Disclaimer: I don't own Eragon or anything associated with the Inheritance Cycle.
Claimer: I, SussieKitten, own this plot and the story. Borrow or steal my plot, my original characters (should they appear) or story and I will report you.
Warnings: Modern AU with roots in canon lore and plot. References to sexualities like male and female homosexuality and heterosexuality. References to incest, as befitting a relationship between Murtagh and Eragon. Swearing or strong language. References to abuse. Living a tough life. Ridiculousness that is to be expected from the Eragon universe. Talking/thinking of past lives and reincarnation. If any of this disturbs you, click on the "back" button. I won't tolerate any flames.
A/N Once upon a time, (like earlier last year) I wrote a story in what I like to call my "reincarnation 'verse" called Destiny: Or Some Other Nonsense Like That. I finished it off and told myself it was a one and done kind of situation. I was wrong; oh, so very wrong. Behold the second and likely final part in this series, because I use this one to reference various other stories/lives I could have put to paper, but likely won't. Ah well.
This story is being posted today, outside of my usual posting schedule, to commemorate the fact that it's been 12 years since baby SK posted her first story in this fandom. I'm serious, guys. It's been 12 years. What am I even doing with my life anymore lol.
Also, a special shout-out has to go to Nikki and Jay over on Tumblr (you both knows who you is) for enabling me to dive back into this universe. Without them, I would probably never have gone back to this. So thank you guys for prodding me into writing this. I had a real blast! I also gotta thank voidslantern over on Tumblr for holding my hand through writing the final half of this story. I wouldn't have finished it in time without her. =)
I do hope you enjoy this little self-indulgent story of mine, though. Also if you read Destiny and thought there weren't enough dragons in it, then you're probably going to enjoy the basic premise of this one!
Warning: this has been self-beta'ed.
The End is Where We Begin
The memories came to him slowly, little by little. His very first came when he was three years old and he remembered a blow striking him moments before it did. His second was at five and he remembered the name of his warden before the man introduced himself. His third was at ten when he was introduced to his mentor and remembered losing him.
Murtagh understood quickly that he was different. He didn't have to say anything to know that. He knew that knowing events before they happened or knowing a person's name before ever hearing of them was not normal. So he did what anyone would have done in his stead; he kept his mouth shut.
The memories came quicker with puberty. He had a whole other life coming together in his head by the time he was thirteen. By fifteen, he'd seen that life reach its end.
It was madness. It had to be.
He could see things mirroring; events coming to pass even if the smaller details were different. He couldn't help but picture how the future would turn out if it followed the script that was in his head.
So he did the only things that made sense; he ran.
The first few days were the hardest, settling into a way of life his memory helpfully told him he'd practised before. The first weeks were the most critical, as the hunt for him was at its peak. He listened to his instincts and stayed so low he rarely saw sunlight.
It paid off. He kept avoiding his would-be captors, never stopping long enough to see which side was dogging his tail before slipping past them.
The weeks eventually became months. Months became a year. He knew he was still being hunted by the time he stepped into the coastal town, but he was ready.
Murtagh bought a boat that had seen better days and that the original owner was more than happy to part with. He checked it over before putting all his belongings into it and heading out onto open water.
He headed north and didn't stop until he saw a distinctive and familiar landmass on the horizon.
Vroengarg. He had reached his new home.
He built his home in the empty stone walls left behind by those that came before him. Not in the large halls built for the comfort of fully grown dragons, but the smaller rooms on the outskirts that had started to fall into disrepair. He took his time fixing a few of them up, more for something to do with his time than any expectation that he'd find something to use them for.
Murtagh chose to settle in a room with an easy escape into the forest, should he need it, and a good view of the gradual slope that led to one of the few beaches on the island.
He slowly relearned Vroengarg. He walked the land, familiarising himself with the landscape and everything it had to offer. Murtagh soon learned where to forage for the best food, which cliffs the birds flocked to, what local game the island provided, the place in the forest where time seemed to stand still, and the best spot on the cliffs to watch the sun rise and set.
He spent many afternoons on that cliff-top, watching the ocean swallow the sun. He sat and watched and pretended the colours didn't make him miss Thorn so fiercely his heart ached.
Stumbling over the cave wasn't a surprise as such. Vroengarg was made up primarily of mountains and forests. There were plenty of caves; in the mountainside, dug into the forest ground, even probably beneath the island itself. But this cave was different than any other Murtagh had explored.
There was one memory, faint and most likely one of his oldest. He saw himself standing in the same cave, backed by a great red dragon and making the same discovery.
Eggs. Dragon eggs. They were still there.
For a long time, he simply left them there, too scared of what might happen if he went closer to them. But the urge to see them again stayed with him and only got stronger the longer he stayed away.
He gave in eventually.
Murtagh didn't go far during his first few visits. He stayed in the doorway, only daring to go further when he remembered that maybe someone should have been checking on them. They had been unsupervised for a long time, after all.
It was a relief to find that they all appeared unharmed and well. But after that visit, it became hard to put the same kind of distance between himself and them again. He started doing rounds in the cave every so often. It eventually became something he did once a day.
Hatching the first egg was a complete accident, however. He hadn't been able to resist the rusted colour, so reminiscent of Thorn's, and had let his finger-tips brush against it.
The egg had hatched soon thereafter and Murtagh had gotten a lot better at wearing gloves around the eggs. But somehow the first hatching had set off a chain reaction. After Flannán came Cian, Bláthnat, Gráinne, Nechtan, Doireann, Sadb, Anraì, Laoise and Eilìs. In the years Murtagh had been on the island, no less than ten dragons had hatched. The eleventh was soon on the way, too, if they followed any kind of set schedule.
And they were in a whole rainbow of colours; the eggs as well as the dragons. Orange-red, aqua-blue, dark purple, muted yellow, even smoky-grey. It was always a surprise to see who would hatch next – if this was the time the colours started to overlap.
But even with a growing flock – were dragons called a flock? Herd? Murder? – of dragons, Murtagh still didn't consider himself a Dragon Rider. He made sure that he never fully bonded with any of them, in case the potential he carried in his blood was enough to trigger more than just an egg awakening. He didn't deserve that bond and didn't know if he wanted it unless it was with one of the two dragons he had once called his own.
Murtagh knew someone had landed on the island long before they had a chance to take a single step. The rush of feeling he got from Gráinne told him as much.
It was an unusual life he had chosen for himself, but he had chosen it and it was his. No one was going to take that from him.
Hatching and raising dragons in the wild was exactly as difficult as someone could imagine, if not tougher. He always wore gloves around the dragons or when he knew he had to handle one of the young ones. It had come to the point where not wearing anything on his hands felt strange. His only concession was a pair that had the tips of the fingers cut off for a better grip, and those he only wore when he absolutely had to.
"What do you see?" he asked Gráinne.
Never having formally bonded with any of the dragons meant they couldn't speak to him. At least, not with words.
Gráinne sent him flashes of images and impressions of whatever she was feeling. Murtagh saw a boat approaching the shoreline with three figures on board – two of which smelled familiar, like Murtagh but not, and one that didn't. The next flash showed them climbing out of the boat, but Gráinne was still too far away for him to be able to recognise the figures.
"Don't attack," he told her. He didn't want to make any enemies unless he had to, especially when they were either stupid or brave enough to tackle Vroengarg. "Let them come."
Gráinne felt confused, but Murtagh also felt her relax back onto her perch. She was letting them past.
Murtagh picked the last of the mushrooms before heading back to his home.
He was sitting outside, brushing grit out of the caps when he felt Anraì's mind brush against his. Anraì had spotted the newcomers as well and were, as always when encountering something new, wondering if he could eat them.
Murtagh gave him a very firm, "No," without even looking away from the mushrooms.
