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We Take Nothing For Granted

Chapter Text

Eragon crept closer to the herd of deer, bedded down in a glen for the night. There was one in particular he’d been following: a doe, with an injured foreleg. He hadn’t expected her to keep up with the herd this long. The late autumn moon was waxing, and its bright glow silvered the deer in the clearing, clearly illuminating his target. The doe slept at the edge of the clearing, one foreleg stuck out in front of her in an uncomfortable-looking position.

Carefully, quietly, Eragon drew an arrow from his quiver and lay it on the string. He drew and sighted, as he’d done so many times before.

With a thrrum he loosed, and the arrow flew true to the doe’s eye, killing her instantly. The rest of the herd was startled by the soft noises into waking, and Eragon waited patiently for them to clear. When the last leaping buck disappeared into the shadows of the trees, Eragon hurried to the fallen doe and retrieved his arrow, then hefted the dead deer over his shoulder. He retreated into the woods, hung his catch from a sturdy bough so that it wouldn’t be easily stolen by marauding wildlife, and made camp for the night.

The next morning, he started for home. He traveled through the day, enjoying the quiet solitude of the Spine forest. Eragon was one of very few who dared to traverse the Spine, for many others had tried, and died for their trouble. But not Eragon; he knew how to follow the game trails, and he hadn’t ever seen Urgals in his journeys. Perhaps it was skill, or luck—the King’s own army had yet to conquer the untamed mountains, and entire companies had disappeared trying.

The Spine’s grim history was well-disguised in the welcoming trunks and thick foliage, the birdsong and the spongy moss. Dusk was setting in when Eragon met a ravine, and he camped near it, watching the moonrise and listening to the Anora River rushing far below him as he went to bed. The next day broke cold, and Eragon was grateful for his socks—green ones, made of soft wool, given to him on his fifteenth (most recent) birthday.

He didn’t travel long before he reached the Igualda Falls. His brother waited for him there, idly poking a small fire with a stick, an open book on his lap. Four rabbits were strung together in pairs, and hung from his pack.

Murtagh looked up as Eragon neared, and gave him a quick smile before standing. “What took you so long?” he asked. “I was about ready to go looking for you.”

Eragon rolled his eyes. “As if you’d put down that book long enough to find me,” he teased.

“What can I say,” Murtagh said, laughing, “it’s a good book.”

“You’ve read it at least five times now!”

“It’s good! And short!”

“It’s hardly short! What’s it about, anyway? I’ve never asked.”

Smug, Murtagh slipped said book into his pack. “I’ll tell you when we get moving. Help me break camp?”

All that really needed to be done was Murtagh’s bag repacked and dirt kicked over the fire, so they were soon on their way. They stopped, as they always did, do take in the view of Carvahall: a cluster of brown buildings, surrounded by farms and fields. Murtagh smiled and pointed to one farm, close enough to make out two houses, each smoking at the chimney, and a small barn. “I think I can see old Rose,” he said.

Eragon squinted. “He’s more gray than red, now,” he muttered, “I can hardly make him out.”

As they began their descent into the valley, Eragon asked again what Murtagh’s oh-so-special book was about.

“Oh, it’s a romance,” Murtagh said off-handedly.

Eragon snickered. “Seriously? The book you can’t put down is a wishy-washy love story?”

“It’s not wishy-washy!” Murtagh protested. “It’s a very beautifully written tragic romance about two lovers from warring kingdoms.”

Eragon nodded along sagely. “Ah, yes. A tragic, wishy-washy love story.”

Murtagh rolled his eyes. “It was Dad who gave it to me. Said it was one of his favorites,” he said smugly.

Halting suddenly and sputtering, Eragon couldn’t make a reply beyond opening and closing his mouth several times. Murtagh, who was in front, cackled as he continued down the path.

“You get back here!” Eragon shouted, bounding down the path after his brother. “Dad actually has good taste in stories, I absolutely do not believe you!”

“Ask him yourself!” Murtagh countered.

“I will!” Eragon retorted.

