Departure

Murtagh double-checked the saddle before climbing up and securing himself in the forward seat. He offered a hand to Celestine. After he pulled her up, she strapped herself in and leaned forward, wrapping her arms around him and pressing herself firmly against him.

My fire! What was that thought? Thorn asked.

Oh, come on. It was just a passing thought. Murtagh explained.

It was fleeting, yes, but intense. Does she attract you?

Why do you ask?

Thorn looked all around, making sure his intended flight path was clear before taking wing. It’s just that she’s so small. She’s only about two-thirds your size? At most? Don’t you want a female at least a little bit bigger than you?

Well, things are a little different with humans. A smaller female has some advantages.

How do you mean?

Consider this. Murtagh said. He imagined holding Celestine in his arms, his head resting atop hers and her nose pressed against the curve of his neck.

That… does seem nice. Still, I don’t like her very much.

I thought you forgave her.

I thought that meant I wouldn’t eat her. There’s more to it than that?

Try to be nice to her. She’s quite pleasant once you get to know her.

Of course you’d say that. You weren’t the one that got frozen today!

Murtagh said to Celestine, “It’s a mistake to try reasoning with Eragon alone.” To Thorn he said, She makes mistakes, yes. I hope you give her another chance. For my sake.

I’ll try.

“Why do you say that?” Celestine asked.

“There are some things about Eragon you need to know,” Murtagh said. “He’s more Elf now than man—smug and self-important.”

“It’s interesting that your people also use the comparison to Elves to describe such insufferable behavior,” she said, laughing.

“Yes, but it’s more than a comparison. He has physically become more Elf-like.”

“As in quicker and more agile? Sharper eyesight? Pointy ears and haughty attitude?”

Murtagh laughed. “All of the above.”

“How did such a thing happen?”

Murtagh shook his head. “I wish I knew. He was a regular human being when I was captured after the Battle of Farthen Dûr. When I encountered him again at the Battle of the Burning Plains, I barely recognized him.”

“What did you do?”

“I was supposed to capture Eragon and Saphira alive. Instead, I only took my father’s sword back from him—as the eldest brother, it’s my birthright.”

“Brother? Eragon’s your brother?”

Murtagh nodded. “Before we fought, I told him that I was being forced to serve Galbatorix. He accused me of betrayal! As though I had a choice in the matter! When I needed a friend, all he could give was pity and disgust!”

Celestine laid her head against his shoulder and gently shushed him. “You have every right to be angry with him, but I hate to see you so upset. Please calm down.”

As her breath tickled his ear, a warm feeling spread down to his toes. “Yes, of course,” he said, continuing in a more controlled tone, though he still had to shout above the wind. “Galbatorix has me enslaved by my true name. And Eragon had the gall to suggest that I let him kill me and Thorn in order to be freed from his control.”

“The nerve!”

“Indeed. Needless to say, I took great satisfaction in telling him we were brothers. Of course, he claimed I was lying, so I repeated it in the ancient language in which no one can lie. I’m his own flesh and blood. We fought by each other’s side. And yet he treats me as an enemy because I’m subject to Galbatorix. He’ll treat you the same way when he finds out you speak on behalf of the Empire whether I’m with you or not.”

“Perhaps I can be more convincing than you believe. At any rate, we must at least try for peace instead of accepting this cycle of violence as a foregone conclusion.”

“But it is a foregone conclusion. Hoping that peace can be obtained doesn’t make it possible.”

“We still must try. We owe it to everyone risking their lives on both sides of the conflict. Besides, I have a very powerful bargaining chip—the green dragon egg. I’m sure that will help convince them of the merits of peace.”

“It won’t be enough. Nothing short of the fall of the Empire will be enough for them,” he warned.

“Galbatorix believes otherwise. Why else would he have sent the green dragon egg along? But, let me think on it. I’ll come up with something,” she said.

The clouds drifted by like lazy sheep aimlessly wandering a blue pasture. He heard her ask, “Do you think you’ll ever forgive Eragon?”

Murtagh snorted, but instead of answering he asked, “Is it so easy to forgive such a great injustice? What about that slave trader for example?”

“It wasn’t easy, but I forgave him.”

“Why would you forgive him? He didn’t deserve it.”