Anraì was clearly disappointed by his answer but didn't argue. For once. Maybe the Gods were finally starting to smile down on him.
Eilìs also let him know as soon as she saw them. She was eager and wanted to go say hello. Murtagh could already feel her scrambling through the forest – as she'd yet to fully master flying – before he could tell her off.
"No, Ei," he told her. "I need to talk to them first."
Eilìs was also disappointed. She loved saying hello to everyone she met whether it was the first time that day or not. It made Murtagh faintly worried about what she would be like when she became too big to go jumping on other dragons, let alone people.
But that was something for another day. When Murtagh didn't have to worry about the people that were coming to see him and what they wanted.
He had his hood pulled up and his eyes on today's dinner by the time his visitors stepped through the trees. He recognised their voices almost instantly. Something inside him both stiffened and relaxed. He'd been here before, his memory told him. He'd been found or sought out before. It rarely ended well.
"Oh," Eragon's familiar voice said. "Hello."
Murtagh wasn't vain – living on a wild island for four years would do that to just about anyone – but rather than opening his mouth, he found himself raising his hand and using that to speak.
'Who are you?' he signed. 'What do you want?'
He hadn't learned sign on the run, and his previous education hadn't included it, but Murtagh could still remember the time when the blow to his back had been accompanied by one to the throat. Just because he'd had the audacity to cry he'd never spoken another word in that life. The movements still came naturally to him.
He looked up just in time to see his visitors come up short. The look of shock on Eragon's face was priceless.
His other visitors were a surprise. Saphira was nowhere to be seen; Eragon was instead flocked by Nasuada and some elf Murtagh knew he'd encountered before. Vanir? Or maybe Murtagh only thought that was his name because he looked vain.
"My name is Nasuada," Nasuada said. Murtagh allowed his eyes to rest on her. "This is Eragon," she gestured at him, "and Vanir. We come in peace."
'You understand sign?' he asked.
Nasuada nodded, looking briefly at her companions to repeat what he signed out loud.
Murtagh had to bite back a remark at how fortuitous that was. For them, not for him. He kept his other hand on the ladle so he could keep stirring. He saw no point in encouraging them to stay long. 'Peace is undescriptive.'
Nasuada nodded again, echoing his question out loud again for the two that didn't understand what he was signing. No matter how short Murtagh tried to cut their chat, it was going to take longer just for that reason. It was almost enough to spark him into speaking out loud. "The full story is that we came here because we heard of someone living on the island. Someone that could communicate with dragons."
Murtagh pointedly didn't look at Eragon. 'Who is we?'
"The Varden," Nasuada said.
No matter where he went, the goddamn Varden continued to dog his steps. He'd harboured a small glimmer of hope that Eragon and co. hadn't visited him because of their goddamn crusade, but that was clearly too much to hope for.
'What do you want?'
Off to the side, Murtagh noticed that Vanir looked dangerously close to rolling his eyes.
"We have rescued some dragons that need caring for, but we are unable to properly communicate with them without their Riders," she explained.
It was becoming harder and harder not to look at Eragon. 'Dragons don't need much in the way of communication,' he said. 'Body language and intent will go a long way.'
"We've experienced as much," she said, and there was something pained in the way she said it. "However, one of the dragons is...badly injured. He won't let us close and won't communicate with us in any way."
There wasn't a lot Murtagh regretted so far in his life. Not trying to grab the eggs on his way out of the capital had been one. Not trying to release Shruikan from his terrible confinement was another.
'It may be better to let him die,' Murtagh told her plainly. 'For his sake.'
Nasuada pursed her lips.
Vanir tsk'ed. "I said coming here would be a bad idea," he said in elfish.
Murtagh made the conscious decision not to let any of them in on the fact that he knew elfish, but especially Vanir. The less information he gave these people the better. He didn't know if they knew he'd learned the language during one of his many lives, or that he could remember learning it, but the risk wasn't worth it. Not when he was determined to see them off the island.
Nasuada seemed intent to ignore Vanir's comment. "Then you won't help us?"
'I'm sorry,' Murtagh signed as he shook his head. 'Even if I wanted to, I couldn't leave the hatchlings.'
Nasuada looked disappointed but nodded nonetheless. "Of course, we understand."
"Understand what," Vanir said sharply. It didn't even sound like he meant it to be a question.
"I will tell you later," was all Nasuada said.
Vanir didn't look happy to hear that. Murtagh bit back a smirk.
Eragon was still looking at him, Murtagh noticed then. He carefully schooled his expression, even though he knew the hood had to be hiding most of his face. The worry of being recognised was still there, however.
They said their goodbyes then – or rather, Eragon and Nasuada did. Vanir seemed content to give Murtagh one last glare before turning on his heel and stomping off. Eragon lingered briefly, looking like he wanted to say something, but ultimately dashed after his companions.
Murtagh took the pot off the fire and removed his gloves before burying his head in his hands. Shit.
In the end, his conscience won out. Because of course it did. It didn't matter that his conscience had gotten him into heaps of trouble before – had even gotten him killed a time or two – he just never seemed to be able to rid himself of it.
It was with a sour taste in his mouth that Murtagh packed a light bag and headed out.
Gráinne let him know where the visitors had settled on the beach. Murtagh made sure she felt his gratitude before heading that way. He'd talked himself in and out of the decision what felt like half a dozen times before he reached them. Unfortunately – or fortunately – he'd talked himself into the decision again by then.
They were clearly surprised to see him. Nasuada's was more a pleasant surprise while Vanir looked like he'd stepped in dragon dung. Murtagh, having done so too many times to count, knew exactly what that expression looked like.
"You've decided to come after all?" Nasuada asked.
The relief on her face was almost palpable.
Vanir's scowl deepened. Even though the boat they had most likely rented to get to Vroengarg was more than large enough for Murtagh to come along, it looked like Vanir wanted to say there was no room. Murtagh was even tempted to let him. It was probably better to avoid overly antagonising the elf, however. The fewer enemies he made – not to mention distinct impressions – the better.
Murtagh sent out a rush of feeling and heard the cry as the intended dragon felt his call. Flannán burst out of the forest and bounded over. The dragons were still too young to have mastered shifting into a human form, but Murtagh thought Flannán would get there soon.
The others were clearly surprised to see another dragon, especially one that seemed to come out of nowhere. Murtagh had to hold in a smirk as Flannán came to a stop next to him and nuzzled into him like he was an overgrown puppy rather than a dragon.
Eragon looked like he had a million and one questions.
Nasuada was the one that recovered first. "Did they know to come?"
'He,' Murtagh corrected with one hand as he patted Flannán's hide. 'And yes. I told him.'
Nasuada quickly told the others what he'd signed. "How?"
'We communicate through feelings. Not a proper bond, or so I understand,' he hurried to add, in case Nasuada got the wrong idea, 'but the closest I think you can get to it.'
Nasuada looked stunned even as she repeated the information.
'I told you,' Murtagh signed, 'you can get a lot with body language and intent.'
"You did," she said.
Flannán sniffed curiously at the other three. He quickly became taken with Eragon and Murtagh could easily guess why. Eragon undoubtedly smelled heavily of the dragon he was bonded to.
"Will you be travelling with us?" she asked.
Murtagh shook his head. He patted Flannán's side and signed, 'I'll follow you.'
Flannán was the oldest of the dragons on the island and therefore the only one Murtagh comfortably felt could handle both his weight and the journey, but picking him wasn't without its risks. Flannán's colouring was awfully close to Thorn's, even if his hide was darker – more blood-red rusting into brown than the flames that were reflected in Thorn's scales.
Would reflect, if Thorn hatched again.