Dusk was gathering as they finally reached the village. The brothers wove through the buildings until they reached Sloan’s butchershop, but when they reached it, Murtagh handed his rabbits to Eragon. “You go on in,” he said quietly, “I’ll get Roran’s message delivered.”

Eragon scowled at him. “You know Sloan hates me!” he hissed.

Murtagh shrugged. “Hey, he hates me, too. And our dear cousin, hence why I’m delivering Roran’s message while Sloan’s distracted. Have fun!” With a sly grin, Murtagh slipped around the building to find Katrina.

Heaving an exasperated sigh, Eragon slumped through the door. Sloan looked up from polishing the counter—a counter that was already obnoxiously clean, just like the rest of the shop.

“Ah, the mighty hunter descends from the mountains to join us mortals,” Sloan sneered. “What, no brother? Has he finally made himself useful and found a proper line of work?”

Struggling not to make an unpleasant face, Eragon replied coolly, “No, he had some other business in town he wanted to get done.”

Sloan shook his head. “Business,” he scoffed disbelievingly. “Alright then, what’ve you brought me?”

Eragon lay the deer on the counter. “You’ll get a quarter as usual,” he said curtly. Sloan harrumphed, but made quick work of the carcass. When he’d done that, he weighed the meat, selected his quarter, and wrapped up the remainder for Eragon.

“Need those rabbits done, too?” Sloan grunted.

“Nope,” Eragon answered without hesitation. And, because his father had taught him to be polite even to those he disliked, he added (perhaps a bit too cheerfully), “Thank you for your business, Sloan.”

“Ngah, get out of here,” Sloan sneered, waving him on.

Murtagh, on the other hand, had a much more pleasant errand. He rounded the butcher shop and took long strides to Sloan’s home, hopping onto the low steps and knocking in an easy, practiced rhythm, leaning casually against the doorjamb.

He didn’t have to wait long before the door opened, spilling the scent of a well-spiced dinner onto the street. Katrina gave Murtagh an amused smile.

“My lady,” Murtagh greeted her.

“Uh-huh,” Katrina replied. “What’s your errand, errand-boy?”

“Is that all I am now?” Murtagh gasped, clutching dramatically at his chest. “I am wounded, Katrina, wounded, that my best friend sees me as nothing more than an errand-boy —a tragedy!”

She laughed. “Just like your favorite books,” she teased.

Chuckling, Murtagh straightened and obliged, “Oh, all right. Roran wanted to make sure you knew: as soon as the traders arrive, he’ll come into town, and he’ll see you then.”

Katrina raised an eyebrow with a wry smile. “Is that all he said?”

“Oh, of course not, you know him. He also wants you to know that you are the most gorgeous, stunning, beautiful girl he’s ever seen, and that he thinks of nothing else. At the rate he’s going, he should be writing down what he says and publishing books of poetry,” Murtagh added.

Katrina’s smile was warm and bright, and redder than her hair. “Well, let him know: I’m going to hold him to his promise, and he’s not so bad himself. Now get on home, before your mother comes looking for you again.”

Murtagh stepped down from the threshold and made an exaggerated bow. “As you wish, my lady. Goodnight.”

Rolling her eyes and laughing “Good night,” in return, Katrina shut the door.

Humming as he returned to the street, Murtagh was able to catch Eragon leaving Sloan’s with an expression of mixed relief and pride.

“Wasn’t so bad, huh?” Murtagh asked knowingly.

“Oh, shush,” replied Eragon, shoving his brother in the shoulder. “Let’s get home, I miss my bed.”

The brothers left the village and its warm lights behind, and the road was silvered by the moon. They lapsed into comfortable silence, and it wasn’t terribly long before they turned from the road onto a path cutting through the waist-high grass, into the shadows of the elms. They were soon greeted by three buildings: the darkened barn—which was home to the horses, chickens, the cow, and even a pig (which they’d barely been able to afford this year)—and two houses.

