When dawn came, the dragon was sitting atop his bedpost, like an ancient sentinel welcoming the new day. Eragon marveled at its color. He had never seen such a clear, hard blue. Its scales were like hundreds of small gemstones. He noticed that the white oval on his palm, where he had touched the dragon, had a silvery sheen. He hoped he could hide it by keeping his hands dirty.
The dragon launched off the post and glided to the floor. Eragon gingerly picked it up and left the quiet house, pausing to grab meat, several leather strips, and as many rags as he could carry. The crisp morning was beautiful; a fresh layer of snow covered the farm. He smiled as the small creature looked around with interest from the safety of his arms.
Hurrying across the fields, he walked silently into the dark forest, searching for a safe place for the dragon to stay. Eventually he found a rowan tree standing alone on a barren knoll, its branches snow-tipped gray fingers that reached toward the sky. He set the dragon down by the base of the trunk and shook the leather onto the ground.
With a few deft movements, he made a noose and slipped it over the dragon’s head as it explored the snowy clumps surrounding the tree. The leather was worn, but it would hold. He watched the dragon crawl around, then untied the noose from its neck and fashioned a makeshift harness for its legs so the dragon would not strangle itself. Next he gathered an armful of sticks and built a crude hut high in the branches, layering the inside with rags and stashing the meat. Snow fell on his face as the tree swayed. He hung more rags over the front of the shelter to keep heat inside. Pleased, he surveyed his work.
“Time to show you your new home,” he said, and lifted the dragon up into the branches. It wriggled, trying to get free, then clambered into the hut, where it ate a piece of meat, curled up, and blinked coyly at him. “You’ll be fine as long as you stay in here,” he instructed. The dragon blinked again.
Sure that it had not understood him, Eragon groped with his mind until he felt the dragon’s consciousness. Again he had the terrible feeling of openness—of a space so large it pressed down on him like a heavy blanket. Summoning his strength, he focused on the dragon and tried to impress on it one idea: Stay here. The dragon stopped moving and cocked its head at him. He pushed harder: Stay here. A dim acknowledgment came tentatively through the link, but Eragon wondered if it really understood. After all, it’s only an animal. He retreated from the contact with relief and felt the safety of his own mind envelop him.
Eragon left the tree, casting glances backward. The dragon stuck its head out of the shelter and watched with large eyes as he left.
After a hurried walk home, he sneaked back into his room to dispose of the egg fragments. He was sure Garrow and Roran would not notice the egg’s absence—it had faded from their thoughts after they learned it could not be sold. When his family got up, Roran mentioned that he had heard some noises during the night but, to Eragon’s relief, did not pursue the issue.
Eragon’s enthusiasm made the day go by quickly. The mark on his hand proved easy to hide, so he soon stopped worrying about it. Before long he headed back to the rowan, carrying sausages he had pilfered from the cellar. With apprehension, he approached the tree. Is the dragon able to survive outside in winter?
His fears were groundless. The dragon was perched on a branch, gnawing on something between its front legs. It started squeaking excitedly when it saw him. He was pleased to see that it had remained in the tree, above the reach of large predators. As soon as he dropped the sausages at the base of the trunk, the dragon glided down. While it voraciously tore apart the food, Eragon examined the shelter. All the meat he had left was gone, but the hut was intact, and tufts of feathers littered the floor. Good. It can get its own food.
It struck him that he did not know if the dragon was a he or a she. He lifted and turned it over, ignoring its squeals of displeasure, but was unable to find any distinguishing marks. It seems like it won’t give up any secrets without a struggle.
He spent a long time with the dragon. He untied it, set it on his shoulder, and went to explore the woods. The snow-laden trees watched over them like solemn pillars of a great cathedral. In that isolation, Eragon showed the dragon what he knew about the forest, not caring if it understood his meaning. It was the simple act of sharing that mattered. He talked to it continuously. The dragon gazed back at him with bright eyes, drinking in his words. For a while he just sat with it resting in his arms and watched it with wonder, still stunned by recent events. Eragon started for home at sunset, conscious of two hard blue eyes drilling into his back, indignant at being left behind.
