Eragon found Snowfire, nostrils flared and ears flat against his head, prancing by the corner of a house, ready to bolt. Brom was still slumped motionless in the saddle. Eragon reached out with his mind and soothed the horse. Once Snowfire relaxed, Eragon went to Brom.
There was a long, blood-soaked cut on the old man’s right arm. The wound bled profusely, but it was neither deep nor wide. Still, Eragon knew it had to be bound before Brom lost too much blood. He stroked Snowfire for a moment, then slid Brom out of the saddle. The weight proved too much for him, and Brom dropped heavily to the ground. Eragon was shocked by his own weakness.
A scream of rage filled his head. Saphira dived out of the sky and landed fiercely in front of him, keeping her wings half raised. She hissed angrily, eyes burning. Her tail lashed, and Eragon winced as it snapped overhead. Are you hurt? she asked, rage boiling in her voice.
“No,” he assured her as he laid Brom on his back.
She growled and exclaimed, Where are the ones who did this? I will tear them apart!
He wearily pointed in the direction of the alley. “It’ll do no good; they’re already dead.”
You killed them? Saphira sounded surprised.
He nodded. “Somehow.” With a few terse words, he told her what had happened while he searched his saddlebags for the rags in which Zar’roc had been wrapped.
Saphira said gravely, You have grown.
Eragon grunted. He found a long rag and carefully rolled back Brom’s sleeve. With a few deft strokes he cleaned the cut and bandaged it tightly. I wish we were still in Palancar Valley, he said to Saphira. There, at least, I knew what plants were good for healing. Here, I don’t have any idea what will help him. He retrieved Brom’s sword from the ground, wiped it, then returned it to the sheath on Brom’s belt.
We should leave, said Saphira. There may be more Urgals lurking about.
Can you carry Brom? Your saddle will hold him in place, and you can protect him.
Yes, but I’m not leaving you alone.
Fine, fly next to me, but let’s get out of here. He tied the saddle onto Saphira, then put his arms around Brom and tried to lift him, but again his diminished strength failed him. Saphira—help.
She snaked her head past him and caught the back of Brom’s robe between her teeth. Arching her neck, she lifted the old man off the ground, like a cat would a kitten, and deposited him onto her back. Then Eragon slipped Brom’s legs through the saddle’s straps and tightened them. He looked up when the old man moaned and shifted.
Brom blinked blearily, putting a hand to his head. He gazed down at Eragon with concern. “Did Saphira get here in time?”
Eragon shook his head. “I’ll explain it later. Your arm is injured. I bandaged it as best I could, but you need a safe place to rest.”
“Yes,” said Brom, gingerly touching his arm. “Do you know where my sword . . . Ah, I see you found it.”
Eragon finished tightening the straps. “Saphira’s going to take you and follow me by air.”
“Are you sure you want me to ride her?” asked Brom. “I can ride Snowfire.”
“Not with that arm. This way, even if you faint, you won’t fall off.”
Brom nodded. “I’m honored.” He wrapped his good arm around Saphira’s neck, and she took off in a flurry, springing high into the sky. Eragon backed away, buffeted by the eddies from her wings, and returned to the horses.
He tied Snowfire behind Cadoc, then left Yazuac, returning to the trail and following it southward. It led through a rocky area, veered left, and continued along the bank of the Ninor River. Ferns, mosses, and small bushes dotted the side of the path. It was refreshingly cool under the trees, but Eragon did not let the soothing air lull him into a sense of security. He stopped briefly to fill the waterskins and let the horses drink. Glancing down, he saw the Ra’zac’s spoor. At least we’re going in the right direction. Saphira circled overhead, keeping a keen eye on him.
It disturbed him that they had seen only two Urgals. The villagers had been killed and Yazuac ransacked by a large horde, yet where was it? Perhaps the ones we encountered were a rear guard or a trap left for anyone who was following the main force.