The older house had only one lit window, on the second floor—undoubtedly Uncle Garrow, who seemed to turn in later and later with each passing season. The second house, built less than two decades ago, was well-lit in the kitchen—undoubtedly Selena, their mother. Eragon hurried to the porch of the second house, Murtagh close behind, both of them weary but glad to be home; the door opened as they reached it, and a middle-aged woman with sharp, angular features stuck her head out to see them. Selena eyed the two with warmth spilling from her eyes and the subtle crinkles in their corners, and the easy smile curving her lip.

She stepped out and enveloped the both of them in a tight hug. “Welcome home,” she murmured into their shoulders—a little awkwardly, as Murtagh had a good four inches over Eragon.

Murtagh hugged his mother back fiercely, bent over slightly to press his face to her silvered brown hair, and he had an arm around Eragon’s shoulders, too. Eragon melted a little into the embrace, tired from the hunt, and incredibly aware of the firm place his mother held in his heart. It was their little ritual, this three-way hug. Not even Murtagh could have pinpointed exactly when it had started.

Selena took a deep breath in, taking in the strong fragrance of pine and the fresh scent of village chimney smoke clinging to her sons; she let it out in a satisfied sigh and stepped back, a hand on each of their shoulders. “So what have you boys caught?”

Brightening, Eragon slipped his pack from his shoulders and proudly showcased the wrapped venison in his pack; Murtagh dangled the four rabbits in the air by their feet. Pride glittered in Selena’s eye, and she congratulated them each, quietly, as she led them inside.

“I’ll put these in the cold overnight,” said Selena, taking the meat. “You get on to bed, you both look exhausted.”

Murtagh and Eragon yawned simultaneously in answer, making Selena chuckle, and shuffled upstairs to do just that.

Eragon paused at the door to the master bedroom, listening. Sometimes Brom was up late, knitting, or reading, or writing. No noises beyond the door, until—snor-r-r-e—yep, Brom was asleep.

“‘Agon,” Murtagh muttered from their room, “bed. Lamp.”

“Coming, coming,” Eragon answered. He’d been more than a little afraid of the dark as a small child, and while sharing a room with his brother had helped, it hadn’t fully beaten back the fear—it was only when Murtagh gave him full rights to lighting or snuffing the lamp-candle that Eragon began to conquer his dread of the night. That fear was gone, but Murtagh hadn’t asked for control over the lamp—he just nagged Eragon until the lamp was snuffed.

Tip-toe-shuffling into the room like a drunken dancer, and closing the door with a soft click!, Eragon toed off his boots, wiggled out of his jerkin and shirt, and traded tough trousers for a pair of soft woolens (knitted, homemade), before flopping onto his bed. Murtagh was already half-asleep, buried in haphazard blankets and already giving himself bedhead. Eragon couldn’t tell if he’d changed into more comfortable clothes, or simply gone to bed in what he’d already been wearing.

Eragon tried to gauge if his brother was actually asleep or not. “I’m gonna ask Dad tomorrow about your wishy-washy romance book,” he called softly.

“Mm-hmmph,” Murtagh grunted in reply. “Lamp. Bed. Sleep. Tomorrow comes later.”

Eragon’s own body betrayed him, yawning hugely in agreement. And then again, and then a third time as he snuffed the lamp. He lay down, and let himself drown in his own blankets and pillows and soft things, and as his eyes adjusted the room slowly turned to a shadowy bluescale of indigo and navy… accented only… by his breath… and Murtagh’s… until he descended… into a hazy dream—surrounded by the green of a summer forest, and the brilliant verdant hue of a thousand glittering green gemstones, and a pair of eyes so green they were almost black, and a whispered name that disappeared before it could be said.

Chapter Text

Breakfast was always in the main house. Brom and Selena had already taken over the kitchen, waltzing around each other gracefully as they pulled hot bread from the alcove in the fireplace, stirred honey into bowls of thick cream, stuck spoons into a dish of berries, and steeped a large pot of tea. They’d been there for a few hours already, and the sun had hardly cleared the horizon when Garrow descended the stairs.

“Well, haven’t the pair of you gone and made a mess,” he said wryly, taking in the progress of assembly.

Selena chuckled and checked him with her hip. “If it weren’t for this ‘mess,’ you’d be eating nothing but chicken for breakfast.”