Her voice sounded strained. “No, he didn’t. Isn’t that the point, though? No one deserves forgiveness.”

“I understand if you don’t want to talk about it…”

“It’s part of my religion. Dayus strongly encourages forgiveness.”

“He… told you that?”

“Not personally, if that’s what you’re asking,” she replied. “But a long time ago, Dayus gave the Covenant to His people, putting the Law into effect through angels.”

“What are angels?”

“Supernatural beings that serve Dayus, putting His will into action in our world. They’re very beautiful, full of light and power, majestic. Simply looking at one is almost unbearable.”

It sounds like she’s seen one.

“You’ve seen them before?”

“I’ve seen demons—fallen angels that no longer do the will of Dayus. They look just like angels.”

Then how do you know the difference? Thorn asked at the same time as Murtagh.

“It doesn’t matter how they look! You know them by what they do,” Celestine said. “For example, Dayus would never allow His servants to consort with human women, so one that did… is fallen.”

“That’s happened before? A demon with a human?”

“Didn’t you want to know about forgiveness?” Celestine asked, the question echoing in Murtagh’s head because Thorn had asked the same thing at the same time.

“Yes. Sorry. I got distracted. So, what did Dayus put in the Covenant that makes you want to forgive?”

“Well, it’s actually in the books of Wisdom and Prophecy that were given after the Covenant. In the Wisdom of the Ancient Priest, it’s written, ‘The child called Grudge is never weaned. He will consume all you give him and cry, “More! More!”’” she said. “Furthermore, in the Prophets, Dayus said to the prophet Bardamos, ‘Do you not know? Have I not said from ancient times? Vengeance rests in the palm of my hand. Will a man dare snatch it from me?’ Our wisest teachers interpret that as an implicit command to forgive. After all, if someone has wronged you, there are only two options: vengeance or forgiveness. Taking vengeance is tantamount to stealing from Dayus.”

“But that’s unjust!” Murtagh said. “Those who peddle human lives deserve death.”

“Yes, he does. And perhaps one day he will die for his crimes. He won’t die by my hand, though.”

“What difference does it make whose hand it is? I would’ve killed him.”

“Oh? I didn’t tell you before. He helped my friends rescue me. If I had killed him, if they had killed him to avenge me, then what? He served a purpose at the end that none of us could have seen from the beginning. Life is easy to take and impossible to return.”

“He saved you? But why?”

“I don’t know,” she said, holding Murtagh tighter. “Perhaps… I just don’t know.”

Far in the distance, Thorn could see the four peaks of Helgrind and thought, You don’t suppose they sacrifice in her religion, do you?

“Thorn was wondering… How do you go about worshiping Dayus?”

“Well, we do several things—many of which vary from country to country. One of the things we all have in common, though is sacrifice.”

I knew it! Find out if they sacrifice humans! Thorn insisted.

“So… what precisely do you sacrifice?”

“Bulls, goats, rams, any clean bird. That sort of thing,” she said. “The blood is poured out at the altar for the atonement of the people—”

What a tragic waste of blood!

“—and a portion is burnt up to honor Dayus.”

What an inappropriate use for fire!

“The rest is eaten by the assembly in fellowship.”

Now that I can get behind… Say, I spotted a herd of deer nearby. Would you mind if I did a little hunting?

You never have to ask, Thorn. Besides, we could use a little rest, too. Set us down there and go hunt to your belly’s content.

“It’s time we took a break,” Murtagh said. “Thorn’s going to set us down and then go hunt.”

Thorn landed near a small grove of young trees. In the distance, Celestine noticed several large, black mountains pointing to the heavens as if accusing them of some great crime. The dragon wasted no time, taking to the air about as soon as they were both on the ground.

Murtagh began gathering up brushwood to start a fire. Celestine removed her armor, set it beside a nearby log, and asked, “Could I have one of those branches?”

“Yes,” he said, letting her select one. “What do you want it for?”

“You’ll see,” she said, sitting down and moving her fingers in strange patterns around the stick.

Murtagh worked, arranging the wood in an orderly pile. “So, what sort of spell are you working on?”

Celestine looked up from her work for a moment. “Not technically a spell. A charm.”

“What’s the difference?”

“Spells have no ontological inertia—charms do.”

