Attack on Eldunarí

Chapter 4

Common Misconceptions

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Disclaimer: I do not own the Inheritance Cycle or Shingeki no Kyojin.

To thestaradder, Ally, Jarjaxle, Runa22694 and Youmu Konpaku: Thank you for your wonderful reviews! They had me giggling all afternoon x)

How is twice as long? Hehehehe. I'll try making the chapters longer in the future, but that last one had such a beautifully evil moment to stop...

By the way, what romanization do you guys prefer? Levi and Erwin or Rivaille and Irvin? Levi and Erwin make more sense, and they're the official ones, but Rivaille sounds so delicious and French! Plus, Irvin is a Scottish name... can you imagine Irvin with a Scottish accent? Letting it slip when he's... distressed xD

The second part of this chapter was a bitch to write. I really hopeI didn't mess up their characters. Oof.

000000 Eren

Eren dreamed of the beautiful summer sky lying on top of a green field. He was resting on the ground, rolling a blade of grass between his fingers. Mikasa was also there, hard at work as always. He didn't really see her, but he knew she was there.

"Hey Eren." said Armin. "Shouldn't you get up soon? We're going."

Eren tried, but something held him down. It took him a while to realise it was actually the sky itself pressing down on him, pressing the air from his lungs, crushing him. Panicking, he squirmed to get free, but the sky was everywhere- he could not escape. His ribs shrank and he saw his torso flatten. All the while his head was pounding, and the pain only seemed to increase. He tried to call for help, but the blue membrane hit him before he could even open his mouth-

Gasping, he opened his eyes. The light hurt his eyes and as he looked at the clear blue sky he panicked for a moment, thinking he was still trapped in that dream.

"Eren!"

000000 Eragon, a few hours earlier

He had slaughtered four of the giants when he noticed all the soldiers had left. Panting, he stepped back from the heaving mass of hot bodies. As it turned out, these creatures were hard to kill. Like the painless soldiers Galbatorix had created, they hardly felt anything when he chopped off their limbs or stabbed them in the belly. Stabbing them in the heart also did not seem to work. The only thing that kept them down was to chop off their heads by the neck. It was hard work, and the neck-area was difficult to reach. He had started to envy the soldiers for their fancy equipment, and his desire to try one out increased dramatically.

He froze as the blade of a sword was gently laid beside his throat.

The cocky voice of one of the soldiers told him something he could not understand. He swallowed and raised his hands as a sign of surrender.

"I'm, sorry, I don't speak your language." he tried, but the man standing behind him only increased the pressure of his blade, causing it to scrape against Eragon's wards. This seemed to aggravate him even more, as he stated something that was obviously a question. With a shock, Eragon realised he was probably still wearing the glamour spell that hid him from people's sight. He ended the stream of magic with a short word, causing the man to start talking again. Slowly, he turned around to look at his assailant. The first thing he noticed about the man were his piercing blue eyes that carried the look of one who has seen too much death. The second thing he noticed was that the man was rather short, barely reaching Eragon's chin. The man raised an eyebrow and said another thing. Eragon just looked at him confusedly. He had never met someone who he could not speak to. Some of the dwarves had not spoken his language, but there had always been someone around to translate for him. It was incredibly frustrating to just stand there; it made him feel like an idiot.

"I don't speak your language." he repeated, lowering his arms. "I'm-" he was interrupted by the sound of a distant explosion. He whipped his head around to look, but the trees obstructed his sight.

Saphira?

I see it. That one giant just appeared here. It is running.

How can that be? I saw it get devoured by the other giants right here!

I'll go take a closer look.

Don't go crashing into any trees.

Saphira snorted and dove forwards into the thicket. Eragon then again concentrated on the man, who also looked anxious to get away from there, though he kept his gaze on the Rider. He was about to propose leaving for the trees when Saphira spoke to him again.

I think I hit a squirrel.

What?

One of those soldiers crashed into my wing. She sounded dismayed.

Are you all right?