He jumped on top of Flannán's back before anyone could question him and urged him wordlessly to take to the skies. Flannán spread his wings and let out an eager cry as he started to run. Murtagh was smiling before Flannán had even taken off. Then the ground disappeared underneath them and they were flying.
It felt good to be back in the air. Murtagh hadn't realised how much he missed it.
He looked back only once and saw Eragon shake his head firmly. Nasuada turned to him, clearly to say something, but he was too far away to hear or see what. He turned back and let the hood finally fly off his head.
He waited until he was sure the wind wouldn't carry his voice to unsuspecting ears before throwing his arms out and letting out as loud of a whoop as his lungs could produce.
Flannán shrieked excitedly in reply.
Murtagh laughed and patted Flannán's scales. "It's good to be flying again," he said, even if Flannán wouldn't know what he meant.
Now if his heart would just stop breaking about the dragon he was meant to be riding, everything would almost be perfect.
Flannán was clearly tired by the time they reached the mainland. Murtagh urged him to land even though Flannán insisted that he could keep going. Flannán hadn't carried passengers before and they'd been in the air for hours. Murtagh wasn't willing to let the young dragon push himself too far. He wasn't Flannán's Rider, but there was a bond there. He cared, perhaps more than he should, but then he'd been a dragon minder for four years already. There was likely no going back.
Murtagh kept a firm grip on his hood as they descended. Flannán touched down on the beach next to the docks Eragon and co. had docked their boat at.
His legs were on fire when he finally climbed off Flannán's back. Fuck, but he'd forgotten what riding any animal – even a dragon – did to the body. He was going to be bow-legged for the next week at the very least.
Vanir sniffed. "At least you aren't as seasoned of a flyer as you look."
'I'll take that as a compliment,' Murtagh signed just because he knew Vanir wouldn't understand him.
Nasuada hid a smile behind her hand.
"What? What did he say?" Vanir demanded to know before Nasuada could even open her mouth to translate.
'How do you know I'm male?' Murtagh countered, just to see Vanir scowl at him.
Nasuada instantly sobered up. "Please let us know if we misgen-"
Murtagh waved her off. 'It's fine. I just said it to rile him up. Which,' he signed, 'would arguably work better if he understood sign.'
Nasuada's expression softened slightly.
Vanir was practically tapping his foot.
"Oh, he said..." her eyes flickered to him.
Murtagh gave her a thumbs-up.
Nasuada's mouth twitched. "He said to thank you for the compliment on his seat."
Vanir stared at her for a long moment before walking off in a huff.
'He must be a hoot at parties,' Murtagh signed.
"You could say that," Nasuada sighed.
Murtagh decided it was probably safer not to ask.
There was a yelp off to the side and Murtagh turned in time to see Eragon get jumped by a huge blue dragon. If Murtagh hadn't been as familiar with young dragons as he were, he would probably have been worried about Eragon's well-being. As it was, he just stood there and watched as Eragon's head popped up under Saphira's bulk, only to get disappear again when Saphira gave him a long lick.
Watching Saphira and Eragon's reunion was enough to make him feel a sharp stab of something not quite jealousy and not quite sadness. It was his fault that he didn't have that, and Murtagh knew it.
Murtagh could feel Flannán's curiosity about the new dragon, but Murtagh held him back. It would be safer if Saphira came to him. Flannán was the rogue element, after all.
Nasuada shook her head faintly. She'd obviously seen Saphira and Eragon interact many times already. Murtagh found himself remembering the two of them clowning around in a previous life, though he wasn't sure which. The details weren't sharp enough for him to be able to tell.
While Murtagh could remember more lives than he was sure was healthy for any sane person, they weren't completely fleshed out. The only life he remembered with any proper clarity was the one he assumed was his first, as well as his current one. The others he remembered highlights of, or small details that stood out, as well as the pains that sometimes ached even if the wounds they belonged to had long since healed.
He wondered, suddenly, if Eragon remembered anything in this life. He hadn't heard any talk of reincarnation so far and wondered if this were to be the one life he was the only one that remembered anything. He almost smiled. That would truly have been an ironic twist of fate.
Nasuada must have noticed his preoccupation because she turned to him and asked, "Are you all right?"
'Yes, fine,' he signed quickly, quickly moving one hand to rub at his lower-back to give himself something to do. 'Just wondering whether I'll fall on my ass if I try to move.'
Nasuada's lips wobbled as she tried not to laugh.
Murtagh let out a soft breath and turned firmly away from Saphira and Eragon. He had another dragon he needed to see to.
Murtagh was surprised to hear that Shruikan had already been moved prior to Eragon and co. heading for Vroengarg. Teirm was no place for a dragon to be, even for such a short while. The entire area felt almost claustrophobic due to the mountains cradling it, and that was even with the vast sea opposite. Dragons were made for wide open areas, not closed-in mountain-ranges.
Still, Murtagh knew it wasn't the area that was the main reason Shruikan was in bad shape. Because the dragon clearly wasn't well. Murtagh could see that even without being able to see all of him. His scales were dull and there were marks along his snout and what Murtagh could see of his forelegs. Galbatorix's oppressive hold and sudden absence were far more likely to be the cause of Shruikan's terrible state.
Murtagh frowned and silently wondered what the hell had taken them so long to seek him out if Shruikan was in such a terrible condition. He knew there must have been rumours of a hermit on Vroengarg for a while; so it couldn't be that the Varden hadn't heard about him until recently. Then he remembered that he valued his privacy and ability to walk around freely and tried not to feel guilty.
But it was pointless to worry about the past, as much as the thought felt ironic. Murtagh knew he had to focus on the present. He turned towards Nasuada and signed, 'I need to be alone with him.'
Nasuada repeated what he'd signed. "Of course," she gestured at the others. "We'll give you privacy."
Vanir looked highly sceptical, but Nasuada seemed to able to shoo him off well enough. Only Eragon lingered briefly, and he rushed off when he noticed Murtagh looking, cheeks oddly pink.
Murtagh waited until he couldn't hear their footsteps anymore before lowering his hood.
Shruikan didn't even stir.
Murtagh swallowed. He regretted not getting something to drink before asking to see Shruikan. He could feel a faint burst of worry from Flannán. Murtagh sent him a rush of assurance back. It was more difficult when he didn't accompany the feeling with a spoken word or two, but he must have managed because he felt Flannán's focus shift onto something else. He was giving off an almost...playful feeling? Murtagh tried not to think about it too hard.
He sighed and made himself look up towards Shruikan's face. "I'm sorry," he said. His throat always felt vaguely dry, since he barely spoke, but it was worse now. "I should have tried to get you and the others out when I ran."
The great big dragon said nothing.
"I'd like to make it right."
Still, the dragon said nothing. Murtagh didn't dare to reach out and see if he could connect with Shruikan. It felt like an invasion of privacy and Shruikan deserved better after so long under Galbatorix' cruel command.
"Vroengarg is empty except for me and a dozen hatchlings."
"You can spend the rest of your days in solitude there. I could keep the hatchlings back if you wanted me to." Murtagh doubted he'd be very successful at it at first, but if Shruikan wanted to be alone he was sure he could figure something out. The dragons were all children still, for all that Flannán was three and a half years old now, but they weren't stupid. They could be reasoned with.
Murtagh took a moment to watch the shallow breathing of Shruikan's chest. They'd never had the best relationship, him and Shruikan, but he never wished the dragon ill. They'd both been pawns under Galbatorix several times throughout history. They both deserved a new chance at life.
He dared to take a step closer and lowered his voice. "You won't be hurt anymore, I promise."
There was a long pause before Shruikan finally opened one of his eyes.
Eragon, Nasuada and Vanir were clearly waiting for him when he came out of the room. Murtagh didn't take that to heart. He knew it was more out of anticipation than a worry he'd kill Shruikan given the chance.