He nodded, but she could tell by his expression he was trying to fake understanding, so she continued, “Spells require the will of the caster in order to continue existing. Magic dissipates rapidly into a chaotic state unless forced into order by the will of a Mage.”

“How does a charm continue existing on its own?”

“They’re constructed in such a way that they rebuild themselves even as the magic tries to dissipate,” she explained. “A charm embedded in a physical object is called an enchantment—though I’ve also heard people refer to such items as ensorcelled. I’m pretty sure that’s the same thing.”

“I see.”

Celestine continued working while Murtagh finished arranging the wood before setting it ablaze with magic. Celestine smiled—the magic here was so different from her own. It was thrilling, but also worrisome. “Murtagh,” she said.

He looked up at her. “Yes?”

“Galbatorix said there were ways of borrowing energy from sources around you in order to cast spells you couldn’t otherwise cast, and during our match, you drew energy from the castle’s livestock,” she said, “so, if you wanted to defeat anyone, couldn’t you cast a spell too strong for them and drain all of their energy?”

Murtagh chuckled. “I asked Galbatorix the same question—any intelligent student of magic would. He explained that you can’t take energy from a sapient creature without his or her consent. Brute beasts can’t stop you, though. You can take as much or as little as you need from them.”

“I see.”

Celestine finished the charm and carefully broke the branch in two. She handed one to Murtagh, saying, “Hold this,” and walked away.

He looked at it, but it didn’t appear any different to him. When he looked up, she was already some distance away. “Where are you going?” he called.

She glanced over her shoulder and replied, but he couldn’t quite hear what she said.

He was about to yell back that he hadn’t heard her when she suddenly vanished. Murtagh’s heart skipped a bit. Had something gone wrong? Suddenly, a hand tapped his shoulder from behind.

Murtagh jumped and spun around awkwardly only to see Celestine standing there, grinning. “What was that?”

“It works! If things go wrong negotiating with Eragon, I can be with you in mere moments.”

“Why are you so determined to do this your way?”

“Why are you so determined to get in a fight with your brother?”

“Is that what you think? I’m just trying to start a fight?”

Celestine’s cheeks burned red. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Then how did you mean it?”

“Stop yelling at me!” she retorted, stamping her foot. “I understand that siblings fight. I’ve fought with my own brother. I’ve even fought with my little sister. I wasn’t trying to imply that you don’t want this to succeed—I’m sure you do. I’m just trying to make that happen.”

“You don’t understand Eragon or the Varden. There can be no peace with them.”

“But Galbatorix believes—”

“Galbatorix believes? Galbatorix believes! Let’s run through a short list of things that Galbatorix believed, shall we? He believed he and his friends would have a grand adventure in the Spine, and how did that turn out? He believed that the Dragon Riders would welcome him back and allow him a chance with another dragon, and what happened there? He further believed that getting Shruikan to hatch for him would bring the Riders to his side, and how many did? And what was the result of that division? His optimism will be his downfall… and yours.”

“I will go to Eragon alone. I don’t want to argue about it anymore.”

“You want to go to Eragon alone? Fine. He’s that way,” he said, pointing one direction before walking off the opposite way, into the forest.

Celestine stood there, mouth agape, as he left. A thousand things ran through her mind—insults, retorts, apologies, wanting to know if he’d be back—but none of them had the power to break the silence before he was gone, so she sat down and broke it with weeping.

Eventually, Thorn appeared among the clouds. Celestine dried her eyes and watched. When he landed, he curled up on the ground, placing his head near the roaring fire.

Celestine walked around the fire, approaching Thorn with the most casual steps she could. He didn’t move as she walked towards him except for his eyes following her motion. She halted when he huffed, sending out a small billow of smoke. When the smoke cleared, she resumed her ginger steps and sat by his head, gently patting him. Thorn looked back at the fire.

“So… Is Murtagh still mad at me?” she asked.

Thorn looked back at her for a few seconds before returning his gaze to the flames.

“You could give me some kind of indication like nodding your head,” she suggested only to be met once again with rigid silence. “I don’t mean to make people angry. I’d rather you both like me.”

Thorn looked at her again, but within a moment he raised his head and fixed his eyes on something else in the distance. He stood rapidly and ran off the other direction before taking wing. Celestine stood in wonder at the spectacle. When she looked where he’d been looking, she saw nothing for a time, but as she continued to stare, three figures appeared.