His thoughts turned to how he had killed the Urgals. An idea, a revelation, slowly wormed its way through his mind. He, Eragon—farm boy of Palancar Valley—had used magic. Magic! It was the only word for what had happened. It seemed impossible, but he could not deny what he had seen. Somehow I’ve become a sorcerer or wizard! But he did not know how to use this new power again or what its limits and dangers might be. How can I have this ability? Was it common among the Riders? And if Brom knew of it, why didn’t he tell me? He shook his head in wonder and bewilderment.
He conversed with Saphira to check on Brom’s condition and to share his thoughts. She was just as puzzled as he was about the magic. Saphira, can you find us a place to stay? I can’t see very far down here. While she searched, he continued along the Ninor.
The summons reached him just as the light was fading. Come. Saphira sent him an image of a secluded clearing in the trees by the river. Eragon turned the horses in the new direction and nudged them into a trot. With Saphira’s help it was easy to find, but it was so well hidden that he doubted anyone else would notice it.
A small, smokeless fire was already burning when he entered the clearing. Brom sat next to it, tending his arm, which he held at an awkward angle. Saphira was crouched beside him, her body tense. She looked intently at Eragon and asked, Are you sure you aren’t hurt?
Not on the outside . . . but I’m not sure about the rest of me.
I should have been there sooner.
Don’t feel bad. We all made mistakes today. Mine was not staying closer to you. Her gratitude for that remark washed over him. He looked at Brom. “How are you?”
The old man glanced at his arm. “It’s a large scratch and hurts terribly, but it should heal quickly enough. I need a fresh bandage; this one didn’t last as long as I’d hoped.” They boiled water to wash Brom’s wound. Then Brom tied a fresh rag to his arm and said, “I must eat, and you look hungry as well. Let’s have dinner first, then talk.”
When their bellies were full and warm, Brom lit his pipe. “Now, I think it’s time for you to tell me what transpired while I was unconscious. I am most curious.” His face reflected the flickering firelight, and his bushy eyebrows stuck out fiercely.
Eragon nervously clasped his hands and told the story without embellishment. Brom remained silent throughout it, his face inscrutable. When Eragon finished, Brom looked down at the ground. For a long time the only sound was the snapping fire. Brom finally stirred. “Have you used this power before?”
“No. Do you know anything about it?”
“A little.” Brom’s face was thoughtful. “It seems I owe you a debt for saving my life. I hope I can return the favor someday. You should be proud; few escape unscathed from slaying their first Urgal. But the manner in which you did it was very dangerous. You could have destroyed yourself and the whole town.”
“It wasn’t as if I had a choice,” said Eragon defensively. “The Urgals were almost upon me. If I had waited, they would have chopped me into pieces!”
Brom stamped his teeth vigorously on the pipe stem. “You didn’t have any idea what you were doing.”
“Then tell me,” challenged Eragon. “I’ve been searching for answers to this mystery, but I can’t make sense of it. What happened? How could I have possibly used magic? No one has ever instructed me in it or taught me spells.”
Brom’s eyes flashed. “This isn’t something you should be taught—much less use!”
“Well, I have used it, and I may need it to fight again. But I won’t be able to if you don’t help me. What’s wrong? Is there some secret I’m not supposed to learn until I’m old and wise? Or maybe you don’t know anything about magic!”
“Boy!” roared Brom. “You demand answers with an insolence rarely seen. If you knew what you asked for, you would no
t be so quick to inquire. Do not try me.” He paused, then relaxed into a kinder countenance. “The knowledge you ask for is more complex than you understand.”
Eragon rose hotly in protest. “I feel as though I’ve been thrust into a world with strange rules that no one will explain.”
“I understand,” said Brom. He fiddled with a piece of grass. “It’s late and we should sleep, but I will tell you a few things now, to stop your badgering. This magic—for it is magic—has rules like the rest of the world. If you break the rules, the penalty is death, without exception. Your deeds are limited by your strength, the words you know, and your imagination.”