Or, well, Eragon and Nasuada clearly didn't think he wished the great dragon any ill. Vanir was a whole other ballgame. The elf clearly didn't trust him. Whatever. Murtagh rarely sought out things like trust anymore – from people, anyway. The dragons seemed to trust him almost instinctively and Murtagh tried not to question it. If he started, he was afraid he'd never stop.
'He's agreed to come with me,' Murtagh signed.
Nasuada practically sagged in relief as she relayed the information to the others. "Thank the Gods."
'But I doubt he's strong enough to make the journey on his own two wings,' he continued.
Nasuada nodded like she'd been expecting that. "We thought as much," she told him, confirming his suspicions. "That's why we had him brought here before we went to plead our case to you."
'He can't have liked that,' he signed.
Nasuada shook her head, looking faintly worried. "That's the thing, he didn't even react. That's why we were so desperate to find you."
"He used to keep everyone at bay, snapping even at the people that brought him food. Then he stopped reacting at all. So when he didn't even protest when we organised this move, we knew we had to act fast or risk losing him."
Murtagh forced himself not to let them know they'd been right in seeking him out. He didn't want to give Vanir the satisfaction of hearing it.
"We are, of course, willing to ferry you back to the island."
'F-L-A-N-N-Á-N too,' was the first thing he signed, even though he felt apprehensive at Nasuada's use of the word we.
"Is that his name?" Nasuada glanced over at the dragon that seemed to be introducing himself to Saphira. Saphira seemed mostly amused by the smaller dragon, though Murtagh knew he wouldn't stay smaller than her for much longer. Male dragons always grew larger than female dragons. He wasn't sure why; only that such was their ways.
She smiled. "He's sweet."
'A complete puppy, yes, I know.'
She laughed softly.
'Who would be joining us on the return trip?'
Nasuada started naming people Murtagh had never met or heard of before, though she assured him they were trusted members of the Varden, who were going to be the crew. They'd need a much larger boat to get Shruikan to Vroengarg, after all.
In the background, Murtagh saw Saphira and Flannán seemed to be getting on well enough that Eragon felt comfortable to leave them to bond. He walked over to join Nasuada and Murtagh.
"I'll be joining too, of course," Nasuada added.
Murtagh finally allowed himself to relax a bit.
"And Eragon," she said once she saw he'd joined them. "He's currently our only Dragon Rider."
Eragon's expression became shuttered, like the fact pained him.
Murtagh wondered what had happened to Arya and the green egg. He physically had to stop himself from asking. 'Very well,' he signed instead. 'When will we be leaving?'
"Tomorrow. There are still some things we need to finalise before we can leave," Nasuada answered.
Murtagh nodded. He could stomach a day on the mainland, probably. He didn't think anyone was looking for him anymore, not when he'd been missing for so long. And not after Galbatorix had been defeated. Whatever purpose he would have served in that fight had long passed him by and he wasn't sad to see it gone.
He allowed himself to glance over at Eragon and found him already looking. Eragon's cheeks pinked and he looked away quickly.
Curious. Murtagh briefly wondered if Eragon might have recognised him, but dismissed it. Surely the lack of maintenance on the lower half of his face saw to that. He rubbed at the bristles a little self-consciously. At least, he hoped so, or his habit of not shaving would have been in vain.
It felt strange to sleep away from the hatchlings after four years on the island. Murtagh kept expecting to feel a burst of emotions from them, but it was quiet. Even Flannán was asleep, leaving Murtagh alone with his thoughts and old memories.
The echoing silence was enough to drive Murtagh out of the room he'd been given for the night. The Varden were either renting or had a member that graciously let them use the huge farm they were staying in for the night. It was situated on the outskirts of the Teirm city boundary, closer to the mountains than Murtagh felt comfortable with, and had a huge barn that Shruikan was stuck sleeping in for the night. Murtagh didn't know if Saphira was staying with Flannán in the smaller barn off to the side, but he somehow doubted it. She should have mastered shifting by now and would surely prefer to sleep in the same room as Eragon.
Murtagh headed out of the farm-house, careful not to step on any creaky boards and took a deep breath as soon as he was outside. He had not spent the night in a house for longer than he'd care to remember. After all, remembering the last time he'd slept in a proper bed only brought forward other memories – all best left forgotten.
He didn't go far. He sat down on the top step at the end of the porch and leaned his elbows on his knees. There night-air had a slight chill to it, making Murtagh glad he'd grabbed his jacket before heading out. It gave him an excuse to pull up the hood and settle in for what felt like a sleepless night.
Murtagh stiffened. He hadn't even realised he wasn't the only one on the porch.
He turned towards the voice slowly. And there was Eragon, sitting on the honest-to-gods porch-swing, looking like he had no idea why he'd spoken or what he was supposed to do now.
Murtagh mimed writing something on his hand and shrugging in what he hoped was an apologetic manner.
"Oh, I understand sign," Eragon said, looking faintly embarrassed about it.
Murtagh was surprised. He hadn't realised Nasuada had only been acting as a translator for Vanir's sake.
'You people are full of surprises.'
Eragon blushed. He got out of the porch-swing and shifted on his feet for a few moments before asking, "Can I sit?"
Murtagh only just managed to keep the frown off his face. 'Sure.'
Eragon walked over a little hesitantly and made sure to keep a respectable distance between them when he sat down, even if they were just sitting on a step that was only so wide. He almost immediately started to fiddle with his hands.
Murtagh turned away from him as not to get caught staring. He wanted to ask about Eragon's life, he realised suddenly, about Saphira and everything that had happened while he hadn't been there to see it. He didn't know how Galbatorix' 'rule' had ended in this life and found that he genuinely didn't care. As long as the man never came back to haunt him – at least for a little while – then Murtagh was happy. But there were so many things he didn't know about Eragon – not to mention a few others – and he didn't like how that made him feel.
"What's your name?"
Murtagh was surprised yet again. He paused for a moment before spelling out, 'N-E-R-Ü-G-I.'
"Nerügi?" Eragon echoed.
He nodded. If he was going to call himself anything, he might as well make it no name.
Eragon was frowning. "Nice to meet you, Nerügi."
'You too, Rider.'
Eragon blushed again. "Call me Eragon, please."
'As you wish.'
Eragon looked away quickly, but not before Murtagh could see his blush darkening.
Murtagh had a lot of memories of Eragon in his head. Sometimes it was a little difficult to see where one life ended and the other began.
'How long have you been a Rider?'
Murtagh didn't know who was more surprised by his question; Eragon or himself.
Eragon bit at his lip and looked away as he clearly debated whether to answer. "About four years."
He had to wait for Eragon to turn back before he could sign a reply. 'I haven't been doing this much longer myself.'
Eragon blinked owlishly. "Really?" he blurted.
Murtagh nodded. 'Really.'
Eragon was clearly stunned.
"You look so confident at it, though," Eragon said and Murtagh could see that he immediately regretted it.
It took everything in him not to burst out into laughter. 'Thank you for the compliment.'
Eragon's blush deepened.
Murtagh was suddenly struck by the feeling that he missed Eragon. It was stupid. The kid was right in front of him, talking to him even.
But it wasn't the same. And it was all his fault.
Getting Shruikan off the boat was as much of a struggle as it was to get him on it. Even with Saphira and Flannán helping him walk, Shruikan was clearly weakened. Murtagh privately thought it was a wonder he had enough fight in him to stay alive considered how visibly deteriorated he was.
The hatchlings were immediately curious about the new arrival, but Murtagh sent them all messages to stay back. They were all disappointed, Eilìs possibly more so than the others. Murtagh made a note to talk to her in particular about how to act around their new arrival. He'd made Shruikan a promise and he intended to keep it.