“Chicken is a perfectly respectable vegetable,” Garrow informed her stubbornly.

Smothering her giggles behind her hand absolutely failed, and Selena burst into hysterical laughter. Brom sighed and set aside the bowl he’d been washing, placing his elbows the counter and burying his face in his hands. Garrow’s grin was a flash of smug teeth, oozing with his muted chuckles, and he took his place at the table—conveniently close enough to gently smack Brom in the arm.

It didn’t seem to help, and Selena’s laughter redoubled when Brom groaned in despair, “I always forget that you two are brother and sister.”

Garrow pulled a bowl of cream within easy eating reach and spooned a generous helping of berries over it. “It only makes you remembering so much funnier,” he told Brom.

Something thump-thump-thump ed down the stairs. Only Selena turned to look, greeting Roran with a warm smile and a quick hug that she slipped around his shoulders.

“Morning Aunt Lena,” Roran greeted her, hugging her back and taking the seat next to Garrow, claiming a bowl and heaping even more berries into it than his father had. He took a bite, then craned his neck to look out the window to the other house. “They came back last night, didn’t they?”

“Late,” Selena confirmed. “Let them sleep, they’ll join us when they’re ready.”

Garrow grunted. “There’s work to be done, Lena.”

“Tired work is worth no work at all,” she half-sang in reply, smirking smugly when her brother nodded in reluctant assent. “Besides,” she continued in a normal voice, claiming her own breakfast and elbowing Brom out of his slump, “they brought back good game. Sleeping in is a fine reward.”

“So long as Murtagh remembered to keep that book I gave him in one piece,” Brom grumbled into his bowl.

Eragon liked his bed. It was warm, and soft, and he could wear his favorite comfortable clothes in bed, and the sunlight didn’t blind him in the morning. His various treasures littered the shelves above—twisted roots and unique stones, bits of shimmering shell and glittering glass—and his chest of clothes rested at the foot. He could let himself sink into the bedding to watch as the morning sunlight crept across the opposite wall, down and across—


—until it shone directly into Murtagh’s eyes, because he slept with his back to the wall, like a dummy.

Eragon snickered as Murtagh tried to roll away from the light, but it must have been too bright on the wall, because his next tactic was to hide beneath his pillow.

“Wow, it must be so nice to wake up with the sun,” Eragon said loudly. Murtagh sat up, glaring at him for a solid three seconds before he chucked his pillow across the room.

Eragon caught it gleefully, cackling when Murtagh’s expression fell, realizing his mistake. The older brother groaned and fell back against the mattress, slowly drawing his blankets up over his head in exaggerated shame.

“You didn’t change out of your clothes last night,” Eragon noted.

“Changing before bed is for the weak,” Murtagh grumbled through his blankets. Eragon threw his pillow back at him. He caught it, the bastard, and stuffed it over his head.

By this point, Eragon had accepted being awake. He quietly swung his legs to the floor, flexing his feet against the cold pine before he put his weight on it. He snuck across the room until he was only a foot or so away from Murtagh’s bed, where his brother was none the wiser beneath his pillow.

It was here that he pounced. He landed squarely on Murtagh’s torso, laughing maniacally when Murtagh swore colorfully and tumbled them both from the bed to the bare wooden floor. “You are such a little shit!” Murtagh cried, lunging for his brother and wrestling him back to the floor when he tried to rise, both of them laughing and cursing each other.

All in all, a normal morning.

When they finally got over themselves (somewhat), they dressed for the day and thundered down the stairs, confident in Selena’s sleepless sleep patterns and Brom’s early habits, shoving each other occasionally. On the veranda, Eragon jabbed Murtagh’s arm with an elbow and took off towards the other house, laughing, with Murtagh close behind and closing the distance with his longer legs, both of them skidding and sliding in the thick frost.

Just before he could catch hold of the door, something snagged Eragon’s torso and swept him off his feet. The world whirled around him and suddenly he was slung over Murtagh’s shoulder like a bale of hay. A very offended, very indignant bale of hay, with an extensive vocabulary of insults.