I'm fine. Not so sure about that two-leg. He fell, but his friends came for him. They are not happy. And now that giant is coming too.

"Barzûl." cursed Eragon, strengthening his grip on Brisingr. He turned to the soldier and said: "I am really sorry and I know you are probably confused, but I need to go now." He pointed with his sword towards the explosion and repeated, slowly, as if that would make him understand: "I need to go now. My dragon might need me."

000000 Rivaille

It was hard to look at the man. Every time he tried to focus on the guy's outline, his eyes shifted away and it was a real pain in the ass to find it again. So instead he looked at the grime and steaming titan blood covering him. That worked. He observed the man's fighting technique as he approached. It was obvious that he wasn't used to fighting titans, but he had some skills all right. Plus, he was strong, chopping through flesh and bone as if they were made of soft cheese. At some point he stepped back, and Rivaille took his chance. He softly stood behind the man and held his sword where he thought the guy's neck was.

"That's a neat trick you are using. Maybe you could teach me some time. Now tell me who you are and what you know about the female type titan."

The man answered in a completely different language. Frustrated, Rivaille pressed his sword against the man's neck a little harder. He meant to make a tiny slice to scare him a little, but instead he found a solid resistance. His blade scraped against it like metal against metal.

"What the hell, are you wearing armour or something? Anyway, could you cut the crap? Your weird trickery is giving me a headache."

The man mumbled something and Rivaille found that he could suddenly look at the man normally. "Dammit, so you really could understand what I'm saying." He also noticed the man was certainly not wearing armour. His blade lay directly on the man's bare neck. He studied him as he turned around. Damn, he cursed to himself. It was just another kid. A weird-looking kid though, he'd give him that. His eyes were slanted like a cat's, but that wasn't what disturbed him. There was something wrong about him. He could not quite place it, but there was something about that youthful face that made his skin crawl. At second thought, the boy did not look very dangerous. He had that look in his eyes that he recognised from young recruits that had yet to lose their friends and come to terms with the life they lead. Rivaille raised an eyebrow and said:

"So, who are you?"

The boy looked at him with a slightly bewildered expression. He seemed to look for words, and then again said something in that other language. Rivaille frowned. This was going to be a real pain in the ass. The lad just started talking again when a deep distant rumble reached them. The boy stretched his neck in an attempt to spot the source, but Rivaille kept his eyes trained upon him. He knew he would not be able to see anything, so he rather kept his gaze on the lad. He was worried. There were no more cannons in these woods, so there could only be one thing that could make such a sound. Dammit, he didn't have time to talk to weird mysterious teenagers!

The lad cursed and visibly steeled himself, talking rapidly, pointing towards the explosion. He wanted to go there? Fine. Because that's where Rivaille wanted to be too. He nodded slightly, and the boy smiled, turned around and stormed off.

Rivaille went through the treetops while the boy ran on the ground. He was fast, but it still annoyed the corporal how much he had to slow down in order to keep hovering over him. If that female titan was on the loose again, he needed to be there, now. On the other hand, he could not let this one get away either.

If only his squad were here.

000000 Petra

They had only turned around for a few seconds and the brat was in trouble again. She heard the crash of breaking wood and a muffled shout, and when Petra turned around she could hardly believe her eyes.

A real life dragon had emerged from the trees and slammed into their precious ward.

"No!" she shouted, immediately abandoning her target to save Eren. He was falling head-first toward the forest floor. She dove underneath the monster and snatched the young man out of the air, narrowly avoiding a collision with the creature's tail. They made a clumsy landing just a second later, rolling over the bed of needles until they came to a jumbled stop.

"Petra!" Erd screamed, rushing towards them, swords raised.

Petra did not answer, but crawled toward Eren's limp form. Blood was oozing from a head wound, obscured by his hair and his right wrist was bent in an odd way, but other than that he looked all right. She pulled him onto her lap and looked for a heartbeat. Relief seeped through her body when she felt the faint movement in his neck that told her he was okay.

"He's fine!" she called hoarsely, "I got him!"

