Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle 1) - Page 12

“Defend yourself!” barked Brom, standing.

Eragon looked at the stick in his hand and saw that it was shaped in the crude likeness of a sword. Brom wanted to fight him? What chance did the old man stand? If he wants to play this game, so be it, but if he thinks to beat me, he’s in for a surprise.

He rose as Brom circled the fire. They faced each other for a moment, then Brom charged, swinging his stick. Eragon tried to block the attack but was too slow. He yelped as Brom struck him on the ribs, and stumbled backward.

Without thinking, he lunged forward, but Brom easily parried the blow. Eragon whipped the stick toward Brom’s head, twisted it at the last moment, and then tried to hit his side. The solid smack of wood striking wood resounded through the camp. “Improvisation—good!” exclaimed Brom, eyes gleaming. His arm moved in a blur, and there was an explosion of pain on the side of Eragon’s head. He collapsed like an empty sack, dazed.

A splash of cold water roused him to alertness, and he sat up, sputtering. His head was ringing, and there was dried blood on his face. Brom stood over him with a pan of melted snow water. “You didn’t have to do that,” said Eragon angrily, pushing himself up. He felt dizzy and unsteady.

Brom arched an eyebrow. “Oh? A real enemy wouldn’t soften his blows, and neither will I. Should I pander to your . . . incompetence so you’ll feel better? I don’t think so.” He picked up the stick that Eragon had dropped and held it out. “Now, defend yourself.”

Eragon stared blankly at the piece of wood, then shook his head. “Forget it; I’ve had enough.” He turned away and stumbled as he was whacked loudly across the back. He spun around, growling.

“Never turn your back to the enemy!” snapped Brom, then tossed the stick at him and attacked. Eragon retreated around the fire, beneath the onslaught. “Pull your arms in. Keep your knees bent,” shouted Brom. He continued to give instructions, then paused to show Eragon exactly how to execute a certain move. “Do it again, but this time slowly!” They slid through the forms with exaggerated motions before returning to their furious battle. Eragon learned quickly, but no matter what he tried, he could not hold Brom off for more than a few blows.

When they finished, Eragon flopped on his blankets and groaned. He hurt everywhere—Brom had not been gentle with his stick. Saphira let out a long, coughing growl and curled her lip until a formidable row of teeth showed.

What’s wrong with you? he demanded irritably.

Nothing, she replied. It’s funny to see a hatchling like you beaten by the old one. She made the sound again, and Eragon turned red as he realized that she was laughing. Trying to preserve some dignity, he rolled onto his side and fell asleep.

He felt even worse the next day. Bruises covered his arms, and he was almost too sore to move. Brom looked up from the mush he was serving and grinned. “How do you feel?” Eragon grunted and bolted down the breakfast.

Once on the road, they traveled swiftly so as to reach Therinsford before noon. After a league, the road widened and they saw smoke in the distance. “You’d better tell Saphira to fly ahead and wait for us on the other side of Therinsford,” said Brom. “She has to be careful here, otherwise people are bound to notice her.”

“Why don’t you tell her yourself?” challenged Eragon.

“It’s considered bad manners to interfere with another’s dragon.”

“You didn’t have a problem with it in Carvahall.”

Brom’s lips twitched with a smile. “I did what I had to.”

Eragon eyed him darkly, then relayed the instructions. Saphira warned, Be careful; the Empire’s servants could be hiding anywhere.

As the ruts in the road deepened, Eragon noticed more footprints. Farms signaled their approach to Therinsford. The village was larger than Carvahall, but it had been constructed haphazardly, the houses aligned in no particular order.

“What a mess,” said Eragon. He could not see Dempton’s mill. Baldor and Albriech have surely fetched Roran by now. Either way, Eragon had no wish to face his cousin.

“It’s ugly, if nothing else,” agreed Brom.

The Anora River flowed between them and the town, spanned by a stout bridge. As they approached it, a greasy man stepped from behind a bush and barred their way. His shirt was too short, and his dirty stomach spilled over a rope belt. Behind his cracked lips, his teeth looked like crumbling tombstones. “You c’n stop right there. This’s my bridge. Gotta pay t’ get over.”