Smug, Murtagh hauled him inside and plopped him into a chair. Roran, snickering, slid Eragon a bowl. Scowling, Eragon threw a blackberry at his brother. Murtagh batted it out of the air and sent a raspberry sailing his way, nailing Eragon between the eyes.

“Don’t waste the fruit!” Selena admonished them, ruffling the boys’ hair, provoking indignant squawks from both of them. She chuckled and handed them spoons; Eragon noticed with delight that breakfast was his (and Murtagh’s) favorite, honey-cream with fruit.

Their uncle Garrow eyed them over his own bowl. “I need the two of you working today. Eragon, you’ll help Roran and I with the harvest; Murtagh, I’d like you to make sure the horses get some attention today. Start with Birka and Brugh, make sure they’re fit to drive. Once you’re done with that, we may need your extra hands.”

The boys nodded. Eragon looked at his parents. “What will the two of you be doing today?” he asked curiously; they always seemed to be doing something interesting.

Today was no different. Brom fiddled with the pipe in his mouth as he said, “I’m going into town to commission something from Horst, and hear the latest news.”

“Are you going to need Rose?” Murtagh asked.

Brom shook his head. “I’m not so old that I can’t walk,” he said wryly.

“You seem quite sure of that,” Selena told him, raising an eyebrow. “I’ve already taken care of the menagerie, but I want to check the fences. I’ll also get the cellar ready to store for the winter.”

Garrow nodded in satisfaction. “Let’s get to it, then.”

Breakfast was quickly wrapped up. Selena hugged the boys, pressed a kiss to Brom’s scruffy jaw, and tugged on her coat as she made for the fences. Garrow, Roran, and Eragon headed out to the fields. Brom and Murtagh cleared and cleaned the dishes, chatting about books and the oncoming winter. The conversation was easy, silences weren’t awkward, and the smiles they exchanged were genuine.

Murtagh didn’t remember a lot about before—before Carvahall, before Eragon, before what was well and truly home. What he did remember were bits and pieces, nightmares fading in the light of dawn. Sometimes Murtagh forgot that his life hadn’t actually started here, in Carvahall, with a family who seemed to cherish him unconditionally. When he did remember, it was in flashes, fragments—fear was the first thing that came to memory, a constant presence that had sunk itself into his bones. Silence was the second thing he remembered. The smell of wine was the third.

Even now, at eighteen, Murtagh couldn’t bring himself to drink anything stronger than a weak cider. Wine made him gag, ale tasted wrong, and anything stronger made his stomach churn in a way that had nothing to do with the drink itself. Garrow had given him his first drink, some of Quimby’s finest make, when Murtagh was fifteen.

Sometimes, Murtagh worried that Quimby was still insulted that he had promptly fled the building at his first sip and heaved his guts outside.

Brom’s spiced ciders were fine, though. Murtagh suspected that his father often put more plain cider than hard cider in the batch, but he wasn’t about to complain. The things Murtagh owed that man for… he should write out a list someday. It would probably span the length of the Spine, even in his smallest handwriting.

“You alright, son?” Brom asked, after Murtagh had been quiet for a while.

Ah, something to write on the list already—being wholeheartedly adopted. “Just thinking,” said Murtagh, smiling. “About how much I love this place.”

Brom’s eyes softened. “I often think of that as well,” he admitted. “This is a good place. With good people.”

“With family,” Murtagh added.

Brom nodded. “Aye, with family. Very important, that.” He clapped a hand on Murtagh’s shoulder; Murtagh leaned into him and hugged him tightly.

“Oof, boy, you’re a dragon’s head taller than I am,” Brom grunted after a moment. “Let me breathe.”

Murtagh laughed and let him go. “I’d better see to the horses,” he said, scooping up his jacket on his way out the door. “Have fun in town, Dad.”

“Oh, I will, boy,” Brom promised, chuckling.