Saphira and Flannán helped Shruikan towards the large set of rooms Murtagh had already picked out in his head on the way back. Flannán knew the way well, so Murtagh wasn't worried about having to oversee Shruikan settling in – at least, not yet. Maybe after the others had left and he was free to talk without being concerned about someone overhearing him.
"Will you be all right on your own?"
'I'm never on my own,' Murtagh signed. 'I haven't been since I came here.'
Eragon bit at his lip. "Do you mind if..."
Murtagh looked his way.
"If I ask how you got them hatching so quickly?" Eragon's cheeks were practically on fire, even though Murtagh couldn't imagine why. "All of the texts we've been able to recover underline how difficult it is to coax dragons out of their eggs unless a parent or their chosen Rider is nearby, and..." he trailed off.
'I'm not a Rider.' Murtagh pulled back both of his gloves just enough to show that his palms remained unmarked.
"You know a lot about dragons, though," Eragon pointed out.
'I have been living with them for a while,' Murtagh signed with a wry smile. 'And I guess I've always had a fondness for them.'
"Yeah, I guess."
Murtagh hesitated. 'I can give you a copy of my notes if you want,' he offered, even though he knew how risky it was.
Eragon's eyes were huge. "I'd forever be in your debt." He blushed bright red. "The Varden would forever be in your debt."
Murtagh chose to ignore Eragon's slip of the tongue. 'I'll go get those for you.'
He berated himself all the way to his humble abode. He knew the chances of Eragon recognising him from his penmanship were low, but it was still a stupid risk to take. All just because Eragon had batted his doe-eyes at him. Murtagh shook his head at himself and went about copying the necessary notes.
Eragon's eyes lit up when Murtagh came back. He hugged the papers Murtagh gave him to his chest and said, looking completely serious, "Thank you. I could kiss you, I swear." He didn't even seem to realise what he'd said.
Murtagh couldn't even bite back the smirk if he tried. 'Don't make offers you don't mean to keep.'
Eragon frowned. "What?"
Eragon blinked at him. "Wha-" he seemed to realise the implication of what Murtagh had said mid-word. He blushed bright red and groaned. "Never mind, ignore me. My mouth has a life of its own."
Murtagh had to struggle to keep from laughing.
Nasuada seemed to notice Eragon needed rescuing because she hurried over and immediately took over the conversation. Murtagh let her. He knew he shouldn't be teasing Eragon as much as he was, but it was difficult to hold back. Eragon's reactions had always made him want to keep going, to see how far he could take it before Eragon called it quits. But he wasn't Murtagh to Eragon, not yet – perhaps not ever. Only time would tell whether this was the life he stayed fully away or not.
It took Shruikan a while to recover.
For a long time, he stayed curled up in the large room Saphira and Flannán had helped him get to. Murtagh had to bring him food and make sure he ate it. Shruikan wouldn't eat otherwise.
The other dragons were clearly curious about the new arrival. Murtagh did his best to keep them at bay while Shruikan recovered, but it was difficult. He didn't want to stress Shruikan by keeping watch over him 24/7, and nothing else would have put him in a position to keep the most tenacious of the dragons from sneaking in to see him. So it was no wonder that a few of them – most notably Sadb, Laoise and Eilìs – managed to slip through Murtagh's defences ever so often to say hi.
At first, Shruikan didn't even seem to notice that he was getting visitors. He barely seemed to be awake half the time Murtagh checked on him, regardless of how many hatchlings were sniffing around him. When he did start to notice the new arrivals, he was clearly wary. He usually snapped his teeth at them, though made no outward move towards pushing them away.
Murtagh was glad for that. He was fiercely protective of the dragons. If Shruikan harmed any of them...
Eventually, though, Shruikan began to let the hatchlings come closer. He watched them clamber all over his tail, which was curled around his body. He let them nose at his much larger claws, though Murtagh could see he was careful to keep the sharp edges from accidentally hurting them. Soon he even started to actively let them play with his tail.
Murtagh tried to give Shruikan as much space as possible once he started to eat without having to be nagged. He'd promised that Shruikan would get to live his own life on the island and he intended to honour that.
It didn't stop him from seeing Shruikan around the island, however, once he started leaving his rooms. He didn't seem to go far, not at first. Murtagh was almost certain Shruikan hadn't used his wings since he'd arrived. He hoped it would only be a matter of time before that changed.
As Shruikan became mobile, the older dragonlings – particularly Cian and Bláthnat – started to play with him as well. And Shruikan allowed it, even seemed to enjoy it at times.
He was acutely aware that he had yet to see Shruikan's human form. Shruikan was undoubtedly old enough that he should have mastered shifting, but just because he should have didn't mean he had. Murtagh was only too familiar with what Galbatorix's corruptive influence was capable of doing.
Murtagh also knew that it could be that Shruikan just wasn't comfortable shifting in Murtagh's presence. Murtagh really hoped that was the case. Galbatorix had already taken more than he had any right to take. And if it was simply a case of Shruikan not trusting him yet, well, either that trust came with time or it didn't come at all. And either was fine so long as Shruikan finally healed.
Murtagh was surprised when Shruikan was the one to let him know about their approaching visitors, though was surprised him the most was that Shruikan did it in his human form. It was the first time he'd seen Shruikan walk around on two feet.
Shruikan's human form was tall and broad-shouldered. He didn't look nearly as old as Murtagh knew he had to be, though there was some salt in his otherwise dark hair at his temples. There were scatterings of scales on several parts of his exposed flesh, but they almost blended in with the tone of his skin. The scars, by comparison, almost seemed to stand out like beacons. They didn't seem to bother Shruikan when he opened his mouth and said, "They're back." His voice was deep and seemed to resonate in Murtagh's bones.
The shifted dragon followed Murtagh down onto the beach to greet their guests. It had almost been a year since he'd last seen anyone from the Varden. Murtagh found himself wondering why they were coming back.
The answer, as it turned out, was an old male elf, a shifted dragon probably roughly the same age even if he didn't look it and two dragon eggs nestled in the crooks of Eragon's arms. Murtagh had to fight not to run ahead and scoop the red egg out of Eragon's grasp.
Nasuada looked shocked when she saw Shruikan. "Is that -"
Shruikan nodded to her.
'He doesn't talk much,' Murtagh signed. 'Not even to the hatchlings, as far as I can tell.'
Apparently having been satisfied that there appeared to be no immediate danger darkening their doorstep, Shruikan turned and headed in the direction Murtagh knew led to the room he'd claimed as his own.
"But he's walking," Nasuada breathed. "Shifted, even. He looks...healthy."
'He is," Murtagh replied. 'And I think the term healing might fit better. He's been through a lot.'
Nasuada nodded almost a little belatedly.
Murtagh realised then that she wasn't translating for him. He looked around and couldn't find Vanir anywhere. It was just her, Eragon, the old man and the dragon. Eragon looked up sharply, making Murtagh do the same and quickly redo his mental count. Saphira had come along as well, though she seemed content to stay in the skies above.
'What brings you here this time?'
Nasuada gestured towards Eragon, who immediately came forward. "The eggs."
Murtagh forced himself to only glance briefly at them. If he started to stare at the red egg, then he'd surely out himself.
"We've tried, but we cannot locate their Riders no matter how hard we try," Nasuada said.
Eragon looked embarrassed when he said, "I've been following your notes, but nothing in them seems to work either."
"It's like they don't want to hatch."
It took everything Murtagh had in him to keep himself from asking if they'd made Arya try her luck with the green egg. It was strange. Even when he'd been on the mainland to arrange for Shruikan's transport, he hadn't seen hide or hair of her. No one had spoken her name either. He wondered why but wasn't about to compromise his identity to ask.
