Chapter 6: Forth to Freedom

"We are nearing the top," said Arya from in front. "I can smell the fresh air." And sure enough, soon they emerged into the sunlight that streamed over the plains in front of Uru'baen. Saphira was curled up nearby, but she lifted her massive head as they approached and gazed at them with sapphire eyes.

Oh, thank goodness! She said in relief to Eragon. I was so worried about you. And, of course, I'm glad to see you too, Murtagh.

I'm glad to be out of that hole, Eragon said with a sigh.

They began to load Brom and Arya's packs onto Saphira. Will you be able to carry all of us? Eragon asked.

I will do what I must.

As Murtagh lifted a pack to attach it to the saddle, blood from his back began to trickle down his arm. Brom noticed it as if splashed to the ground at Murtagh's feet. "Murtagh, you're bleeding."

"It's nothing," Murtagh grunted.

"No, it's pretty bad. Here, Arya, do something about Murtagh's back while Eragon and I load up Saphira."

Murtagh protested as Arya had him lay flat on his stomach. "Waise heill," she said, laying a hand on his back. The bloody skin flowed together like liquid as her hand passed over the wounds. Nine more time she spoke the healing words until all the wounds were healed. Murtagh flexed the muscles on his back and nodded. "That's definitely better." He slipped a tunic on and helped finish with the loading. He was eager to get going. "Come on, let's get a move on. Let's get out of here before that red-haired fiend finds us."

"Excuse me, but I thought I heard someone mention a red-haired fiend."

All five escapers turned and Murtagh groaned aloud. "Oh, come on!"

As if from nowhere, Durza had appeared. None of them had heard him coming, but it was obvious where he had come from. Dark soil clung to his scarlet hair and his knees and palms were dirty. He had found their tunnel and used it to follow them.

He was dressed in a short, black tunic that fit his thin frame perfectly. He had shed the long cloak that would hamper movement and at his waist was a thin, but sturdy sword. He had come, ready to fight.

For a few seconds no one moved. Then a smile spread across Durza's thin lips and he chuckled. "Why, this is as pretty as a picture. Let's see. We have an elf princess, two Dragon Riders, a miniature Morzan, and an oversized lizard. This will be a pleasure."

Arya stepped forward and drew her narrow sword. "Stay back, Shade. You'll find that this elf princess can hold her own." She beckoned to the humans to mount as she continued to move forward.

Durza smiled. "All I want is what has been stolen. Those boys are rightfully mine. Give them to me and things will go a lot easier."

Arya's face hardened. "Try and take them, Shade."

Durza shrugged. "Your choice. I will take them by force. Garjzla," he yelled pointing his hand at Eragon and Murtagh.

As the flame shot towards them, Arya cried out, "skoilr," and the Shade's bolt bounced off an invisible shield. Arya smiled as Durza's face hardened, "You see, Shade, I have powers too."

Murtagh leaned over to Eragon as he watched. "She's good, but how'd that fiend find us so fast?"

Durza had good ears. He heard the whispered question and laughed. "Do you really not know, son of Morzan? I had the antidote to the drug given to you in the hope that you'd try to contact someone. Luckily someone contacted you and, although I could not hear what was said, I was able to track down the location from where the message came. I discovered that it had come from an underground tunnel. I would have been much faster if the message had been longer, but evidently you figured out my plan. But it was easy enough for me to find the tunnel entrance and my delay obviously didn't matter as I still have you."

Arya stepped closer to the Shade. "You don't have anybody yet. You have to get past me first."

Durza drew his sword, but held it loosely at his side as he sneered openly. "But, you see, your majesty, I have the advantage. You are much easier to kill than a Shade. Haven't you heard? Only two have ever killed a Shade. I can kill you with almost any blow while I can only be destroyed by a stab through the heart."

Arya pointed her sword at him. "I'll stab your heart so many times that there'll be nothing left but shreds." The elf went into a crouch, and Durza raised the point of his sword, his body stiffening as he went into a fighting stance. For awhile they watched each other, each waiting for the other to make a move. Arya suddenly leapt forward, jabbing her sword at Durza's chest. The Shade sidestepped and in one lightning movement brought his sword down on Arya's head. Arya swayed and the sword passed by her. Both swords flicked up and they began to a fiery dance around each other. Both possessed inhuman speed and their movements were so fast that they were hardly visible. Their swords seemed to be creatures of their own, flickering with light as they stabbed, parried, and thrust. One second they were so close that they could feel each other's breath then they would dance apart and only the tips of their blades touched.

Eragon was spell bound by the amazing display of skill. He watched in admiration as the fencers fought in a death dance, each waiting for the other to make a mistake that would give them the advantage. Arya's hair flew about her like a cloak and she spun and ducked nimbly. Durza seemed to be all swaying muscle like a snake waiting to strike. Although Durza was slightly stronger, Arya was slightly faster and neither could make headway.

Durza began to combine new moves when he saw that they were equally matched. His sword began to flick in new patterns faster than the eye could see. Arya, in an amazing display of improve, combined new defense moves to block the Shade with. Durza was getting annoyed. He had obviously thought that he was the better fighter and that he would be able to defeat the elf quickly. But as the fight dragged on he was eager to win and get it over with. His maroon eyes began to flicker to the side, looking for anything he could use to win. Suddenly and without warning, Durza dropped to his knees and somersaulted forward. Arya was caught completely off her guard at the unexpected move and she was knocked off her feet. Durza rolled effortlessly up onto his feet and spun around to strike Arya. But Arya had recovered quickly and even as she was falling, she was thinking. She did a stunning flip and landed on her feet just as Durza turned. Their blades met again and the battle continued.

Meanwhile, the humans had clambered onto Saphira, and Eragon yelled down the dragon's ear. "Now, Saphira." With a gigantic flap, Saphira took off. She soared close by the ground, right by the combatants. "Reach, Arya," Eragon yelled, reaching down. Arya seized his hand as they soared past and she swung up on Saphira's side. Murtagh helped Eragon pull Arya up onto Saphira's back where she seated herself between them. Behind them on the ground, Durza howled in rage.

Eragon heaved a sigh. "I never thought that we'd escape there in one piece."

Murtagh grinned. "Neither did I, but we did. Good team work everyone and great swordsmanship, Arya."

"We left the horses back at the camp near Surda," Eragon said. "Saphira, can you fly that far with all of us?"

I will do my best. I may have to take a break in a little bit, but we should be well away from Uru'baen before that.

Saphira spread her wings and soared up into the sky, a great, blue gem shining in the dying light of the setting sun as she roared their triumph into the great, dark expanse.

The End