“Then the Ra’zac didn’t know about me when they arrived in Carvahall,” said Eragon with wonder.
“That’s right,” replied Brom. “If that ass Sloan had kept his mouth shut, they might not have found out about you. Events could have turned out quite differently. In a way I have you to thank for my life. If the Ra’zac hadn’t become so preoccupied with you, they might have caught me unawares, and that would have been the end of Brom the storyteller. The only reason they ran was because I’m stronger than the two of them, especially during the day. They must have planned to drug me during the night, then question me about the egg.”
“You sent a message to the Varden, telling them about me?”
“Yes. I’m sure they’ll want me to bring you to them as soon as possible.”
“But you’re not going to, are you?”
Brom shook his head. “No, I’m not.”
“Why not? Being with the Varden must be safer than chasing after the Ra’zac, especially for a new Rider.”
Brom snorted and looked at Eragon with fondness. “The Varden are dangerous people. If we go to them, you will be entangled in their politics and machinations. Their leaders may send you on missions just to make a point, even though you might not be strong enough for them. I want you to be well prepared before you go anywhere near the Varden. At least while we pursue the Ra’zac, I don’t have to worry about someone poisoning your water. This is the lesser of two evils. And,” he said with a smile, “it keeps you happy while I train you. . . . Tuatha du orothrim is just a stage in your instruction. I will help you find—and perhaps even kill—the Ra’zac, for they are as much my enemies as yours. But then you will have to make a choice.”
“And that would be . . . ?” asked Eragon warily.
“Whether to join the Varden,” said Brom. “If you kill the Ra’zac, the only ways for you to escape Galbatorix’s wrath will be to seek the Varden’s protection, flee to Surda, or plead for the king’s mercy and join his forces. Even if you don’t kill the Ra’zac, you will still face this choice eventually.”
Eragon knew the best way to gain sanctuary might be to join the Varden, but he did not want to spend his entire life fighting the Empire like they did. He mulled over Brom’s comments, trying to consider them from every angle. “You still didn’t explain how you know so much about dragons.”
“No, I didn’t, did I?” said Brom with a crooked smile. “That will have to wait for another time.”
Why me? Eragon asked himself. What made him so special that he should become a Rider? “Did you ever meet my mother?” he blurted.
Brom looked grave. “Yes, I did.”
“What was she like?”
The old man sighed. “She was full of dignity and pride, like Garrow. Ultimately it was her downfall, but it was one of her greatest gifts nevertheless. . . . She always helped the poor and the less fortunate, no matter what her situation.”
“You knew her well?” asked Eragon, startled.
“Well enough to miss her when she was gone.”
As Cadoc plodded along, Eragon tried to recall when he had thought that Brom was just a scruffy old man who told stories. For the first time Eragon understood how ignorant he had been.
He told Saphira what he had learned. She was intrigued by Brom’s revelations, but recoiled from the thought of being one of Galbatorix’s possessions. At last she said, Aren’t you glad that you didn’t stay in Carvahall? Think of all the interesting experiences you would have missed! Eragon groaned in mock distress.
When they stopped for the day, Eragon searched for water while Brom made dinner. He rubbed his hands together for warmth as he walked in a large circle, listening for a creek or spring. It was gloomy and damp between the trees.
He found a stream a ways from the camp, then crouched on the bank and watched the water splash over the rocks, dipping in his fingertips. The icy mountain water swirled around his skin, numbing it. It doesn’t care what happens to us, or anyone else, thought Eragon. He shivered and stood.
An unusual print on the opposing stream bank caught his attention. It was oddly shaped and very large. Curious, he jumped across the stream and onto a rock shelf. As he landed, his foot hit a patch of damp moss. He grabbed a branch for support, but it broke, and he thrust out his hand to break his fall. He felt his right wrist crack as he hit the ground. Pain lanced up his arm.
A steady stream of curses came out from behind his clenched teeth as he tried not to howl. Half blind with pain, he curled on the ground, cradling his arm. Eragon! came Saphira’s alarmed cry. What happened?
Broke my wrist . . . did something stupid . . . fell.
I’m coming, said Saphira.
No—I can make it back. Don’t . . . come. Trees too close for . . . wings.
She sent him a brief image of her tearing the forest apart to get at him, then said, Hurry.
