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The first year he was gone, she had been blessed with not having the time for distracting thoughts. No time to think of his absence and all it signified. Her queenly duties had her dragged in the current of politics and diplomacy. True, Fírnen would—a little too often to her liking—mention his mate. Arya wouldn’t name her. It was better not calling them by name. Names were personal. Names were intimate. Particular things come to mind at the mention of a name. That was why Arya never allowed those two to resurface in her mind.
Those two names only brought painful thoughts.
The next year, she had to help Nasuada quell potential uprisings. Help Queen Nasuada suppress rebellion here. Direct the egg’s movements there. He had entrusted her with the task to discover more of them—the Dragon Riders. In between her obligations as queen, she had that task carried out. In the same year—who would have guessed it—one of the eggs hatched for an Urgal. An Urgal! Arya immediately had her brought to Ellesméra. After a couple weeks with the elves, the Urgal consented to being sent off to that faraway place to be taught in the ways of Dragon Riders. The elves gave her a month to say her farewells and prepare. Soon after, they had ferried her off.
Years flitted by in the same manner. More Riders were found, brought to Ellesméra, consented to go away to be taught properly, and sailed off. Arya was always there to see them off. They would eventually come back, she knew. But not once had she followed them to the boats that carried them away. Such an irony—the new Dragon Riders were given a chance she, one of the first Dragon Riders of the new age, had never given herself. Fírnen would stand beside her as they both watched the Riders sail away. He never spoke at those times. But silence spoke louder than anything.
For the life of her, Arya still couldn’t remember all the details. Details were so trivial when you allowed yourself to simply flow with the passage of time. Nasuada had often been able to contact him—through letter or through scrying—and Roran, Katrina, Orik and several others were often there to greet him. Queen Nasuada had always urged her to at least come to speak to him. Arya never did. Perhaps it was her way of coping. Perhaps it was her way of self-punishment. Nonetheless, she could never explain why she always declined Nasuada. Why she deprived herself of what she thirsted for.
Once, Nasuada had spoken with Arya one night. They were on a balcony in Nasuada’s castle. “I know it is an inconvenience for you, Arya,” she told her, “but if you continue this, he may very well think you simply don’t want to see him.”
Arya knew that wasn’t true. He already knew her feelings, already knew her nature. For so long she had managed to repress her sentiments, always placing duty first. But now…he had disturbed that complacency. That alone had made her all the more determined to contain it.
Indeed, it had been a blessing in the beginning that she was perpetually occupied, thankfully given no time to dwell upon what could have been. However, slowly but surely, activity toned down considerably. No more rebellions, no more of the elves persistently needing her. Astonishingly enough, their universal goal had been reached. Peace had settled over Alagaësia. Everyone around her seemed at ease. But apparently it appeared that peace didn’t reach everyone.
Fírnen, of course, had been her steadfast companion. As more time passed, she had been given too much spare time than she would have cared for. Arya then devoted that time to flying with him over the forests of Du Weldenvarden. Together they would soar the skies, Arya gazing down at the verdant landscape. Then her eyes would be drawn to the horizon. A horizon never to be met.
We saw that the earth is round.
Life fluttered by her, too quickly to catch, or for the matter catch up with. Murtagh had reappeared at last. It was an opportune if not strategic moment for him to do so—the empire lulled by the years of peace. Some time later the news reached her that he and Nasuada had reconciled. To prove their goodwill to the people, Murtagh and Thorn personally made amends to every person they had wronged, particularly spending a while with the stubborn dwarves. Had it not been for Orik, their forgiveness would have been a very long time in coming, if ever. It was no surprise to Arya that afterward Murtagh and Nasuada’s marriage was announced.
As for him, he had sent more eggs to her and many more Riders had been discovered. By this time Fírnen was well past a full-grown dragon. Katrina and Roran’s daughter, Ismira, had grown as well—into a happily married woman. Nasuada, it appeared, would not be growing old anytime soon. The immortality issue between Murtagh and her had not been forgotten. But because he knew the name of the ancient language, Murtagh had found a spell to elongate Nasuada’s life. Something that hitherto had been thought impossible. But Galbatorix’s accomplishment had apparently made good. The tyrant king’s original intentions had been changed for the better.
There had been a time in her solitude when Arya was in her chambers staring at his fairth of her on her lap. She often found herself doing this. Fírnen, sensing her thoughts during his hunt, whispered into her mind, Arya.
Do you not think it is well past the time?
For us to follow them. We have been prolonging it.
Do not tell me it cannot be so. Arya, you have reigned wonderfully over the elves. All your life you have devoted yourself to duty. When will you allow yourself happiness? If not for you, then not for me?
That night, Arya had not responded to him.
She believed over fifty years had passed now ever since the Talíta had departed. In all that time, Arya was mildly surprised he had not once written to her as she would have expected. He was waiting. She knew it. She couldn’t help but wonder when his patience would wear thin.