Murtagh shook his head faintly, both in answer and to clear his head. 'It could just be that they don't feel ready.'
"We thought as much," Nasuada agreed. "That's why we've come to ask if they can stay here. It's much safer here compared to the mainland."
"The Varden is working to get rid of the last of Galbatorix's followers, but," Eragon's mouth twisted.
Murtagh didn't need to hear any more. 'Followers have already made grabs for them?'
Eragon and Nasuada nodded almost in unison.
Murtagh glanced over at the old man and what had to be his dragon. They hadn't said anything so far. He had a feeling he could guess why they were here.
'They can stay,' Murtagh signed and didn't have to wait long for the reply.
"Then we are staying as well," the old man stated immediately.
The dragon by his side smiled wryly. "You'll have to excuse Oromis," he said. "He's even more protective of the eggs than I am."
Murtagh shrugged. 'It's fine,' he signed. 'You can stay too, no problem. It's not like I own the island. Just beware the hatchlings,' he warned them. 'They like to say hello. A lot.'
Oromis narrowed his eyes faintly. His dragon looked like he'd expected Murtagh to say something else entirely.
"We are in your debt," Nasuada said.
Murtagh shook his head. 'No debt-talk. I'm just doing my part for the dragons.'
The dragon population had been thriving for a while, then a sudden and unexpected war had torn through the land and almost decimated the population. Sudden, that was, for people that didn't have several lives in their head. Murtagh had seen it coming, but only as the news reports were ticking in. He had been helpless to do anything to stop it.
Then he'd gone to Vroengarg. Hopefully what he did here would help in some small way.
Eragon passed the eggs to Oromis, who only glanced at Murtagh before huffing and walking off. Murtagh was tempted to ask if he was related to Vanir in some way but held it back.
The dragon smiled apologetically before setting off after Oromis.
Murtagh really hoped his decision to help wouldn't come back to bite him in the ass.
"How long have you been here?"
It had been a few days since Eragon, Nasuada and Saphira – only ever a glimmer in the sky – had left. Oromis and Glaedr – his dragon – had settled into an area somewhere between Murtagh's set of rooms and Shruikan's. He hadn't cleaned those out before their arrival, but he hadn't heard anything about it so he figured it was fine. For all that Glaedr only had one arm, he was still a dragon. And Murtagh imagined the magic they shared made cleaning things easier than it otherwise would have been.
Murtagh raised his hands to sign the answer, but Oromis scoffed.
"Use your voice, kid. It's just you and me now."
Murtagh didn't know how Oromis had discovered that he wasn't mute. He could have argued deafness if not for the fact that he'd have to explain how he'd gotten so skilled at lip-reading. He had already explained that once, in the life when his so-called father knocked his hearing out with the additional blow to his back. It was not a life he fancied remembering in any detail.
Lying was not what he had problems with. Not even lying by omission. But certain ghosts were better to leave undisturbed, for everyone's sake.
"It's never just you and me," Murtagh said, voice hoarse. "You know that. You're a Rider."
Oromis turned to him. "So were you, once upon a time."
Murtagh didn't know how Oromis had also guessed his identity, but then the old man must have been a part of the Varden for a while. He'd undoubtedly seen Murtagh's father in his facial features and gone from there.
He decided to ignore the question Oromis was subtly not-asking and instead said, "My mind is too loud even for me. I came here to escape the noise, not create more."
Oromis looked like Murtagh had offended at least ten of his ancestors. "A dragon isn't noise!"
"A dragon doesn't have twelve lives echoing endlessly in their head."
Silence. Murtagh could see that he'd finally been able to surprise the old man.
"Just about everything, yes."
There was something Murtagh didn't like in Oromis' eyes when he said, "That is why Galbatorix was so adamant to find you."
Murtagh was shaking his head before Oromis finished speaking. "I never told him I remembered. He'd probably have cursed me again if I had."
Oromis was silent for a while before he said, "Again?"
"He has in the past."
It was strange, to remember a life where he didn't remember anything. He had reasons to believe that might have been his most recent life, before this one, but Murtagh was in no mood to check.
"I was fortunate enough that I remembered some things...quite early," Murtagh allowed himself to share. "I ran as soon as I realised what events were coming up."
Tornac's death. Galbatorix digging his fingers into Murtagh's head. Both were things he wanted to avoid at all cost, no matter how much he missed Tornac. He hoped the old man was in good health.
"Can't fault you for listening to your survival instincts," Oromis said brusquely.
"But you can fault me for other things, yes, I'm sure." He cleared his throat. He was getting hoarse from talking so much.
Oromis gave him a look Murtagh couldn't decipher.
'What?' he signed before he even realised it.
But Oromis only shook his head. He left Murtagh to his trap-making after that.
Murtagh didn't see Shruikan with Glaedr until he stumbled over them, completely by accident. He was walking back with his catch of the day when he spotted two strangely coloured mounds that he quickly realised weren't mounds at all. They were dragons.
They made a strange pair; one light, the other dark. Shruikan's scars were on his face and neck while Glaedr's were on what was left of his other arm.
Murtagh knew there was a history there, but he didn't know the specifics. It wasn't his place to pry, either. They seemed peaceful, though, lying in a secluded meadow and pressed tightly against each other.
He made the decision to leave as quickly and quietly as he had come.
Not long after that, Murtagh finally gathered the courage to put his hand on the red egg. He'd been avoiding it – as well as the green one. He wasn't sure he deserved the honour of being Thorn's Rider again, but then was it really up to him? Wasn't it up to Thorn? And besides, Thorn deserved to fly and be free. If it came with the added burden of being Murtagh's dragon, then he would just have to keep working through things until he finally felt worthy of being bonded to Thorn again.
The seconds between his hand touching the surface and the first crack appearing felt endless. Murtagh immediately pulled his hand back, but he knew it was too late to stop what was coming.
The time it took Thorn to hatch seemed both endless and like no time passed at all. And all Murtagh could do was sit and watch.
When a part of the shell fell and a snout poked out, Murtagh immediately felt himself start to get emotional. He remembered being so scared the first time Thorn had hatched for him; scared for himself as much as the tiny being that was determined that Murtagh was the one for them. He hadn't dared to watch then; only looking over when the hatchling had started making all sorts of sounds to catch his attention.
He'd fallen in love the moment he'd seen the dragon, of course. And he knew it was going to be the same now.
The snout wriggled and Thorn whined as he struggled to get out. Murtagh was tempted to help him but knew it wasn't his place. So he sat still and watched as Thorn finally managed to create an opening large enough to poke his entire head out.
He stopped then and stared up at Murtagh.
Murtagh couldn't say for sure, but it wouldn't have surprised him if he was crying. "Hi, Thorn."
The little dragonling trilled in answer.
Murtagh watched him create a larger hole so his body could get out too. The entire top eventually came off and Thorn could climb free. The dragonling wobbled his way out of the shell and yelped sharply when he tripped and fell. Murtagh reached out and caught him instinctively, flinching when the mark dug into his palm and sealed his fate.
Thorn stared up at him with huge, liquid eyes.
Rather than to put him down on the ground, Murtagh put Thorn in his lap. He rubbed a careful finger between Thorn's eyes.
Thorn closed his eyes and rumbled.
Thorn seemed to grow by leaps and bounds – though naturally, this time. He went from being small enough that he could ride on Murtagh's shoulder to so large that Murtagh had to carry him in his arms or risk dislocation his shoulder. Soon he got too large to be carried as well.
It wasn't long until he was chasing after the younger dragons – Nechtan and Doireann especially – playing and roughhousing in ways he hadn't been able to in any of their lives. He even started to test his wings early, so early that Murtagh had to keep an eye on him to make sure he didn't hurt himself.