Groaning, he staggered upright. The print was pressed deeply into the ground a few feet away. It was the mark of a heavy, nail-studded boot. Eragon instantly remembered the tracks that had surrounded the pile of bodies in Yazuac. “Urgal,” he spat, wishing that Zar’roc was with him; he could not use his bow with only one hand. His head snapped up, and he shouted with his mind, Saphira! Urgals! Keep Brom safe.
Eragon leapt back over the stream and raced toward their camp, yanking out his hunting knife. He saw potential enemies behind every tree and bush. I hope there’s only one Urgal. He burst into the camp, ducking as Saphira’s tail swung overhead. “Stop. It’s me!” he yelled.
Oops, said Saphira. Her wings were folded in front of her chest like a wall.
“Oops?” growled Eragon, running to her. “You could’ve killed me! Where’s Brom?”
“I’m right here,” snapped Brom’s voice from behind Saphira’s wings. “Tell your crazy dragon to release me; she won’t listen to me.”
“Let him go!” said Eragon, exasperated. “Didn’t you tell him?”
No, she said sheepishly. You just said to keep him safe. She lifted her wings, and Brom stepped forward angrily.
“I found an Urgal footprint. And it’s fresh.”
Brom immediately turned serious. “Saddle the horses. We’re leaving.” He put out the fire, but Eragon did not move. “What’s wrong with your arm?”
“My wrist is broken,” he said, swaying.
Brom cursed and saddled Cadoc for him. He helped Eragon onto the horse and said, “We have to put a splint on your arm as soon as possible. Try not to move your wrist until then.” Eragon gripped the reins tightly with his left hand. Brom said to Saphira, “It’s almost dark; you might as well fly right overhead. If Urgals show up, they’ll think twice about attacking with you nearby.”
They’d better, or else they won’t think again, remarked Saphira as she took off.
The light was disappearing quickly, and the horses were tired, but they spurred them on without respite. Eragon’s wrist, swollen and red, continued to throb. A mile from the camp, Brom halted. “Listen,” he said.
Eragon heard the faint call of a hunting horn behind them. As it fell silent, panic gripped him. “They must have found where we were,” said Brom, “and probably Saphira’s tracks. They will chase us now. It’s not in their nature to let prey escape.” Then two horns winded. They were closer. A chill ran through Eragon. “Our only chance is to run,” said Brom. He raised his head to the sky, and his face blanked as he called Saphira.
She rushed out of the night sky and landed. “Leave Cadoc. Go with her. You’ll be safer,” commanded Brom.
“What about you?” Eragon protested.
“I’ll be fine. Now go!” Unable to muster the energy to argue, Eragon climbed onto Saphira while Brom lashed Snowfire and rode away with Cadoc. Saphira flew after him, flapping above the galloping horses.
Eragon clung to Saphira as best he could; he winced whenever her movements jostled his wrist. The horns blared nearby, bringing a fresh wave of terror. Brom crashed through the underbrush, forcing the horses to their l
imits. The horns trumpeted in unison close behind him, then were quiet.
Minutes passed. Where are the Urgals? wondered Eragon. A horn sounded, this time in the distance. He sighed in relief, resting against Saphira’s neck, while on the ground Brom slowed his headlong rush. That was close, said Eragon.
Yes, but we cannot stop until— Saphira was interrupted as a horn blasted directly underneath them. Eragon jerked in surprise, and Brom resumed his frenzied retreat. Horned Urgals, shouting with coarse voices, barreled along the trail on horses, swiftly gaining ground. They were almost in sight of Brom; the old man could not outrun them. We have to do something! exclaimed Eragon.
Land in front of the Urgals!
Are you crazy? demanded Saphira.
Land! I know what I’m doing, said Eragon. There isn’t time for anything else. They’re going to overtake Brom!
Very well. Saphira pulled ahead of the Urgals, then turned, preparing to drop onto the trail. Eragon reached for his power and felt the familiar resistance in his mind that separated him from the magic. He did not try to breach it yet. A muscle twitched in his neck.
As the Urgals pounded up the trail, he shouted, “Now!” Saphira abruptly folded her wings and dropped straight down from above the trees, landing on the trail in a spray of dirt and rocks.
The Urgals shouted with alarm and yanked on their horses’ reins. The animals went stiff-legged and collided into each other, but the Urgals quickly untangled themselves to face Saphira with bared weapons. Hate crossed their faces as they glared at her. There were twelve of them, all ugly, jeering brutes. Eragon wondered why they did not flee. He had thought that the sight of Saphira would frighten them away. Why are they waiting? Are they going to attack us or not?