Trembling slightly, she got to her feet and pulled Eren over her shoulders. Now she needed to leave. Leave! Quickly, now- there was more than one monster here, and someone had to protect Eren. They could not defeat the female type titan with only two, let alone the titan and that dragon thing. With a shock, she realised the female titan was already moving again.

She can see? How?!

She then saw her trick: prioritising the healing of one eye to hasten its recovery. Bile rose in her throat as she realised that if they had attacked as planned, one of them probably would have died. Above them, the dragon latched onto one of the trees' massive branches, digging deep furrows with its claws. It looked at her, and she looked up at it. She trembled at the sight. The creature was huge, and more beautiful than she could have imagined. It was like staring in the face of an ancient god. It blinked, and turned toward the female titan, who was now hesitating in her approach, her one working eye fixed on the reptilian monster.

The dragon opened its maw and let out a jet of bright blue fire, engulfing the titan's head with flames. The female titan screamed, like it had screamed before, a piercing, pained screech that assailed your ears and rattled your bones. Then she fell silent and the dragon ceased its fire. The titan's yellow hair had burned to brittle black branches. The skin and flesh of her face had melted away to reveal the blackened bone beneath. Its knees buckled and the female titan slumped against a tree.

As her comrades cheered, Petra sought out a good solid branch to land on, away from the dangerous forest floor. She laid the unconscious Eren down carefully. From here, she also had a good view on the dragon. It wasn't paying any attention to them, fixated as it was on the steaming titan body. Where had it suddenly come from? Dragons weren't supposed to be real. They only existed in childrens' stories and fairy tales. And it had attacked the female titan. Was it their ally then? But had also crashed into Eren... She didn't know what to think. Maybe they were only the antics of an animal, and she was reading too much into it. In that case, they were all in serious danger. She didn't suppose titans made a good meal, but humans were fair meat. Should she sign the retreat? But they finally had the female titan cornered... Now was their chance! The dragon did not seem to be doing anything anymore. What was the big reptile looking for? Was it waiting for the titan to rise again? Petra dared not do anything until it left. Just when she thought it was really only going to sit there when its head snapped up and it flew off to lord knows where.

The other members of her squad joined her on the branch and looked in the direction the dragon had flown off to.

"How's Eren?" asked Erd, glancing down at the human weapon.

"He'll live." she answered. She then gave a nod in the direction of the female type. "I've got him. You focus on finishing the mission."

Her companions nodded and swung towards the steaming titan. Petra tried to push back her relief- they weren't out of the woods yet.

000000 Eragon

He was running along the forest floor at what he thought was a good human pace. Above him, the dark-haired man was swinging from tree to tree with that marvelous gadget of theirs.

Through his mental link, he could see the womanly giant staring at Saphira. For a man-eating monster, she was even kind of pretty. With her strawberry blond hair and shocking blue eye, she certainly stood out from the majority, most of which were exceptionally unattractive.

His line of thought was interrupted by Saphira setting fire to the creature's face.

Wait, Saphira!

But it was already too late. The monster again let out that horrible cry that was both sound and a mental attack. Eragon gasped and clapped his hands over his ears, nearly tripping over his own feet as he attempted to continue running in that awkward pose. The noise seemed to drag on for minutes, though it only could have been a few seconds. The silence that followed was equally disturbing, making the forest appear empty and threatening. A shiver ran up Eragon's back as he picked up his pace.

Was that really necessary? He asked his dragon.

There's something weird about this one Saphira said.

You could at least have tried looking into its mind before melting its face off.

Saphira licked her teeth, grumbling. She was a danger, so I dealt with her. And I didn't kill her. She's still alive.

Bewildered, Eragon said: How can that be? Her head was on fire!

We didn't know much about them in the first place. Maybe chopping off their heads doesn't really kill them after all.

But the ones I decapitated did die.

Maybe the soldiers know.