“How much?” asked Brom in a resigned voice. He pulled out a pouch, and the bridgekeeper brightened.

“Five crowns,” he said, pulling his lips into a broad smile. Eragon’s temper flared at the exorbitant price, and he started to complain hotly, but Brom silenced him with a quick look. The coins were wordlessly handed over. The man put them into a sack hanging from his belt. “Thank’ee much,” he said in a mocking tone, and stood out of the way.

As Brom stepped forward, he stumbled and caught the bridgekeeper’s arm to support himself. “Watch y’re step,” snarled the grimy man, sidling away.

“Sorry,” apologized Brom, and continued over the bridge with Eragon.

“Why didn’t you haggle? He skinned you alive!” exclaimed Eragon when they were out of earshot. “He probably doesn’t even own the bridge. We could have pushed right past him.”

“Probably,” agreed Brom.

“Then why pay him?”

“Because you can’t argue with all of the fools in the world. It’s easier to let them have their way, then trick them when they’re not paying attention.” Brom opened his hand, and a pile of coins glinted in the light.

“You cut his purse!” said Eragon incredulously.

Brom pocketed the money with a wink. “And it held a surprising amount. He should know better than to keep all these coins in one place.” There was a sudden howl of anguish from the other side of the river. “I’d say our friend has just discovered his loss. If you see any watchmen, tell me.” He grabbed the shoulder of a young boy running between the houses and asked, “Do you know where we can buy horses?” The child stared at them with solemn eyes, then pointed to a large barn near the edge of Therinsford. “Thank you,” said Brom, tossing him a small coin.

The barn’s large double doors were open, revealing two long rows of stalls. The far wall was covered with saddles, harnesses, and other paraphernalia. A man with muscular arms stood at the end, brushing a white stallion. He raised a hand and beckoned for them to come over.

As they approached, Brom said, “That’s a beautiful animal.”

“Yes indeed. His name’s Snowfire. Mine’s Haberth.” Haberth offered a rough palm and shook hands vigorously with Eragon and Brom. There was a polite pause as he waited for their names in return. When they were not forthcoming, he asked, “Can I help you?”

Brom nodded. “We need two horses and a full set of tack for both. The horses have to be fast and tough; we’ll be doing a lot of traveling.”

Haberth was thoughtful for a moment. “I don’t have many animals like that, and the ones I do aren’t cheap.” The stallion moved restlessly; he calmed it with a few strokes of his fingers.

“Price is no object. I’ll take the best you have,” said Brom. Haberth nodded and silently tied the stallion to a stall. He went to the wall and started pulling down saddles and other items. Soon he had two identical piles. Next he walked up the line of stalls and brought out two horses. One was a light bay, the other a roan. The bay tugged against his rope.

“He’s a little spirited, but with a firm hand you won’t have any problems,” said Haberth, handing the bay’s rope to Brom.

Brom let the horse smell his hand; it allowed him to rub its neck. “We’ll take him,” he said, then eyed the roan. “The other one, however, I’m not so sure of.”

“There are some good legs on him.”

“Mmm . . . What will you take for Snowfire?”

Haberth looked fondly at the stallion. “I’d rather not sell him. He’s the finest I’ve ever

bred—I’m hoping to sire a whole line from him.”

“If you were willing to part with him, how much would all of this cost me?” asked Brom.

Eragon tried to put his hand on the bay like Brom had, but it shied away. He automatically reached out with his mind to reassure the horse, stiffening with surprise as he touched the animal’s consciousness. The contact was not clear or sharp like it was with Saphira, but he could communicate with the bay to a limited degree. Tentatively, he made it understand that he was a friend. The horse calmed and looked at him with liquid brown eyes.

Haberth used his fingers to add up the price of the purchase. “Two hundred crowns and no less,” he said with a smile, clearly confident that no one would pay that much. Brom silently opened his pouch and counted out the money.

“Will this do?” he asked.