“What do you mean by words?” asked Eragon.
“More questions!” cried Brom. “For a moment I had hoped you were empty of them. But you are quite right in asking. When you shot the Urgals, didn’t you say something?”
“Yes, brisingr.” The fire flared, and a shiver ran through Eragon. Something about the word made him feel incredibly alive.
“I thought so. Brisingr is from an ancient language that all living things used to speak. However, it was forgotten over time and went unspoken for eons in Alagaësia, until the elves brought it back over the sea. They taught it to the other races, who used it for making and doing powerful things. The language has a name for everything, if you can find it.”
“But what does that have to do with magic?” interrupted Eragon.
“Everything! It is the basis for all power. The language describes the true nature of things, not the superficial aspects that everyone sees. For example, fire is called brisingr. Not only is that a name for fire, it is the name for fire. If you are strong enough, you can use brisingr to direct fire to do whatever you will. And that is what happened today.”
Eragon thought about it for a moment. “Why was the fire blue? How come it did exactly what I wanted, if all I said was fire?”
“The color varies from person to person. It depends on who says the word. As to why the fire did what you wanted, that’s a matter of practice. Most beginners have to spell out exactly what they want to happen. As they gain more experience, it isn’t as necessary. A true master could just say water and create something totally unrelated, like a gemstone. You wouldn’t be able to understand how he had done it, but the master would have seen the connection between water and the gem and would have used that as the focal point for his power. The practice is more of an art than anything else. What you did was extremely difficult.”
Saphira interrupted Eragon’s thoughts. Brom is a magician! That’s how he was able to light the fire on the plains. He doesn’t just know about magic; he can use it himself!
Eragon’s eyes widened. You’re right!
Ask him about this power, but be careful of what you say. It is unwise to trifle with those who have such abilities. If he is a wizard or sorcerer, who knows what his motives might have been for settling in Carvahall?
Eragon kept that in mind as he said carefully, “Saphira and I just realized something. You can use this magic, can’t you? That’s how you started the fire our first day on the plains.”
Brom inclined his head slightly. “I am proficient to some degree.”
“Then why didn’t you fight the Urgals with it? In fact, I can think of many times when it would have been useful—you could have shielded us from the storm and kept the dirt out of our eyes.”
After refilling his pipe, Brom said, “Some simple reasons, really. I am not a Rider, which means that, even at your weakest moment, you are stronger than I. And I have outlived my youth; I’m not as strong as I used to be. Every time I reach for magic, it gets a little harder.”
Eragon dropped his eyes, abashed. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” said Brom as he shifted his arm. “It happens to everyone.”
“Where did you learn to use magic?”
“That is one fact I’ll keep to myself. . . . Suffice it to say, it was in a remote area and from a very good teacher. I can, at the very least, pass on his lessons.” Brom snuffed his pipe with a small rock. “I know that you have more questions, and I will answer them, but they must wait until morning.”
He leaned forward, eyes gleaming. “Until then, I will say this to discourage any experiments: magic takes just as much energy as if you used your arms and back. That is why you felt tired after destroying the Urgals. And that is why I was angry. It was a dreadful risk on your part. If the magic had used more energy than was in your body, it would have killed you. You should use magic only for tasks that can’t be accomplished the mundane way.”
“How do you know if a spell will use all your energy?” asked Eragon, frightened.
Brom raised his hands. “Most of the time you don’t. That’s why magicians have to know their limits well, and even then they are cautious. Once you commit to a task and release the magic, you can’t pull it back, even if it’s going to kill you. I mean this as a warning: don’t try anything until you’ve learned more. Now, enough of this for tonight.”
As they spread out their blankets, Saphira commented with satisfaction, We are becoming more powerful, Eragon, both of us. Soon no one will be able to stand in our way.
Yes, but which way shall we choose?