He needed to go to where his dragon was. The last time that giant had screamed, entire legions of the monsters had come running. And this time, he was walking on the ground. If they were to catch up with him, he could very well be overrun. Plus, Saphira couldn't fight as well between the trees. It made for some clumsy flying, and there were many sharp branches constantly threatening to rip at Saphira's wings.

Above him, the flying man cursed. Eragon looked over his shoulder and spotted many of the giants running in their direction. Some of them were actually catching up. He cursed and tried to run even faster, even though he would not be able to keep it up for long.

Get out of there, Eragon! Don't go towards me, they are also coming this way! Get out of their path!

But what about-

Just move!

Panting, Eragon looked up at the dark-haired soldier again, and felt a slight jolt as he saw him looking his way as well. Running off would certainly cross the man, and he really didn't want to make an enemy of the first person he met here. Then again, he didn't have much choice. To keep running in a straight line would mean dealing with the creatures again, and not on his own terms. So he sent the man an apologetic look and bolted in the other direction, away from the stampeding monsters.

000000 Petra

Erd and Auruo approached the target carefully. Even a normal decapitated titan could kill, and this one was intelligent. There was no knowing what other tricks she had up her sleeve. On the other hand, they had to hurry- already, flesh started to coat the titan's face and if what happened last time they had her cornered was any indication, they only had seconds before the titan would be able to fight them again.

The titan had laid her hands on her nape and leaned it against the tree, creating a wall of flesh and wood that was almost impossible to breach- if you didn't know how. Just like last time, they slashed at the creature's arms until they dropped, after which she pressed herself onto the tree, leaving only a tiny space in between. Not enough to get to her. Erd slashed at the monster's neck from one side while Auruo did the same for the other.

As Petra looked on, she noticed a slight vibration under her feet. Her eyes widening, she wheeled her head around to see many titans running towards them at alarming speed.

"Incoming! Thirty seconds!" she screeched towards the two men, who had only just successfully managed to expose the female titan's nape. She heard Erd curse. No, she thought. Not now. They almost had her. Almost. They only needed a few more seconds to get her and get away.

"It's not working!" Auruo shouted. "Her skin is all hard, we can't get through!"

No...

She almost didn't notice the Corporal landing beside her. "Corporal Rivaille!" she said, feeling both shocked and relieved to see her commanding officer. The short man looked at the unconscious Eren, glanced at the steaming titan Erd and Auruo were hacking at and said:

"Leave her. There's no time. We must get Eren out of this forest. Get to the horses!"

After only a second of hesitation, the two soldiers abandoned their prey, cursing as they went. Of course, Petra was disappointed at leaving their enemy behind, but for a moment she could only feel relief. At least today, no more of her friends were going to die fighting that monster.

"Gunther, he..." she started.

"I saw."

Petra let out a shivering breath before pulling herself together. She dragged Eren onto her back. Damn, for a kid, he was pretty heavy. She reminded herself to have the young man put on half rations to pay him back for this. He had certainly chosen a rotten moment to be out cold.

By the time they were on their way, other titans had arrived to feast on the female type. Carrying Eren was a good excuse to avoid looking back, which would certainly have upset her. That woman had killed Gunther and many more. It was a job unfinished, left just before completion. It was unfair and it wasn't right.

"What happened?" Corporal Rivaille asked as he flew beside her, interrupting her thoughts.

"She was wearing one of our uniforms, I couldn't see her face. She killed Gunther with swords, then shifted into a titan. She chased us and we sent Eren away so we could fight her, but an, ah... a dragon knocked him out cold, sir." she felt embarrassed telling this sort of story to the man she looked up so much. Corporal Rivaille shifted, a rare surprised look on his face.

"A... dragon?" he said.

"Yes, sir. It set the titan's face on fire. That's why she screamed."

He was silent for a while before saying: "I see. Let's hurry then."

000000 Eragon

He felt guilty about running away like that, but he tried not to dwell on it too much. He had helped, right? Thanks to him... well, when he thought about it, nothing really changed. He had killed some giants, but none of them had really been attacking humans at the time. And then... then there was the soldier, but he had managed just fine on his own.