Then one night came. Nasuada and Murtagh had their first child. Arya had gone to give them her good wishes. Fírnen and Thorn were in an ardent conversation about hunting methods while Nasuada was surrounded by congratulatory women. That left her and Murtagh to converse with each other. Arya gave her congratulations to Murtagh, and he in turn smiled. An inquisitive thought crossed her then, and she could not help but ask, “Have you at last overcome what you went into seclusion for?”
He answered, “Yes.”
Because she knew him well, Arya continued to ask, “May I ask what it was?”
Murtagh looked at Arya for a moment. He paused before he replied, “Inner turmoil. I realized it’s never good to let the heart alone. You will never be satisfied leaving words unspoken, never find peace. It will gnaw at you until you relent. So I came back.”
Arya only smiled and murmured her happiness for him. Murtagh only looked at her, a stare that seemed to peruse her soul. “I found my peace, Arya. I found my peace. No matter how miniscule, anyone can find a small measure of peace. The only hindrance is yourself.”
He never explained himself, and Arya never told him she understood.
When one of her elven advisors came reporting that the arrangements for the newest group of Riders to be sent off had been completed, it was like something had reawakened in her. She was seized with a sudden conviction. As her advisor turned to leave, Arya called him back. Before she even realized it, words she couldn’t take back left her.
“This time I shall be in their company.”
Arya might have been surprised, but the elf gave no sign of it. He bowed and said, “As you wish, Your Majesty.”
Before he left, she swiftly inquired, “And the elves hold no opposition to my wishes?”
Curiously enough, the elf smiled. “Of course not, Your Majesty. You are queen.” But that smile said something more.
Fírnen was elated at Arya’s announcement. He roared with joy, emerald flames licking the sky. When! was all he said.
The ghost of a smile touched her lips. In two weeks.
Images of his mate filled Fírnen’s thoughts, and Arya politely retreated from their connection.
After long contemplation, she came to the decision to write him a letter about her impending visit, stressing that it was no more than a visit and asking if it was fine. Her heart was fluttering in her chest like a butterfly seeking to escape her ribs. How long had it been since they last had spoken? Fifty-two years? And now she was contacting him? Arya could only wonder at his reaction. She wouldn’t put it past him if he had grown irritated with her. Arya noticed her fingers were nearly shaking, and with mild annoyance dismissed it and continued writing.
Twelve days later, she received a response.
Of course it’s fine with me. Saphira and I will be waiting here for you and Fírnen.
No “Why haven’t you been writing?” No “Why haven’t you contacted me like Nasuada and Roran?” But she would have expected no less from him.
Time seemed to be mocking her. The years that passed by her felt like fragments. The two weeks she spent waiting and preparing felt like eternity. The time did at last come, and anxiousness unexpectedly took hold of her. Fírnen, sensing it, only snorted in amusement.
Arya glared at him and asked, What amuses you so?
That only now you realize how anxious you have been to see him again.
The young Riders were joyful at the prospect of her accompanying them, and a few of the elves were going with her as an entourage. As the ship set sail, Alagaësia vanishing from view, Arya was suddenly startled at herself. What was she doing? She should be back there, overseeing elven affairs.
There’s no turning back, Arya, Fírnen murmured to her. Nor would it be of any help.
I’ve waited too long, Fírnen. I do not believe he will be welcoming me warmly.
You can only wait for that day to arrive to know the truth to those words.
The voyage was only longer than the two weeks. Arya often found herself lying on her cot, troubling thoughts storming her. How could she look at him again after refusing to contact him once? How could she bear to leave once it was time to go back? How could anything be settled between them after all this time?
It all came too soon. Land came into view, bringing with it the sight of a magnificent city. Nasuada had excitedly told Arya of his description of the grand city he was constructing, but this—its grandeur was reminiscent of the time of the Riders. They soared into the sky, flaring resplendently before the dawning sun. No—not the golden towers, not the marble edifices. The dragons. Every hue and color, every wingspan, every size—their scales outshone all but the sun. The scene could have eternally left her in wordless wonder.
Still, it did nothing to allay her fears. Worries were assailing her. Arya thought she saw figures standing at the dock. As they drew closer in proximity, Arya instantly recognized one figure. She held a breath.
Her eyes stung, but she held back. Not now. If she restrained herself all these years, she could do so now. But the sight of him at the dock, waiting to receive her, made something change inside Arya. She knew—perhaps the whole time had known—that this would be more than a visit. This was her atonement for what should have happened fifty-two years ago.
Stay with me…
And as the ship was about to dock, she saw the smile on his face. Felt that brush in her consciousness that was him. Arya opened her mind, her inhibitions wearing away. From ship to dock, their eyes locked. In that one exchange, their eyes acknowledged all that they held for each other.
Tears fell down her cheeks.