Rosy knickered when Murtagh heaved the oaken barn door open, letting in a shaft of morning light to blaze on the straw-ridden floor. Birka and Brugh munched apathetically at their hay—they really weren’t morning horses. Calberon had, of course, opened his own box and was currently lying among the hay bales, watching the chickens strut about. The cow was already out to pasture, and the pig was in its pen.

Murtagh let Rosy out of his box and nagged Calberon until the stocky little gelding got to his feet with a beleaguered sigh.

“Oh, Cal, it’s just so hard to be a horse,” Murtagh teased. Calberon snorted and tossed his head, as if to say I don’t like your tone.

Not that Murtagh thought the horses could talk. They just articulated.

With Rosy and Cal free to wander as they pleased, Murtagh slid halters over the plough horses and led them outside. He slid his hands down their legs to check for swollen or warm spots, made sure their feet were clean, and gave them each a once-over to make sure they were both healthy and hale. He jumped onto Birka’s back and guided her with his legs, while he had Brugh’s lead in one hand; in this fashion he trotted a loop around the fields, waving to his uncle, cousin, and brother. Then he switched horses and did the same again, crossing paths with his mother as she finished her inspection of the fence.

“Want a ride?” he asked.

Selena laughed. “Well, if you’re offering!” She sprang nimbly onto Birka. “How long has it been since they’ve had a good gallop?”

Murtagh shrugged. “Since the last time I rode them. So… two weeks.”

“Excellent. Keep up!”

Selena, ever the horsewoman to show off, was easily able to spur Birka into a thunderous gallop back to the barn. Murtagh laughed as Brugh chased after them, shaking the earth with huge feathered hooves.

The sun was low on the horizon when Garrow called for the work to finish. Murtagh and Eragon had been carting loads between the fields and the cellar, and they relieved themselves of the last barrel of beets with a sigh of relief. Selena took the barrel to the cellar and told them, “Go clean yourselves up before dinner!”

“Race you to the creek?” Eragon suggested.

“I’ll save a good spot for you,” Murtagh told him, grinning. He sprinted away, cackling when Eragon shouted indignantly.

Eragon nearly caught up to him as they neared the creek; he snagged his older brother’s sleeve and tugged, and they ended up tumbling onto the bank of the creek, Murtagh ending up half in the water, splitting his sides laughing. Eragon huffed when he found himself sitting in the middle of the creek. Then he frowned.

“Hey, ’Tag,” he said, “did you know there were sapphires by the creek?”

“Sapphires?” Murtagh repeated quizzically. He looked down at the bank. In their roughhousing, they’d disturbed the dark soil that lined the creek.

Beneath the dirt, shining with an otherworldly light in the dappled sunshine, streaks of ruby red and hard sapphire blue had been revealed.

Chapter Text

“If we sold them,” said Eragon, “we could feed our whole family for life. We could get a pig every year! Look at them, they’re huge, they must be worth something.”

Murtagh sighed. “And what would we say when someone asked where we got them?” he asked. “You’re right, they are huge. And polished. Someone buried them for a reason. No one’s going to believe that we found them in the woods.”

The items in question were the red and blue gems the brothers had found by the creek. They’d snuck the huge oblong jewels to their room, and now they had them in the center of their floor. The stones glittered in the warm light from Eragon’s lamp.

“We don’t need to sell them together,” Eragon pointed out. “We sell one, and sell the other one later.”

“What if someone comes looking for them, though?” Murtagh argued.

Eragon shrugged. “We could ask the traders not to tell.”

“That would look very suspicious. Also, no merchant is going to put someone else’s secrecy before their life.”

“How do you know?” Eragon said stubbornly.

Murtagh rolled his eyes. “I don’t, just as I don’t know they’d keep a secret.”

“But they might keep it.”

“You’d put faith in a might? ” Murtagh demanded.

“Well, what else can we do?” Eragon exclaimed.

“Keep your voice down!” Murtagh hissed.

Eragon at least had the sense to take a breath and lower his voice—Brom and Selena were light sleepers. “I don’t know why we’re keeping it a secret anyway,” he said quietly.

“Because these might be Brom’s stones,” said Murtagh. “Think about it—they were buried on our property, they’d obviously been there for a while, and…”

Eragon frowned. “And what?” he pressed.