There was a long silence as Haberth glanced between Snowfire and the coins. A sigh, then, “He is yours, though I go against my heart.”

“I will treat him as if he had been sired by Gildintor, the greatest steed of legend,” said Brom.

“Your words gladden me,” answered Haberth, bowing his head slightly. He helped them saddle the horses. When they were ready to leave, he said, “Farewell, then. For the sake of Snowfire, I hope that misfortune does not befall you.”

“Do not fear; I will guard him well,” promised Brom as they departed. “Here,” he said, handing Snowfire’s reins to Eragon, “go to the far side of Therinsford and wait there.”

“Why?” asked Eragon, but Brom had already slipped away. Annoyed, he exited Therinsford with the two horses and stationed himself beside the road. To the south he saw the hazy outline of Utgard, sitting like a giant monolith at the end of the valley. Its peak pierced the clouds and rose out of sight, towering over the lesser mountains that surrounded it. Its dark, ominous look made Eragon’s scalp tingle.

Brom returned shortly and gestured for Eragon to follow. They walked until Therinsford was hidden by trees. Then Brom said, “The Ra’zac definitely passed this way. Apparently they stopped here to pick up horses, as we did. I was able to find a man who saw them. He described them with many shudders and said that they galloped out of Therinsford like demons fleeing a holy man.”

“They left quite an impression.”


Eragon patted the horses. “When we were in the barn, I touched the bay’s mind by accident. I didn’t know it was possible to do that.”

Brom frowned. “It’s unusual for one as young as you to have the ability. Most Riders had to train for years before they were strong enough to contact anything other than their dragon.” His face was thoughtful as he inspected Snowfire. Then he said, “Take everything from your pack, put it into the saddlebags, and tie the pack on top.” Eragon did so while Brom mounted Snowfire.

Eragon gazed doubtfully at the bay. It was so much smaller than Saphira that for an absurd moment he wondered if it could bear his weight. With a sigh, he awkwardly got into the saddle. He had only ridden horses bareback and never for any distance. “Is this going to do the same thing to my legs as riding Saphira?” he asked.

“How do they feel now?”

“Not too bad, but I think any hard riding will open them up again.”

“We’ll take it easy,” promised Brom. He gave Eragon a few pointers, then they started off at a gentle pace. Before long the countryside began to change as cultivated fields yielded to wilder land. Brambles and tangled weeds lined the road, along with huge rosebushes that clung to their clothes. Tall rocks slanted out of the ground—gray witnesses to their presence. There was an unfriendly feel in the air, an animosity that resisted intruders.

Above them, growing larger with every step, loomed Utgard, its craggy precipices deeply furrowed with snowy canyons. The black rock of the mountain absorbed light like a sponge and dimmed the surrounding area. Between Utgard and the line of mountains that formed the east side of Palancar Valley was a deep cleft. It was the only practical way out of the valley. The road led toward it.

The horses’ hooves clacked sharply over gravel, and the road dwindled to a skinny trail as it skirted the base of Utgard. Eragon glanced up at the peak looming over them and was startled to see a steepled tower perched upon it. The turret was crumbling and in disrepair, but it was still a stern sentinel over the valley. “What is that?” he asked, pointing.

Brom did not look up, but said sadly and with bitterness, “An outpost of the Riders—one that has lasted since their founding. That was where Vrael took refuge, and where, through treachery, he was found and defeated by Galbatorix. When Vrael fell, this area was tainted. Edoc’sil, ‘Unconquerable,’ was the name of this bastion, for the mountain is so steep none may reach the top unless they can fly. After Vrael’s death the commoners called it Utgard, but it has another name, Ristvak’baen—the ‘Place of Sorrow.’ It was known as such to the last Riders before they were killed by the king.”

Eragon stared with awe. Here was a tangible remnant of the Riders’ glory, tarnished though it was by the relentless pull of time. It struck him then just how old the Riders were. A legacy of tradition and heroism that stretched back to antiquity had fallen upon him.