I guess you were the only real hero today, Saphira.

You fought well, little one.

Yes, but in none of the right places. Next time, let's stick together.

That, I will not argue with.

They met up on a glade just a mile further away. Eragon greeted her by hugging her snout, after which he quickly got in the saddle.

Now what did you say about that one giant being strange?

Saphira hummed. It is probably already being eaten.

Even so, let's take a look.

It was easy to spot the location of the giant's corpse; steam was rising from it in great swirling clouds. The dragon landed on a nearby treetop, bending its crown to an alarming arch, but the rider did not worry it would break. The trees here were amazingly alike to the evergreens of Du Weldenvarden, even though they seemed to be a different species. From their lofty vantage point they looked at the slaughter before them.

I have not seen them do that before. Eragon said, a little disgusted. Eating each other. They always seemed fine together. When I looked inside their minds, other giants did not seem important to them at all. What is so different about this one?

Let's find out.

Eragon extended his mind and looked inside one of the giants. He didn't like doing so. Their thoughts were dizzying and their view on the world depressing. Also, they ate humans and seeing himself as prey, even through someone else's eyes, was uncomfortable at best. But now he was curious what the womanly giant looked like in their eyes, why it was different. The thirty foot tall monster did not notice him entering his mind. Eragon gasped. The world was a dim place in its mind, made up of vague, opaque colours and grayish light. But not that one. Compared to the rest of the world, that thing almost seemed to glow. Its flesh was a rich, saturated hue of red and pleasure became him as he stuck a bit of it in his mouth. Now his belly glowed too, not with colour, but with a delicious, satisfactory sense of fullness. With the meat in his belly he felt complete, and he was enjoying it. Eragon quickly drew back out of the warbled mind and held his hand before his mouth.

It looks at that the same way it would look at you. Saphira said.

Yes, but that was definitely not a human. That was a giant.

Maybe that giant had eaten so many humans she started to "shine" like one. There must be a reason they only ever pay attention to your kind.

Maybe...

We can think about it later. That one is... unsalvageable. Let's meet up with Glaedr and hear our punishment.

Eragon sighed. He had almost forgotten about that.

...yes. Let's do that. Maybe it won't be so bad if we-

He fell silent when he spotted an irregularity. A small cluster of giants was standing underneath one of the mighty trees, looking up and trying to climb. Lying on one of the lower branches was the small form of a human. One arm was draped over the face, the other on the belly. A sword was clutched in both hands. Saphira sniffed the air.

A woman.

I wonder why she was left behind. Can you get closer? Maybe she's hurt.

The dragon took off, making the tree snap back with a loud whooshing noise and a crashing as branches snapped. The woman looked up and was obviously startled seeing them, jumping to her feet and lifting her swords. As Saphira flew over the branch in a low arc Eragon slipped off and landed in a crouch. The woman looked at him suspiciously, asking him some question. The Rider lifted his empty hands.

"I'm not going to hurt you." he said in a soothing tone. Then he pointed in the direction the other soldiers had gone in. "Were you left behind? Are you all right? Who are you? Oh man, I'm sorry. You don't understand a word I'm saying. Even so... would you like us to bring you home? There must be some place with more humans. I mean, they have an army." he laughed a little. Him talking had caused the woman to lower her swords, though she obviously didn't trust them yet. "Are you tired? You certainly look tired. And hungry. Why don't you come to my place and I make you some dinner before we head back? If you point the way then we can be back even before the other soldiers. So, what do you say?"

He stretched out his open hand as a friendly invitation. The woman was still looking at him with narrowed eyes. Then she seemed to make up her mind over something and stepped closer. She held one of her swords uncomfortably close to his throat, saying something in a low voice. He did not need to speak the language to understand the meaning of her threat. He nodded and smiled, and she sheathed her weapons, never taking her eyes off him. Saphira had landed on a nearby branch that was thick enough to support her weight. As they approached, she snaked out her neck and held her snout just a few inches from the woman's face. The lithe soldier froze in place as the dragon exposed her teeth, growling.