They were approaching on foot, dressed in green and brown garb. Celestine glanced at her armor. She’d never be able to get it on before they closed the distance. It would probably send the wrong signal anyway. She reasoned that it would be all right if she wore just the belt, however. Soon, they were close enough for her to tell that they were exactly what she thought they were—Elves.

One waved at her and called out a greeting, which she returned. Once closer, he said, “Traveling alone, young maiden?”

Celestine shook her head. She would need to lie. “I have a companion. He’s just out hunting for food. He’s been gone a while, so I’m sure he’ll back quite soon.” If only she were better at it.

“Where are you going?”

“Home.”

“Where’s that?”

Celestine shrugged. “I’ve been lost for a while.”

“Perhaps we could help then,” the Elf suggested. His friends began milling about the campsite.

“That’s not necessary.”

One of the other Elves nudged her helmet with his foot and commented, “Interesting armor.”

The leader said, “Looks about your size.”

Celestine nodded.

“What do you need armor for? Human women aren’t soldiers. A mercenary perhaps? An imperial agent?”

Celestine fidgeted. “I’m none of those things.”

The lead Elf stepped closer. “Has anyone told you what a poor liar you are?”

“You want truth? Here’s the truth. You don’t need to be concerned with me. Now be on your way—I require no help and I will brook no interference.”

The third Elf said, “One who takes her armor off shouldn’t talk like one who puts it on.”

Celestine laughed. “That’s so strange. We use the same expression in my world.”

The lead Elf arched a perfectly shaped eyebrow. “Your world?”

“My traveling companion will be back soon. I suggest you move along before he returns.”

“Young lady, you’d better start answering our questions.”

Celestine nodded. “Well, I’m glad to learn that not even the Elves here have Magesight. Where I come from, all Elves—even non-Mages—possess it. If you could see it, you wouldn’t be treating me as you are.”

“Cease your babbling, girl!”

“Babbling? Oh, yes, I realize I do go on a bit—usually without realizing. However, if there’s one thing babbling is useful for, it’s buying time.”

They all laughed. The leader asked, “Buying time for what? Your alleged companion to return?”

“No. My fidgeting wasn’t a nervous response. I’ve been taking control of all of the magic in this area,” Celestine replied. “Last chance. Leave now or accept the repercussions.”

“I’ve had enough of her talk,” the third Elf said, striding forward only to smash his perfectly shaped nose against an invisible barrier.

“Repercussions it is, then.” Celestine drew her gun and shot him in the chest.

Celestine’s eyes widened. The blast should’ve been enough to stun an Elf, but he only staggered back a few steps, barely fazed.

“Take down the barrier!” the leader yelled, drawing his sword.

He and his compatriots struck the barrier with tremendous force—much more than Celestine had anticipated. After a second barrage, the shield was almost obliterated. “Bother, bother, bother,” Celestine whispered, increasing the power of the Forcecast.

She shot one in the leg. He fell. She shot another in the stomach. His blood spattered the barrier and hung there in midair as he stumbled backwards and doubled over. Before she could shoot the leader, he knocked down the shield and, with a second slice, batted away her weapon.

He was too close. She sprinted to the campsite, where she’d left the enchanted branch. The Elf was much faster, tackling her just before she could reach it. Celestine screamed and kicked and struggled. The Elf maintained control of her, but a confused look graced his handsome brow. “What are you trying to reach?” he asked, only able to see a small tree branch nearby.

“That branch!” she cried. She took in a halting breath and added, “I was going to hit you with it.”

The Elf laughed as he picked it up. “Hit me with this?” he asked.

Celestine quickly grabbed it and vanished. She reappeared near the tree line, next to a sprinting Murtagh. He turned his head and stopped suddenly as she appeared. She said, “You kept it.”

Murtagh looked at the complementary branch tucked in his belt. “Of course,” he said. “Did the Elves hurt you?”

“How did you…?”

“Thorn. Come on, let’s not let them get away.”

“Two of them won’t be going anywhere quickly,” she said, following him back into the camp.

When they arrived, the leader was kneeling over one of his injured compatriots. He looked up and drew his sword, but hesitated when Thorn landed nearby. “I knew you were an imperial agent,” he said. “You smelled like a dragon.”

