path to the central chamber had been carved into the mountain so that even Saphira could follow the way even should she not remember it at all. As she stared down into the great darkness that beckoned her in to swallow her whole, she felt herself be torn with the need to know and the need to take flight. But she would not. She was Saphira Brightscales, Mother of Dragons, Leader of the Rider Order. It had been many long years but the road that had brought her here had defined her as a dragon that would not flee from any dangers. To find her resolve once again, she reflected on the events throughout the years that had led her to this moment…