That night he brooded about all the things that could happen to a small and unprotected animal. Thoughts of ice storms and vicious animals tormented him. It took hours for him to find sleep. His dreams were of foxes and black wolves tearing at the dragon with bloody teeth.
In the sunrise glow, Eragon ran from the house with food and scraps of cloth—extra insulation for the shelter. He found the dragon awake and safe, watching the sunrise from high in the tree. He fervently thanked all the gods, known and unknown. The dragon came down to the ground as he approached and leapt into his arms, huddling close to his chest. The cold had not harmed it, but it seemed frightened. A puff of dark smoke blew out of its nostrils. He stroked it comfortingly and sat with his back to the rowan, murmuring softly. He kept still as the dragon buried its head in his coat. After a while it crawled out of his embrace and onto his shoulder. He fed it, then wrapped the new rags around the hut. They played together for a time, but Eragon had to return to the house before long.
A smooth routine was quickly established. Every morning Eragon ran out to the tree and gave the dragon breakfast before hurrying back. During the day he attacked his chores until they were finished and he could visit the dragon again. Both Garrow and Roran noted his behavior and asked why he spent so much time outside. Eragon just shrugged and started checking to make sure he was not followed to the tree.
After the first few days he stopped worrying that a mishap would befall the dragon. Its growth was explosive; it would soon be safe from most dangers. The dragon doubled in size in the first week. Four days later it was as high as his knee. It no longer fit inside the hut in the rowan, so Eragon was forced to build a hidden shelter on the ground. The task took him three days.
When the dragon was a fortnight old, Eragon was compelled to let it roam free because it needed so much food. The first time he untied it, only the force of his will kept it from following him back to the farm. Every time it tried, he pushed it away with his mind until it learned to avoid the house and its other inhabitants.
And he impressed on the dragon the importance of hunting only in the Spine, where there was less chance of being seen. Farmers would notice if game started disappearing from Palancar Valley. It made him feel both safer and uneasy when the dragon was so far away.
The mental contact he shared with the dragon waxed stronger each day. He found that although it did not comprehend words, he could communicate with it through images or emotions. It was an imprecise method, however, and he was often misunderstood. The range at which they could touch each other’s thoughts expanded rapidly. Soon Eragon could contact the dragon anywhere within three leagues. He often did so, and the dragon, in turn, would lightly brush against his mind. These mute conversations filled his working hours. There was always a small part of him connected to the dragon, ignored at times, but never forgotten. When he talked with people, the contact was distracting, like a fly buzzing in his ear.
As the dragon matured, its squeaks deepened to a roar and the humming became a low rumble, yet the dragon did not breathe fire, which concerned him. He had seen it blow smoke when it was upset, but there was never a hint of flame.
When the month ended, Eragon’s elbow was level with the dragon’s shoulder. In that brief span, it had transformed from a small, weak animal into a powerful beast. Its hard scales were as tough as chain-mail armor, its teeth like daggers.
Eragon took long walks
in the evening with the dragon padding beside him. When they found a clearing, he would settle against a tree and watch the dragon soar through the air. He loved to see it fly and regretted that it was not yet big enough to ride. He often sat beside the dragon and rubbed its neck, feeling sinews and corded muscles flex under his hands.
Despite Eragon’s efforts, the forest around the farm filled with signs of the dragon’s existence. It was impossible to erase all the huge four-clawed footprints sunk deep in the snow, and he refused even to try to hide the giant dung heaps that were becoming far too common. The dragon had rubbed against trees, stripping off the bark, and had sharpened its claws on dead logs, leaving gashes inches deep. If Garrow or Roran went too far beyond the farm’s boundaries, they would discover the dragon. Eragon could imagine no worse way for the truth to come out, so he decided to preempt it by explaining everything to them.