"Saphira!" Eragon said, both mentally and out loud, so the human could also hear it. The dragon puffed out a little cloud of smoke before retreating.

"We want her to like us, remember?"

No, you want her to like us. We, want her to fear us.

Eragon grumbled, but didn't argue. He understood that she was only looking out for him. He walked past the woman and climbed on top of his dragon. Then he held out his hand, beckoning her to climb up behind him. For a minute, it seemed as though she wouldn't, but again she made up her mind. She was agile, he noted, almost rivaling his own and the elves'.

As soon as they were mounted, Saphira jumped off the branch, breaking through the treetops. A pair of arms slid around his waist and he heard a gasp when they flew over the forest. Saphira flew much higher than necessary, mounting a steady updraft. As they flew higher, the landscape spread out under them and into the distance like a fairth. In the distance, Eragon could see a close-knitted column of riders going north. Saphira then slid into a slow dive, flying to their tree-house in large circles. They would catch up with the soldiers later. First, he would get this young woman some food and then he would... he would talk to her, try to make her understand and have her tell him. He wanted to know everything there was to know about this place. There seemed to be a lot going on, with all the giants and the walls and the soldiers with their funny equipment, he wanted to know.

The first thing he did after landing was unsaddling Saphira. The stranger had sat down on one of his log-chairs. She looked very tired as she scrutinized every little detail of his makeshift home.

"I know it's not much," he said while putting his things away. "but I hadn't planned to stay for very long. And, now that you know where I live, I will probably have to leave soon. Oh well, I was getting bored of this place anyway. You are going to show me where the humans are, and I'll camp right next to it. Not too close, of course. Being too close to humans is why I had to leave home in the first place... Are you hungry? I know I am."

Eragon felt strangely giddy as he just babbled on. He made them some food: a few small seed cakes, raw and cooked vegetables with baked mushrooms and spring onions (picked the day before), plus a salad of edible flowers. He presented them on a large leaf lying on a piece of bark. The young woman took it and simply looked at it for a while.

Maybe she thinks I'm poisoning her. he said jokingly.

Right now you are more likely to talk her to death.

Ha-ha.

He sat down on the only other chair and stuck a piece of carrot in his mouth. Slowly, the other also started eating. It wasn't long before the crying began. The young woman scowled at her food while tears ran down her face. Eragon did not know what to do with himself as he saw the blonde begin to shake. He wanted to console her, to tell her that it was all going to be all right. He wanted to offer her something, but even without the language barrier he wouldn't have known what to do with a crying woman. Should he hug her? Pat her on the shoulder? But he didn't know her, and his innocent affections could be interpreted all wrong... And now he also felt really awkward eating by himself, so he put the platter away. He swallowed, hesitated for a moment and then walked over to her. He took the food (currently in the process of being spiced by tears) away and took her hands into his own. He felt way too awkward to look up at her, but this much he could do. For a moment the girl froze, but then, swift as a snake, she drew her hands back and struck him in the face, hard.

Eragon fell on his bum, shocked to the core. The stranger then stomped off. He watched her go, shoulders raised, her hands balled into fists, walking with short, decisive steps.

Why would she do that?! He asked Saphira, who had switched her growling for a chuckle.

What is so funny? Am I missing something here? ...did I do something wrong?

No, little one. You did something right.

Then why did she hit me?

The dragon chuckled mysteriously.

Eragon just sat there, looking in the direction the girl had ran off to, feeling extremely frustrated. In his mind, he examined his and her actions again and again, but he did not find anything he could have done that much better. He was out of his depth here. Was it a cultural thing then? He felt very much tempted to just go into her mind to find out. He only refrained from doing so because of something Brom had taught him when he had first began to learn how to read minds. He had told Eragon that a person's mind is their last sanctuary, and that you should respect people's privacy. Especially if you are more powerful than them. He had read dozens of minds without asking permission during the war, but those had been different times. Everyone had been a potential assassin or spy. But that was in the past now. It was time to live a life he felt good about living, not one the elves had taught him to. So he didn't read her thoughts, however tempted he might be.