“Oh? That’s odd,” Celestine replied. “I’ve been told I smell like an Elf.”

His nose wrinkled in disgust.

“Drop your weapon, Elf,” Murtagh said.

Once he complied, Murtagh looked to Celestine and said, “Now the question is what to do with them. We can’t bring them along and we can’t let them go back to the Varden with news of you. We should probably just kill them.”

“Murtagh!”

“Bah, I’m not serious. There’s no honor in slaying the vanquished. If you had a suggestion…”

“I can immobilize them long enough for Galbatorix to come collect them,” she said as she walked over to the Elf that was slowly dying from the stomach wound and healed him. “They can’t see my spells, and now that I know how strong they are, I can construct a powerful enough prison.”

“Excellent idea. I’ll contact him right away.”

Once the Elves were healed and secured, Celestine approached Thorn again. She bowed her head and said, “Again I stand in need of your forgiveness. I doubted you. I’m sorry.”

Murtagh looked at Thorn.

Thorn said I accept her apology. I may dislike her, but I dislike Elves even more.

“Your apology is accepted. He’d never let anyone hurt you,” Murtagh said. “Nor would I.”

When Celestine continued looking at him, Murtagh asked, “What is it?”

“You kept it.”

“Yes, I know. You said that before.”

Without further words, Celestine closed the distance between them and wrapped her arms around him. Murtagh rested his chin atop her head. Her nose nestled in the curve of his neck, and her eyelashes tickled lightly as she shut her eyes and sighed.

Wind and wings! It’s even better than you imagined.

Thorn…

Right. Sorry. I’ll be quiet.

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Comment

  1. Inkblot on 12 December 2011, 13:34 said:

    Dayus. Hehe, very clever. I like that quite a bit. I assume you know a fair smidgen of Latin.

  2. BlackStar on 12 December 2011, 19:40 said:

    I quite like Thorn’s exclamations. :D Especially “Wind and wings!” It’s great that you’ve given him an actual personality.

  3. Vikingboybilly on 12 December 2011, 22:32 said:

    You weren’t the one that got frozen today!

    I see what you did there. Nostalgia Critic much?

  4. T on 16 December 2011, 18:36 said:

    Nice. The only bit I object to is this:

    “You want to go to Eragon alone? Fine. He’s that way,” he said, pointing one direction before walking off the opposite way, into the forest.

    Celestine stood there, mouth agape, as he left. A thousand things ran through her mind—insults, retorts, apologies, wanting to know if he’d be back—but none of them had the power to break the silence before he was gone, so she sat down and broke it with weeping.

    Given previous characterisation, this seems to be completely different to the way I expected her to react. First, she’s been shown in previous chapters to be strong, independent, and pretty capable of looking after herself. Second, she’s known Murtagh for, what, a day or two? It just feels contrived, disingenuous and like you’re trying to force the ‘helpless female’ role onto who is otherwise a strong and independent character. And having her need Murtagh to save her just makes it that much more dissonant.

  5. Asahel on 17 December 2011, 01:52 said:

    Thank you everyone for the feedback.

    Dayus. Hehe, very clever. I like that quite a bit. I assume you know a fair smidgen of Latin.

    Yes, I know a modicum of Latin (and for when I need more, I know someone who’s degree is in Latin!).

    I quite like Thorn’s exclamations. :D Especially “Wind and wings!” It’s great that you’ve given him an actual personality.

    Thanks, I try hard to make him a character in his own right rather than just a glorified mount for Murtagh.

    I see what you did there. Nostalgia Critic much?

    Ha ha, indeed. He’s right, you know—that pretty much ends all argument.

    Let me look at the last one in parts.

    First, she’s been shown in previous chapters to be strong, independent, and pretty capable of looking after herself.

    She’s certainly stubborn and powerful (which may cover strong and capable of looking after herself). Independent I’m not so sure about—it sounds more something she’d like to be than something she is. Have you noticed how she keeps deferring to Galbatorix?

    Second, she’s known Murtagh for, what, a day or two? It just feels contrived, disingenuous and like you’re trying to force the ‘helpless female’ role onto who is otherwise a strong and independent character. And having her need Murtagh to save her just makes it that much more dissonant.