They traveled for long hours around Utgard. It formed a solid wall to their right as they entered the breach that divided the mountain range. Eragon stood in his stirrups; he was impatient to see what lay outside of Palancar, but it was still too far away. For a while they were in a sloped pass, winding over hill and gully, following the Anora River. Then, with the sun low behind their backs, they mounted a rise and saw over the trees.

Eragon gasped. On either side were mountains, but below them stretched a huge plain that extended to the distant horizon and fused into the sky. The plain was a uniform tan, like the color of dead grass. Long, wispy clouds swept by overhead, shaped by fierce winds.

He understood now why Brom had insisted on horses. It would have taken them weeks or months to cover that vast distance on foot. Far above he saw Saphira circling, high enough to be mistaken for a bird.

“We’ll wait until tomorrow to make the descent,” said Brom. “It’s going to take most of the day, so we should camp now.”

“How far across is the plain?” Eragon asked, still amazed.

“Two or three days to over a fortnight, depending on which direction we go. Aside from the nomad tribes that roam this section of the plains, it’s almost as uninhabited as the Hadarac Desert to the east. So we aren’t going to find many villages. However, to the south the plains are less arid and more heavily populated.”

They left the trail and dismounted by the Anora River. As they unsaddled the horses, Brom gestured at the bay. “You should name him.”

Eragon considered it as he picketed the bay. “Well, I don’t have anything as noble as Snowfire, but maybe this will do.” He placed his hand on the bay and said, “I name you Cadoc. It was my grandfather’s name, so bear it well.” Brom nodded in approval, but Eragon felt slightly foolish.

When Saphira landed, he asked, How do the plains look?

Dull. There’s nothing but rabbits and scrub in every direction.

After dinner, Brom stood and barked, “Catch!” Eragon barely had time to raise his arm and grab the piece of wood before it hit him on the head. He groaned as he saw another makeshift sword.

“Not again,” he complained. Brom just smiled and beckoned with one hand. Eragon reluctantly got to his feet. They whirled around in a flurry of smacking wood, and he backed away with a stinging arm.

The training session was shorter than the first, but it was still long enough for Eragon to amass a new collection of bruises. When they finished sparring, he threw down the stick in disgust and stalked away from the fire to nurse his injuries.


The next morning Eragon avoided bringing to mind any of the recent events; they were too painful for him to consider. Instead, he focused his energies on figuring out how to find and kill the Ra’zac. I’ll

do it with my bow, he decided, imagining how the cloaked figures would look with arrows sticking out of them.

He had difficulty even standing up. His muscles cramped with the slightest movement, and one of his fingers was hot and swollen. When they were ready to leave, he mounted Cadoc and said acidly, “If this keeps up, you’re going to batter me to pieces.”

“I wouldn’t push you so hard if I didn’t think you were strong enough.”

“For once, I wouldn’t mind being thought less of,” muttered Eragon.

Cadoc pranced nervously as Saphira approached. Saphira eyed the horse with something close to disgust and said, There’s nowhere to hide on the plains, so I’m not going to bother trying to stay out of sight. I’ll just fly above you from now on.

She took off, and they began the steep descent. In many places the trail all but disappeared, leaving them to find their own way down. At times they had to dismount and lead the horses on foot, holding on to trees to keep from falling down the slope. The ground was scattered with loose rocks, which made the footing treacherous. The ordeal left them hot and irritable, despite the cold.

They stopped to rest when they reached the bottom near midday. The Anora River veered to their left and flowed northward. A biting wind scoured the land, whipping them unmercifully. The soil was parched, and dirt flew into their eyes.

It unnerved Eragon how flat everything was; the plains were unbroken by hummocks or mounds. He had lived his entire life surrounded by mountains and hills. Without them he felt exposed and vulnerable, like a mouse under an eagle’s keen eye.

The trail split in three once it reached the plains. The first branch turned north, toward Ceunon, one of the greatest northern cities; the second one led straight across the plains; and the last went south. They examined all three for traces of the Ra’zac and eventually found their tracks, heading directly into the grasslands.

Tags: Christopher Paolini The Inheritance Cycle Fantasy
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