Murtagh hesitated. “And… I remember he had a bag with him. When we first came here.”

Eragon stilled; his brother didn’t often speak of his life before living in Carvahall.

“And I remember that it was emptier after we settled in Carvahall,” Murtagh continued. “And then it disappeared.”

“But why wouldn’t they— ohmygoshMurtaghitmoved! ” Eragon shrieked, scrambling backward and leaping onto Murtagh’s bed.

“Oi, quiet down—what do you mean, it moved?

“Just watch,” Eragon squeaked, wide-eyed, pointing at the innocuous stones.

“If this is some sort of joke—” Murtagh cut himself off as the red stone wobbled in place, peeping. “Oh.”

Oh?! ” Eragon whisper-shouted. “The stones are alive!

“They aren’t stones,” Murtagh realized, leaning closer to the stones as both of them began rocking, interspersed with chirps and squeaks. “They’re eggs.

Eragon stared at him slack-jawed. “What kind of beast,” he said slowly, “hatches from an egg that big?”

“Come and have a look,” said Murtagh, a smile slowly spreading across his face.

Eragon hesitated. Then he stifled a laugh as the blue stone rocked dramatically, nearly rolling over along its length; he left the bed and cautiously scooted closer. “I guess if they’re eggs,” he said, “then whatever’s inside must be babies.”

“No, I’m sure they’re fully grown and incredibly dangerous,” Murtagh drawled. “What else would they be?”

“Shut up,” Eragon muttered, grabbing Murtagh’s pillow and swinging at his brother. Murtagh batted it out of the way, intent on the eggs.

“Why are they hatching now?” Murtagh wondered.

“And what are they?” Eragon added.

But it seemed that they would have to be patient.

Maybe an hour later, the lamp had burned low, the eggs were still rocking, and Murtagh hadn’t moved, but Eragon was sprawled on his back, watching the eggs with hooded eyes. “Who knew hatching was such an ordeal?” he muttered. “I’m going to die of curiosity, and boredom, before it happens.”

As if in response, the blue egg gave a sudden violent roll, knocking into the red one. They both suddenly stilled, as if startled.

And then, both of them squeaking, they rolled towards each other, crashed together, and then rolled to each other again. Eragon shot upright, reaching for the eggs. “What if they hurt themselves?!”

“I don’t think—” Murtagh cut himself off as the red egg fractured, and began squeaking madly. The blue one chirped in response, almost indignantly, rocking in place. It settled for a moment, then jerked in the direction of the red one—which was still squeaking—and rammed it. Jagged white cracks spread across the blue—

—and then both eggs shattered.

The creatures inside were a mess of flailing limbs and strings of mucus flung away from them. They were red and blue, the same shade as their own eggs; the blue one ended up on top of the red, blinking in surprise, while the red chirped in distress and tried to wriggle free of its sudden load.

When they finally rolled free from each other, both brothers made sounds of amazement—for it was clear, now, from all of their father’s stories, what these creatures had to be. The wide, colorful wings, the long tails, and the sharp points of horns and claws: they were dragons.

Dragons that had just hatched in their bedroom.

Little baby dragons, with big innocent eyes, and curious squeaks as they craned their little heads around, taking in Murtagh and Eragon and the room around them.

The brothers moved at the same time, both of them reaching for both of the dragon hatchlings—but before another thought could run through their heads, a bright light burst in front of their eyes, and a strange burning-cold sensation gripped their arms, and Murtagh grit his teeth but Eragon yelped—

When the light disappeared, it left them blinking. Murtagh pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes, groaning as he was gripped with a sudden headache. What the hell? he thought.

“Look at your hands,” Eragon whispered.

Murtagh scowled at him as he lowered his hands, and then stared wide-eyed at the silver patches that had appeared on each of his palms. “What the hell—did they do that?”

“Dad says that dragons had magic,” Eragon reminded him.

The red one squeaked loudly, as if in agreement, then squeaked again with so much force that it fell over. Eragon laughed quietly and picked the red up, placing it in his lap, where it climbed onto his knee and sat proudly, gazing around with a level stare, as if surveying its kingdom.