He wanted to do two things first, though: give the dragon a suitable name and learn more about dragons in general. To that end he needed to talk with Brom, master of epics and legends—the only places where dragonlore survived.
So when Roran went to get a chisel repaired in Carvahall, Eragon volunteered to go with him.
The evening before they left, Eragon went to a small clearing in the forest and called the dragon with his mind. After a moment he saw a fast-moving speck in the dusky sky. The dragon dived toward him, pulled up sharply, then leveled off above the trees. He heard a low-pitched whistle as air rushed over its wings. It banked slowly to his left and spiraled gently down to the ground. The dragon back-flapped for balance with a deep, muffled thwump as it landed.
Eragon opened his mind, still uncomfortable with the strange sensation, and told the dragon that he was leaving. It snorted with unease. He attempted to soothe it with a calming mental picture, but the dragon whipped its tail, unsatisfied. He rested his hand on its shoulder and tried to radiate peace and serenity. Scales bumped under his fingers as he patted it gently.
A single word rang in his head, deep and clear.
It was solemn and sad, as if an unbreakable pact were being sealed. He stared at the dragon and a cold tingle ran down his arm.
A hard knot formed in his stomach as unfathomable sapphire eyes gazed back at him. For the first time he did not think of the dragon as an animal. It was something else, something . . . different. He raced home, trying to escape the dragon. My dragon.
TEA FOR TWO
Roran and Eragon parted at the outskirts of Carvahall. Eragon walked slowly to Brom’s house, engrossed in his thoughts. He stopped at the doorstep and raised his hand to knock.
A voice rasped, “What do you want, boy?”
He whirled around. Behind him Brom leaned on a twisted staff embellished with strange carvings. He wore a brown hooded robe like a friar. A pouch hung from the scuffed leather belt clasped around his waist. Above his white beard, a proud eagle nose hooked over his mouth and dominated his face. He peered at Eragon with deep-set eyes shadowed by a gnarled brow and waited for his reply.
“To get information,” Eragon said. “Roran is getting a chisel fixed and I had free time, so I came to see if you could answer a few questions.”
The old man grunted and reached for the door. Eragon noticed a gold ring on his right hand. Light glinted off a sapphire, highlighting a strange symbol carved on its face. “You might as well come in; we’ll be talking awhile. Your questions never seem to end.” Inside, the house was darker than charcoal, an acrid smell heavy in the air. “Now, for a light.” Eragon heard the old man move around, then a low curse as something crashed to the floor. “Ah, here we go.” A white spark flashed; a flame wavered into existence.
Brom stood with a candle before a stone fireplace. Stacks of books surrounded a high-backed, deeply carved wooden chair that faced the mantel; the four legs were shaped like eagle claws, and the seat and back were padded with leather embossed with a swirling rose pattern. A cluster of lesser chairs held piles of scrolls. Ink pots and pens were scattered across a writing desk. “Make room for yourself, but by the lost kings, be careful. This stuff is valuable.”
Eragon stepped over pages of parchment covered with angular runes. He gently lifted cracking scrolls off a chair and placed them on the floor. A cloud of dust flew into the air as he sat. He stifled a sneeze.
Brom bent down and lit the fire with his candle. “Good! Nothing like sitting by a fire for conversation.” He threw back his hood to reveal hair that was not white, but silver, then hung a kettle over the flames and settled into the high-backed chair.
“Now, what do you want?” He addressed Eragon roughly, but not unkindly.
“Well,” said Eragon, wondering how best to approach the subject, “I keep hearing about the Dragon Riders and their supposed accomplishments. Most everyone seems to want them to return, but I’ve never heard tell of how they were started, where the dragons came from, or what made the Riders special—aside from the dragons.”
“A vast subject to tell about,” grumbled Brom. He peered at Eragon alertly. “If I told you their whole story, we would still be sitting here when winter comes again. It will have to be reduced to a manageable length. But before we start properly, I need my pipe.”