    Let me start at the end of this and work my way back. The fight is a bit more complicated than “she needed Murtagh to save her.” The problem is that Paolini’s Elves are ridiculously overpowered. Elves in her world are stronger, faster, more agile, etc. than humans but not to the same degree as they are in Alagaesia. It catches her by surprise, which is about the worst thing that can happen to you in a fight. However, even given that handicap, she acquitted herself well, don’t you think? She managed to take two of them out and escaped from the third.

    Having said that, I don’t think there’s much to the idea of Celestine playing the “helpless female” in this case. She does cry after having a heated argument with someone she feels friendly towards. She’s upset that he left and she’s sad that she drove him away, but notice what else is going through her mind—she wants to insult him! She’s mad that he’s being so obstinate (which is, of course, totally different from her being obstinate with him, ha ha). With all these conflicting emotions running through her, it’s only natural that she seeks a cathartic release, which involves weeping for many people—even the strong.

    One last note on this issue: Notice that by the end of the chapter she still hasn’t capitulated to Murtagh’s insistence on seeing Eragon with her. Keep an eye in the next chapter; she still intends to go without him. Celestine doesn’t change her mind easily. That may speak to what you refer to as strength and independence.

    Thanks again for the feedback. I’ll endeavor to make these depictions ever more clear in the text itself.

  6. Nate Winchester on 17 December 2011, 02:03 said:

    It catches her by surprise, which is about the worst thing that can happen to you in a fight.

    She should have gone with the Combat Casting feat. What are the schools teaching nowadays?

  7. T on 17 December 2011, 02:33 said:

    Or at least gotten Spell Thrust (which is not nearly as uncomfortable as the name implies). :P

    Okay, I’ll accept your reasoning. It just struck me as so out of character. I got the impression from previous chapters of an assertive warrior who knows what she wants, so suddenly bursting into tears from a moment’s heated argument seemed a little forced.

    As to her deference to Galby, maybe it was the wording of her dialogue or the way you wrote her, but I got the impression that she’s only being polite because of her status as a guest and his as host and only secondarily as a king, not someone who ‘defers’ to him in a sense of submissiveness. She speaks to Galby almost like an equal (aside from using his title), not like a subject or dependent.

    “Oh, we have dragons in our world, too,” Celestine asked. “Most people don’t try riding them, though.”

    This is not the way one addresses a king, even in casual conversation, unless one is either an equal or close. Would you interrupt Queen Elizabeth with “Oh”? (More to the point, would you interrupt a monarch mid-speech?) Maybe if you were a powerful duke on first-name terms with her. Not if you’re a practically unknown guest who is being generously hosted at the castle.

  8. Asahel on 20 December 2011, 14:06 said:

    @T

    I think you’re focusing too much on one aspect of Celestine’s character and not considering the totality of what’s been presented so far. As far as combat goes, you’ve seen in her in one sparring match and one fight. Yes, she has powers and, yes, she has skill with a sword, but does that make her a warrior?

    Celestine talks openly about what she thinks and how she feels. Sometimes it’s hard to get her to shut-up. However, notice her reaction when Galbatorix asks her if she’s ever seen battle. Suddenly, she can’t speak anymore; she retreats inside herself, which was all the answer Galbatorix needed anyway.

    She’s capable of defending herself, but she wears her heart on her sleeve. I wouldn’t characterize her as some kind of battle-hardened warrior. Notice her fight with the Elves. She first tries to stun, but when that proves unsuccessful, she knows she has to increase the power of her shots. The Elves are at point blank range—even Barney Fife would have a hard time missing. Does Celestine aim for the chest or the head? No, she shoots one in the leg and the other in the stomach (and heals them later). These attackers could realistically kill her, and she still tries to keep them alive.

    Finally, when I mentioned her deference to Galbatorix, I didn’t mean it in a kind of submissive way as if she were behaving like one of his subjects. I only meant to point out that she’s letting him do all the planning. So far it’s been his plan on how to get her home, and his plan to make peace using her as an ambassador. So, you’re right, she does talk to him more as an equal but also with politeness.

  9. The Dude on 25 December 2011, 14:41 said:

    Yes, you posted again! I really like this story…and I am reading Inheritance at the same time. The comparison is actually really funny (in a good way for you ;) ).