And at night, he'd curl up next to Murtagh in bed and fall asleep almost immediately.
Murtagh hadn't felt so whole in a long time.
Thorn absolutely hated Murtagh's beard, though. It got to the point where Murtagh had no choice to shave or risk Thorn finding some way to get it off himself.
It was strange to look at his own reflection after shaving so sparsely over the years, though. Murtagh almost didn't recognise himself. Thorn, however, looked overbearingly smug when Murtagh walked out of the make-shift bathroom clean-shaven.
Murtagh could only roll his eyes and rub at Thorn's snout while he scolded him half-heartedly for being so spoiled.
The look Oromis gave him when he saw Thorn for the first time was somehow both smug and expectant. Murtagh tried not to think too much about what that could mean and focused on introducing Thorn to Glaedr and Shruikan instead.
Glaedr absolutely loved Thorn. He'd beg to carry him everywhere, especially in dragon form. Shruikan was more hesitant around him, however, because he was the youngest of the hatchlings. But Thorn quickly proved himself to be made of tougher stuff. It didn't stop Shruikan from being careful with him, but he stopped looking as afraid when Thorn approached him.
Though he was now bonded and watching Thorn took up most of his time, Murtagh made sure to look after the dragons as well. Besides, being bonded came with its perks. He no longer had to worry about touching the hatchlings and tie them to him forever. He was still wary around the eggs, just in case. He didn't want to influence any to wake before their time.
Still, it felt very strange to ditch the gloves. He kept them, in case of emergency, but he stopped wearing them.
The other dragons were thrilled when he started touching them with his bare hands. They started to jump him more to say hello, even though the oldest of them were getting far too big for that. Still, Murtagh greeted them in return. Anything else would have been heartless of him.
Not long after that, several of them learned to shift seemingly at once. And almost all of them, without fault, started to call him, 'Mama!' Even Thorn had started doing it, to Murtagh's horror.
"I'm clearly a man," Murtagh said to Oromis once. "Why are they calling me mom?"
Oromis just smirked in reply.
"I don't know why I thought having a human around the island would make things better," Murtagh said dryly.
"Elf," was all Oromis said.
"Annoying," Murtagh said with a sharp grin.
"Yes, you are."
Murtagh rolled his eyes and left.
He tried to encourage the other hatchlings from calling him that, but only Thorn and a few of the older dragons seemed willing to listen. The others seemed content – not to mention intent – on calling him 'Mama' till the day he died.
Well, Murtagh thought to himself, there were worse fates. He'd lived a few of them, after all.
-Your mind is loud,- was one of the first full sentences Thorn said to him.
Thorn had been projecting feelings since hatching, but words were more difficult. He started slow, with single words and gradually moving to two or three. Four might not seem like much, by comparison, but there was a structure there Murtagh hadn't witnessed before now. It was leaps and bounds away from 'food, get' and 'make hurt leave.'
"Well, I have a lot of dragons vying for my attention," Murtagh said dryly and ran a hand down Thorn's spine. He pretended he couldn't feel his eyes prickling.
Thorn rumbled, not sounding quite pleased.
"Don't worry. I'm your Rider; no one else's."
Thorn's smugness was practically palpable.
Murtagh rolled his eyes. "Possessive, aren't you?"
-Yes,- Thorn said shamelessly.
Murtagh shook his head.
Murtagh looked down at the dragon draped over his lap. A small part of him was dreading when Thorn would be too large to use his lap for a cushion anymore, not to mention sleep beside him at night. There was a comfort in it that he hadn't realised he was missing until he had it.
Thorn was looking back at him. His tail flicked. -It's not the dragons.-
-That make it loud.-
"What makes you say that?"
-Your dreams,- Thorn said. -They can bleed over.-
"I didn't realise you could see those," he said as mildly as he could.
His past lives were the loudest when he slept. Most of his dreams were memories rather than his mind creating bullshit to process his innermost thoughts and deepest fears. The night before, for instance, Murtagh had dreamt of the life when he'd been blind. He'd woken up shaking and it had taken him at least half an hour before he'd settled enough to climb out of bed. It wasn't that the life was particularly traumatic, but it unsettled him to have memories were all he could see were vague shadows.
-I should have told you.- Thorn buried his snout in Murtagh's abdomen. -I'm sorry.-
"You have nothing to apologise for," Murtagh murmured as he rubbed the top of Thorn's head gently. "I chose this. You. I knew what I was getting myself into. I should have thought to warn you."
Thorn scoffed at him. -I can take it.-
Murtagh stroked between Thorn's closed eyes. "You shouldn't have to."
-Don't be stupid.- Thorn started to rumble. The sound was oddly soothing. -You're my Rider.-
Murtagh closed his eyes and tried to pretend he wasn't crying.
The Varden showed up again almost exactly one year after their last visit. This time it was Glaedr that told him of the boat approaching on the horizon and the dragon that was accompanying it.
Murtagh thanked him before stalking off to have a panic in private. Then he grabbed his hooded jacket and put it on.
Oromis rolled his eyes when he saw Murtagh approaching. His eyes flicked pointedly down at the gloves Murtagh was putting on, though he didn't say anything about them out loud.
"You have to tell them," was all he did say.
"Tell who what?"
"Don't play dumb with me, kid," Oromis said gruffly. "The Varden."
Murtagh struggled to think of anything he wanted to do even less than that. He knew the war with Galbatorix was over, but Morzan's name would forever be a stain upon the Earth and everyone it touched.
"Why would I tell them that I'm Morzan's son?"
"Because you're something far more," Oromis told him. "You're a Rider. Some would argue a dragon-whisper."
Oromis smacked him with the walking cane he'd carved himself sometime after coming to the island. It was a fine piece of wood – or at least, Murtagh thought so when Oromis wasn't using it to give him bruises.
Murtagh knew he should tell them. Rather, he knew he should tell Eragon. But it was difficult. He'd been lying for them for years now, even if they'd been apart for most of it. He didn't know how to begin to apologise for that, let alone anything else.
-Murtagh?- Thorn reached out. -What's going on?-
-Some people are visiting, that's all,- Murtagh told him. -But it would be best if you stayed out of sight.-
-Are you safe?-
Murtagh could feel Thorn gearing up to come to his rescue and had to hold back a smile.
-Everything's fine. I'm safe. I'm just not ready to tell these people about you yet. Remember my dreams?-
Thorn felt confused when he answered, -Yes.-
-These are people from those dreams. I'm not ready to become the person I have to be if I tell them who I really am.-
Thorn was silent for a while before quietly agreeing to stay hidden for now.
Murtagh thanked him and turned his focus back on the people that were coming ashore. He knew he was only delaying the inevitable, but if he was going to tell people then he wanted it to be on his own terms. Hence the gloves and the hood.
His first thought on seeing Eragon again was that he seemed to have finally stopped growing. Eragon was still shorter than him, but another growth-spurt and that might not have been the case anymore. His cheeks were still rounded, but he held himself differently. He looked like an adult finally.
Saphira landed next to the boat once it was moored. She shifted effortlessly and walked over to join Eragon and the others. She pulled Eragon into a quick hug before linking their fingers and pulling him along.
Nasuada had joined them once again, Murtagh saw, but she wasn't alone. Vanir was there as well, though he was walking as far away from her as he could. Murtagh wondered if that had anything to with the female elf Nasuada was walking arm in arm with. It seemed Arya had finally deigned to show herself. Murtagh didn't know whether he was relieved that she seemed taken with Nasuada or worried about why he cared about Arya's preferences at all.
Eragon looked their way then and the sun seemed to shine when he smiled and waved eagerly at them.
"Why don't you deal with them," Murtagh said lowly to Oromis. "They're probably just here for a status report. They don't need to hear that from me."