The blue one was sniffing around curiously, wobbling around and investigating its surroundings, unbalanced everytime it shifted its wings. Cautiously, Murtagh stretched his hand out, inviting the little beast to consider his scent. The dragon sniffed his hand, then pressed its head against Murtagh’s fingers, like a cat seeking affection.

“Aw, he likes you,” Eragon teased.

“You don’t know its a he,” said Murtagh.

“Well, it would be rude to call them ‘its,’” Eragon pointed out, yawning. The red one yawned at the same time.

Murtagh stifled his own yawn, smiling when the little blue dragon pulled itself into Murtagh’s lap and promptly laid down. “I think they’re trying to tell us something,” he said.

Eragon nodded. “Where are they gonna sleep?” he asked. “With us? What if we roll over onto them? What if they tear up the sheets?”

“They’ll be fine,” Murtagh assured him, brushing the eggshells to the side of the room. “What about this—we’ll do what we used to do when we were little, with Roran. Get all the pillows and blankets from the beds, and we’ll all sleep on the rug.”

“Oh. Good idea,” Eragon agreed. He scooped up the little red dragon, who chirped in surprise, and placed it on his shoulder, where it clung to his sleeping shirt with sharp little claws, and wrapped its tail around his neck for support. Eragon stripped both of the beds, and even opened the cedar chest at the foot of Murtagh’s bed and pulled out extra blankets. “One big nest!” he declared when he was done, extricating the red dragon from his shirt before he laid down.

Murtagh finally succumbed to a yawn, and buried himself in as many blankets as he could. The blue dragon wobbled sleepily up to his pillow, and curled into a little ball beside his face.

The room went dark when Eragon snuffed the light, illuminated only by silver moonbeams falling through the windows. Soon, the room was filled with the slow breathing of the brothers and the little dragons.

Brom woke in the milky twilight before dawn, when the songbirds began to sing, with Selena in his arms. For a long time, he’d never even dared to dream that he would ever wake with her brown hair soft against his cheek, her heartbeat steady in his ear. He could map constellations among the freckles that dusted her shoulders, interspersed with silver lines like shooting stars, souvenirs of old battles. “A lesson learned,” Selena called them.

Stars above, it sometimes scared Brom that he could love one person so much. That love could swell in his chest and threaten to carry him off. The only other creature he’d loved that much…

Are you thinking sappy thoughts again? Saphira asked knowingly.

Brom smiled and closed his eyes, pressing his face to Selena’s shoulder. Always, he said.

Good, she said. You need to check on the boys.

Why? Brom asked, alarmed.

Just go, Saphira insisted.

Why can’t you tell me the reason?

It’s a surprise. You’ll like it. If you don’t, I won’t talk to you for a week.

Selena stirred. “What are you grumbling about?” she asked sleepily.

“Saphira wants me to check on the boys,” Brom mumbled. “Won’t tell me why. Stubborn dragon.”

“Stubborn Rider,” Selena chuckled. “Come on, then. Now I’m curious.” She turned to place a kiss on his beard, then got out of bed, stretching her arms over her head and twisting to the side, lean muscles rippling beneath her sleeping clothes.

Brom smiled at the sight, and then sighed, reluctant to leave the warm bedding. But Selena gave him a knowing look, pulling a shawl over her shoulders as she left the bedroom. He followed, wincing as his joints and toes popped and creaked with every step.

When he reached the landing, he found Selena poking her head into the boys’ shared bedroom. As he approached, she turned back to him, her eyes shining. “Oh, you’re going to love this,” she whispered, almost snickering. “Look!”

Brom looked past her. The room was an absolute mess; the beds had been stripped, and all of their blankets were on the floor. The boys were sound asleep in a nest of bedding, reminiscent of their younger days when they would stay up all night with Roran. Brom smiled at the sight, wondering what had inspired this sudden nostalgia—and then something that was not the boys shifted and yawned. Something with wings. Something bright blue. Something with teeth, and scales, and a tail.