Eragon waited patiently as Brom tamped down the tobacco. He liked Brom. The old man was irascible at times, but he never seemed to mind taking time for Eragon. Eragon had once asked him where he came from, and Brom had laughed, saying, “A village much like Carvahall, only not quite as interesting.” Curiosity aroused, Eragon asked his uncle. But Garrow could only tell him that Brom had bought a house in Carvahall nearly fifteen years ago and had lived there quietly ever since.
Brom used a tinderbox to light the pipe. He puffed a few times, then said, “There . . . we won’t have to stop, except for the tea. Now, about the Riders, or the Shur’tugal, as they are called by the elves. Where to start? They spanned countless years and, at the height of their power, held sway over twice the Empire’s lands. Numerous stories have been told about them, most nonsense. If you believed everything said, you would expect them to have the powers of a lesser god. Scholars have devoted entire lives to separating these fictions from fact, but it’s doubtful any of them will succeed. However, it isn’t an impossible task if we confine ourselves to the three areas you specified: how the Riders began, why they were so highly regarded, and where dragons came from. I shall start with the last item.” Eragon settled back and listened to the man’s mesmerizing voice.
“Dragons have no beginning, unless it lies with the creation of Alagaësia itself. And if they have an end, it will be when this world perishes, for they suffer as the land does. They, the dwarves, and a few others are the true inhabitants of this land. They lived here before all others, strong and proud in their elemental glory. Their world was unchanging until the first elves sailed over the sea on their silver ships.”
“Where did the elves come from?” interrupted Eragon. “And why are they called the fair folk? Do they really exist?”
Brom scowled. “Do you want your original questions answered or not? They won’t be if you want to explore every obscure piece of knowledge.”
“Sorry,” said Eragon. He dipped his head and tried to look contrite.
“No, you’re not,” said Brom with some amusement. He shifted his gaze to the fire and watched it lick the underside of the kettle. “If you must know, elves are not legends, and they are called the fair folk because they are more graceful than any of the other races. They come from what they call Alalea, though none but they know what, or even where, it is.
“Now,” he glared from under his bushy eyebrows to make sure there would be no more interruptions, “the elves were a proud race then, and strong in magic. At first they regarded dragons as mere animals. From that belief rose a deadly mistake. A brash elven youth hunted down a dragon, as he would a stag, and killed it. Outraged, the dragons ambushed and slaughtered the elf. Unfortunately,
the bloodletting did not stop there. The dragons massed together and attacked the entire elven nation. Dismayed by the terrible misunderstanding, the elves tried to end the hostilities, but couldn’t find a way to communicate with the dragons.
“Thus, to greatly abbreviate a complicated series of occurrences, there was a very long and very bloody war, which both sides later regretted. At the beginning the elves fought only to defend themselves, for they were reluctant to escalate the fighting, but the dragons’ ferocity eventually forced them to attack for their own survival. This lasted for five years and would have continued for much longer if an elf called Eragon hadn’t found a dragon egg.” Eragon blinked in surprise. “Ah, I see you didn’t know of your namesake,” said Brom.
“No.” The teakettle whistled stridently. Why was I named after an elf?
“Then you should find this all the more interesting,” said Brom. He hooked the kettle out of the fire and poured boiling water into two cups. Handing one to Eragon, he warned, “These leaves don’t need to steep long, so drink it quickly before it gets too strong.” Eragon tried a sip, but scalded his tongue. Brom set his own cup aside and continued smoking the pipe.
“No one knows why that egg was abandoned. Some say the parents were killed in an elven attack. Others believe the dragons purposefully left it there. Either way, Eragon saw the value of raising a friendly dragon. He cared for it secretly and, in the custom of the ancient language, named him Bid’Daum. When Bid’Daum had grown to a good size, they traveled together among the dragons and convinced them to live in peace with the elves. Treaties were formed between the two races. To ensure that war would never break out again, they decided that it was necessary to establish the Riders.