Oromis immediately turned to him, expression dark. "Are you listening to yourself, kid? Who is the dragon expert here?"
Murtagh shrugged easily and started backing up. "Surely not me. I've only been at this for six years. You have decades on me, old man." And then he turned on his heel and started walking away.
"Hey, come back here!" Oromis called after him, but Murtagh ignored it.
He kept walking until he could pretend the pounding in his chest came from climbing the hill rather than what had actually caused it.
He found Eragon on his favourite cliff-top sometime later.
Thorn had taken great pleasure in calling Murtagh a coward in more ways than Murtagh knew existed under the sun. Oromis had also found him and berated him for leaving an old man to do a young man's job.
Murtagh was sure Glaedr and Shruikan would have had similar things to say to him, but he didn't let them. He went to his favourite spot instead to do some thinking and found that he wasn't the only one that liked that cliff.
Eragon turned when he heard Murtagh approaching. His cheeks flared when he saw who it was. "Hi, Nerügi."
"Rider," Murtagh heard himself say out loud.
Murtagh sighed. His mouth had apparently decided that this was the perfect time to do this. Fine then.
"You can talk," Eragon whispered, eyes wide.
"Yes," Murtagh said as he came closer. "I just don't like to."
Eragon swallowed. "Right, of course, that's ok."
Murtagh stopped next to him. The wind nipped at his hood, as though it wanted to rip it off. Murtagh told the wind to mind its own fucking business. He'd do it when he was ready.
"I have been alone for a long time," Murtagh told him. "Talking out loud has become...strange."
Eragon's cheeks were still ruddy. He looked down and kicked at the ground. "Yeah, of course."
His head snapped up. He must have heard something in Murtagh's voice, for his eyes got even larger. His mouth opened and closed again.
Murtagh decided to take pity on him and lowered his hood.
Eragon jolted, looking like someone had electrocuted him. "Murtagh?" he whispered.
Murtagh wasn't expecting the hug, though in hindsight he should have. Eragon's arms felt like bands of steel around him, but Murtagh found that he didn't mind it. It was Eragon, after all.
"We've been looking all over for you," Eragon told his chest.
Murtagh slowly folded his arms around Eragon. "You weren't the only ones."
Eragon somehow managed to hold him tighter.
"I can't believe you've been here all this time!" Eragon said when he finally let go. "Tornac has been worried half to death about you!"
"Was he the only one?"
Somehow this got Eragon to blush even darker. "No."
Murtagh nudged their shoulders together.
Eragon ducked his head and buried his head in his hands like that was somehow going to make Murtagh forget he was blushing up a storm.
"Thank you for bringing Thorn here," he made himself say. He hadn't been able to say thank you at the time, but better late than never. Murtagh wasn't sure he would have felt nearly as free if he hadn't been able to spend the last few months with Thorn by his side.
Eragon's head snapped up again. "He hatched?!"
That answered the question of whether Eragon had any memories of his past lives.
Murtagh nodded. "I can take you to say hi later. If he doesn't find us first."
Eragon's smile put the brightest of lightbulbs to shame.
Murtagh sat down because his knees didn't seem quite steady. He gestured for Eragon to do the same.
Eragon tried to put a respectable distance between them, but Murtagh knew he didn't really mean it. He rolled his eyes and yanked Eragon closer, grinning when Eragon yelped and shot him a glare.
"So," he said instead, "you remember something of our past lives."
Eragon's mouth practically fell open. "You do too?!"
Murtagh shifted until his arm was around Eragon's waist rather than his shoulders. "Oh, you have no idea how much I remember."
Eragon glanced down at the arm and then back up into Murtagh's face. He started blushing again.
Murtagh made himself remove the arm, noticing how Eragon's expression faltered briefly as he did so. He put a careful hand on top of Eragon's instead, before he started telling his little brother everything he could remember. There was no need to rush. They had all the time in the world to figure out where they stood this time around.
Sometime in the future...
Murtagh stood at the edge of the cliff and looked out at the vast sea that covered Vroengarg on all sides. A breeze rustled through the grass, tugging faintly at his clothes. He closed his eyes and breathed in.
-Where are you?-
He bit back a smirk. -Where do you think?-
-Somewhere stupid,- was the immediate answer.
-Why are you laughing?!-
-Because I've never heard anyone sound as petulant as you over a bond like this,- Murtagh replied.
-Fuck you too, Tag.-
Murtagh didn't even bother trying to hide that he was smirking. -Maybe later, if you ask nicely.-
The sudden silence that followed seemed to echo across the bond. Murtagh could practically picture the other blushing.
-Need a minute?-
-You're such a dick.-
-And here I thought you liked–
-DO NOT!- Eragon practically screamed.
Murtagh laughed so loudly that nearby birds took flight.
-I hate you. So much.-
-No, you don't,- Murtagh delighted in shooting back.
Murtagh chuckled softly and let Eragon's presence fade to the back of his mind again.
His eyes caught on the horizon again and what he'd come up there to do. He took one step back, and then another. He kept walking until he had a decent running start.
His heart was pounding his chest, but he wasn't scared.
He sent out the burst as he shifted forward and started running. The feeling he got back was almost as much of a rush as throwing himself off the cliff.
Murtagh had to admit that his heart stopped beating for a moment as the ocean rose to meet him at an alarming speed. But Murtagh met it head-on. He knew what was awaiting him.
One minute he was falling, the next he wasn't.
Thorn slid under his falling form and guided them into a gentle slope, wings firmly tucked against his sides. Murtagh grabbed onto the saddle and not a moment too late. Thorn's wings shot out, sending out a spray of water and then they were flying upwards again.
Murtagh laughed loudly.
He could see the blue dot in the distance that was Saphira and Eragon slowly coming closer. He could feel Eragon's worry and exasperation buzzing in the back of his mind just like he could feel Thorn. It was enough to make him laugh louder.
-You're an insane bastard!- Thorn scolded him, though he sounded more exasperated than angry.
Murtagh didn't even care what Thorn thought. It wasn't the first, nor did he think it'd be the last time Thorn called him something along those lines – or Eragon, for that matter. He was well aware of his reputation.
It didn't matter.
He was alive and he could finally say that he felt it too. That was enough.
A/N And that's it, the end, I swear it this time.
This story, as you might have realised, takes place after Galbatorix has already been defeated. I could have made more references to that, but he's gotten more than enough attention don't you think? Like GTFO you bald piece of trash. I'm trying to write a happy/ier story here!
And though I don't specify this in the story, this does indeed take place in a modern era and is hinted to be the next reincarnation after the one that takes place in Destiny: Or Some Other Nonsense Like That. Doing that gave me the opportunity to write two stories on opposite sides of the spectrum; one where Murtagh doesn't remember anything, and one where he remembers everything.
A complete list over the lives that Murtagh references in the story are:
*the very first, aka the Inheritance Cycle life
*one where Murtagh is mute
*one where Murtagh is deaf
*one where Murtagh is blind
*one where Murtagh doesn't remember anything, aka Destiny.
Now I know this story isn't very explicit in its MurEra nature, but it's definitely there in the background. Murtagh hints at past relationships between them multiple times, and Eragon sure does blush brighter than a fire hydrant around Murtagh - and that's before he knows it's Murtagh! Not to mention the last two scenes, the first where I lay the groundwork for introducing their relationship and the second where they're already together and at the old-married-couple-bickering stage.
I'm sussiekitten over on Tumblr if you want to keep up with my writing and any general life-posts I occasionally make. I mostly just reblog whatever I like, but Tumblr is where I talk about any fics I'm currently writing or are planning to update shortly.
Thank you all for sticking with me. :) I'll see you in the next update!