Two proud warrior figures stood in the room, bent over a large oak table, which had every inch of its surface covered with countless scrolls and maps. However, one map was the focus of the two. This map detailed the whole of the Alagaesian land, with every city, mountain, shoreline and point of entry by ship marked on the yellowing paper. It was the latter two of these observations which were the centre of attention for the two people who pondered over it.
A pair of female hands, roughened by the duties of war, placed tiny figurines on the map. If you looked above the hands, onto the arms, you would see a series of long scars, running up each arm in succession – these were legacies of a test of character, mental power, and strength; of participation in the Trial of the Long Knives. The woman did nothing to hide these blemishes on her otherwise flawless dark skin; rather, she purposely wore sleeveless garments – despite the impropriety – to show people her strength and courage. This woman was not one to be underestimated; this woman was the Queen and Ruler of humans in Alagaesia, and known as simply Nasuada to those close to her.
Presently, she was showing Roran Stronghammer, her most trusted and skilled Commander, where she would be sending her troops to deal with the latest situation. She had lined many red figurines, representing soldiers, along coastlines and sea ports. Amidst each group of soldiers would be a magician, represented by a green figurine. She explained to Roran, ‘These are magicians to be trusted; they have sworn oaths to me and are under my full power.’ These words startled the Commander standing beside her.
Though he shared her views on the unnatural power of magic, Roran believed acts, such as the Queen’s, stripped people of their freedom – not to mention this method of control was one used and abused by the old King. He voiced this concern with the Queen but she only shook her head. ‘Roran, even you must see that this is for the good of all the people in Alagaesia, including them. You and I both know how evil and unnatural magic is, and how unstable wielders of the power are. They are so easily swayed to the wrong side but under my command, they cannot do evil for I would never let them. That is something that sadly your cousin still fails to see.’ What Nasuada and Roran had both failed to see was the third party which was present in the room.
‘Impossible!’ A very irate Eragon exclaimed. ‘The Nasuada I know would never do such a thing. Even when we were fighting the Laughing Dead during the war, though it would have given our men more power on the battlefield, Nasuada did not use the same technique on the Varden warriors.’ The feline creature sitting before him, whose information had been the cause of Eragon’s outburst did not twitch. He stared right back at the Rider and said in a level voice, ‘But she considered it and had wanted to for a while, did she not?’ Silence followed. There was truth in the werecat’s words. Eragon remembered Nasuada approaching him about the topic, and it was he who deterred her from allowing her soldiers subject themselves to the curse of not feeling anything at all on the battlefield. It may have kept the soldiers fighting for longer, but death would be inevitable for all; it was a cruel tactic.
Eragon cursed. He understood Nasuada’s distrust for magic users. Her father‘s downfall was the result of putting trust in the Twins, who were not only magicians, but also secretly in Galbatorix’s service. He also wondered if something had happened to her during her time as captive of the past King that had caused such extreme action towards magic users from her. She had never spoken to anyone about the ordeal. The details of her captivity remained a secret to all and her masked attitude whenever it was breached made it difficult to bring up at all. Eragon suspected Murtagh knew, for he had been under the King’s service at the time, not to mention he was the one who had captured Nasuada from the Varden’s camp. Asking Murtagh, however, could be crossed off the options, for he had not heard from his half-brother for years. In fact he had not heard from him at all since the end of the war.
‘We must go back to Alagaesia, see for ourselves and hear with our own ears the state of the land and the thoughts of the people. We must speak to Nasuada in person; find the roots of this madness.’ Saphira said to both Eragon and the werecat, breaking the silence. An immediate protest came from her Rider, reminding her of the prophecy made long ago. This prophecy foretold that they would leave Alagaesia and never return. In response, Saphira huffed, a puff of smoke escaping her nostrils.‘Nonsense, it may have been inevitable for us to leave, but I see no reason in not being able to return. I am a dragon, and I shall go where I please.’In a softer tone, she added,‘I know Angela’s prophecy has never been wrong before, but we must try. Act as if we never heard of the prophecy. We cannot let it dictate our actions.'
And so it was agreed they would leave by ship the next morning.