But then what? She clearly didn't want his help, but her distress still bothered him. She had been staying in his house when she ran off crying. And Saphira wasn't going to be of any help either.

What would I know of your human women? She said, clearly enjoying herself. Grumbling, Eragon went to fetch his mirror. But who would he call? His first thought went to Arya, but he quickly put her out of his mind. She wasn't even human. That, and their last conversation had left a bitter aftertaste. Roran then? No, his cousin would only ridicule him. He thought about Katrina, but he could not think of a way to tell Roran he called to talk with only his wife for a while. It would make him curious and he knew the couple held few secrets to each other. Eragon didn't want to start any weird rumors. That left him with Nasuada. The longer he thought about it, the more sense it made to him. Yes, the young queen would know what he should do.

"Eragon" she said when she appeared in the mirror. She was sitting at a table, twirling a fork between her fingers.

"Your highness" he answered, bobbing his head. "I hope I did not disturb your... lunch?"

"Breakfast, actually. And I suppose not, as I am not entertaining guests this morning." She delicately put a piece of egg in her mouth, chewed, swallowed, and then resumed speaking. "Now then what is the reason for this unexpected call?"

Eragon shifted uncomfortably.

"I was wondering... If you could teach me something about women."

Nasuada's hand dropped, clattering her fork against her plate, which made him wince.

"What's this? Has our great hero found love in the distant east?" she said, laughing.

"No, nothing like that!" he quickly protested. He could feel heat rising to his face. "It's just that... she was really distressed, and I don't know what I did wrong. It's the first time I met people in these lands, and I really don't want to spoil it. But somehow, I think I did. And now I simply don't know what to do... I'm sorry. I suppose I sound rather childish and selfish right now. I- I'll..."

"No, no, it's all right. Tell me what happened first." said the queen, sitting back and smiling. "You're making me curious."

So Eragon told her about how he had seen the soldiers in the woods, the fight with the giants and meeting the abandoned woman in the woods.

"...so this woman has obviously just been through a very traumatic experience, and the only thing you could think of was to feed her, and talk to her."

"Well, I knew she was upset; I didn't know what to do about that. I really just wanted to talk to her..."

The queen sighed. "And when she started crying you picked up her hands."

"Yes, that's when she hit me."

"Eragon, I don't think you really did something wrong, but sometimes a person just needs some space. If that soldier had been a man, what would you have done?"

It was hard to admit, but when he thought about it he really had treated her like a girl, and not as a soldier. He would have done it differently if it had been anything but a small blond woman.

"...nothing, I suppose. I'd have... looked away for a bit, I guess."

"That's right. She had been battling for her life just before that moment. Of course her instinct would be to fight."

"Okay... so I shouldn't have done that."

"No, I think it was actually kind of sweet. She'll remember that."

Now Eragon was really confused. He was about to protest when Nasuada said:

"Ah, never mind. Just do as you normally do, Eragon. It'll be fine."

"...okay."

This talk had taught him next to nothing. He now knew why she had hit him, but he still... A crackle of bark behind him alerted the Rider to the stranger's approach. He looked up and saw the young woman nearing hesitantly. Her eyes were red from tears, but she still wore the same scowl. She softly said something, looking down. Eragon shook his head, puzzled. She then pointed at his face, and said it again, this time louder, with a hint of arrogant nonchalance. Oh, Eragon realised. She is apologizing.

He smiled and shook his shoulders.

"Don't worry about it." he said, looking down upon her happily.

"Would that be all, Eragon?" Nasuada said, jolting him.

"Ah, yes, sorry. Thank you, your highness. May the stars shine bright upon you."

"And on you, Shadeslayer."

The woman looked interested in the mirror, but she didn't ask. Or couldn't ask. Or maybe both. It was clear to him that she was on the point of making a decision. What it was, he didn't know.

What he did know was that it involved him and Saphira.