Whichever one we want, she said smugly, settling down for the night.
MAGIC IS THE
“Why do you think those two Urgals were still in Yazuac?” asked Eragon, after they had been on the trail for a while. “There doesn’t seem to be any reason for them to have stayed behind.”
“I suspect they deserted the main group to loot the town. What makes it odd is that, as far as I know, Urgals have gathered in force only two or three times in history. It’s unsettling that they are doing it now.”
“Do you think the Ra’zac caused the attack?”
“I don’t know. The best thing we can do is continue away from Yazuac at the fastest pace we can muster. Besides, this is the direction the Ra’zac went: south.”
Eragon agreed. “We still need provisions, however. Is there another town nearby?”
Brom shook his head. “No, but Saphira can hunt for us if we must survive on meat alone. This swath of trees may look small to you, but there are plenty of animals in it. The river is the only source of water for many miles around, so most of the plains animals come here to drink. We won’t starve.”
Eragon remained quiet, satisfied with Brom’s answer. As they rode, loud birds darted around them, and the river rushed by peacefully. It was a noisy place, full of life and energy. Eragon asked, “How did that Urgal get you? Things were happening so fast, I didn’t see.”
“Bad luck, really,” grumbled Brom. “I was more than a match for him, so he kicked Snowfire. The idiot of a horse reared and threw me off balance. That was all the Urgal needed to give me this gash.” He scratched his chin. “I suppose you’re still wondering about this magic. The fact that you’ve discovered it presents a thorny problem. Few know it, but every Rider could use magic, though with differing strengths. They kept the ability secret, even at the height of their power, because it gave them an advantage over their enemies. Had everyone known about it, dealing with common people would have been difficult. Many think the king’s magical powers come from the fact that he is a wizard or sorcerer. That’s not true; it is because he’s a Rider.”
“What’s the difference? Doesn’t the fact that I used magic make me a sorcerer?”
“Not at all! A sorcerer, like a Shade, uses spirits to accomplish his will. That is totally different from your power. Nor does that make you a magician, whose powers come without the aid of spirits or a dragon. And you’re certainly not a witch or wizard, who get their powers from various potions and spells.
“Which brings me back to my original point: the problem you’ve presented. Young Riders like yourself were put through a strict regimen designed to strengthen their bodies and increase their mental control. This regimen continued for many months, occasionally years, until the Rider
s were deemed responsible enough to handle magic. Up until then, not one student was told of his potential powers. If one of them discovered magic by accident, he or she was immediately taken away for private tutoring. It was rare for anyone to discover magic on his own,” he inclined his head toward Eragon, “though they were never put under the same pressure you were.”
“Then how were they finally trained to use magic?” asked Eragon. “I don’t see how you could teach it to anyone. If you had tried to explain it to me two days ago, it wouldn’t have made any sense.”
“The students were presented with a series of pointless exercises designed to frustrate them. For example, they were instructed to move piles of stones using only their feet, fill ever draining tubs full of water, and other impossibilities. After a time, they would get infuriated enough to use magic. Most of the time it succeeded.
“What this means,” Brom continued, “is that you will be disadvantaged if you ever meet an enemy who has received this training. There are still some alive who are that old: the king for one, not to mention the elves. Any one of those could tear you apart with ease.”
“What can I do, then?”
“There isn’t time for formal instruction, but we can do much while we travel,” said Brom. “I know many techniques you can practice that will give you strength and control, but you cannot gain the discipline the Riders had overnight. You,” he looked at Eragon humorously, “will have to amass it on the run. It will be hard in the beginning, but the rewards will be great. It may please you to know that no Rider your age ever used magic the way you did yesterday with those two Urgals.”
Eragon smiled at the praise. “Thank you. Does this language have a name?”
Brom laughed. “Yes, but no one knows it. It would be a word of incredible power, something by which you could control the entire language and those who use it. People have long searched for it, but no one has ever found it.”