He was shocked when the largest Urgal advanced and spat, “Our master wishes to speak with you, human!” The monster spoke in deep, rolling gutturals.
It’s a trap, warned Saphira before Eragon could say anything. Don’t listen to him.
At least let’s find out what he has to say, he reasoned, curious, but extremely wary. “Who is your master?” he asked.
The Urgal sneered. “His name does not deserve to be given to one as low as yourself. He rules the sky and holds dominance over the earth. You are no more than a stray ant to him. Yet he has decreed that you shall be brought before him, alive. Take heart that you have become worthy of such notice!”
“I’ll never go with you nor any of my enemies!” declared Eragon, thinking of Yazuac. “Whether you serve Shade, Urgal, or some twisted fiend I’ve not heard of, I have no wish to parley with him.”
“That is a grave mistake,” growled the Urgal, showing his fangs. “There is no way to escape him. Eventually you will stand before our master. If you resist, he will fill your days with agony.”
Eragon wondered who had the power to bring the Urgals under one banner. Was there a third great force loose in the land—along with the Empire and the Varden? “Keep your offer and tell your master that the crows can eat his entrails for all I care!”
Rage swept through the Urgals; their leader howled, gnashing his teeth. “We’ll drag you to him, then!” He waved his arm and the Urgals rushed at Saphira. Raising his right hand, Eragon barked, “Jierda!”
No! cried Saphira, but it was too late.
The monsters faltered as Eragon’s palm glowed. Beams of light lanced from his hand, striking each of them in the gut. The Urgals were thrown through the air and smashed into trees, falling senseless to the ground.
Fatigue suddenly drained Eragon of strength, and he tumbled off Saphira. His mind felt hazy and dull. As Saphira bent over him, he realized that he might have gone too far. The energy needed to lift and throw twelve Urgals was enormous. Fear engulfed him as he struggled to stay conscious.
At the edge of his vision he saw one of the Urgals stagger to his feet, sword in hand. Eragon tried to warn Saphira, but he was too weak. No . . . , he thought feebly. The Urgal crept toward Saphira until he was well past her tail, then raised his sword to strike her neck. No! . . . Saphira whirled on the monster, roaring savagely. Her talons slashed with blinding speed. Blood spurted everywhere as the Urgal was rent in two.
Saphira snapped her jaws together with finality and returned to Eragon. She gently wrapped her bloody claws around his torso, then growled and jumped into the air. The night blurred into a pain-filled streak. The hypnotic sound of Saphira’s wings put him in a bleary trance: up, down; up, down; up, down. . . .
When Saphira eventually landed, Eragon was dimly aware of Brom talking with her. Eragon could not understand what they said, but a decision must have been reached because Saphira took off again.
His stupor yielded to sleep that covered him like a soft blanket.
VISION OF PERFECTION
Eragon twisted under the blankets, reluctant to open his eyes. He dozed, then a fuzzy thought entered his mind . . . How did I get here? Confused, he pulled the blankets tighter and felt something hard on his right arm. He tried to move his wrist. It zinged with pain. The Urgals! He bolted upright.
He lay in a small clearing that was empty save a small campfire heating a stew-filled pot. A squirrel chattered on a branch. His bow and quiver rested alongside the blankets. Attempting to stand made him grimace, as his muscles were feeble and sore. There was a heavy splint on his bruised right arm.
Where is everyone? he wondered forlornly. He tried to call Saphira, but to his alarm could not feel her. Ravenous hunger gripped him, so he ate the stew. Still hungry, he looked for the saddlebags, hoping to find a chunk of bread. Neither the saddlebags nor the horses were in the clearing. I’m sure there’s a good reason for this, he thought, suppressing a surge of uneasiness.
He wandered about the clearing, then returned to his blankets and rolled them up. Without anything better to do, he sat against a tree and watched the clouds overhead. Hours passed, but Brom and Saphira did not show up. I hope nothing’s wrong.
As the afternoon dragged on, Eragon grew bored and started to explore the surrounding forest. When he became tired, he rested under a fir tree that leaned against a boulder with a bowl-shaped depression filled with clear dew water.
Eragon stared at the water and thought about Brom’s instructions for scrying. Maybe I can see where Saphira is. Brom said that scrying takes a lot of energy, but I’m stronger than he is. . . . He breathed deeply and closed his eyes. In his mind he formed a picture of Saphira, making it as lifelike as possible. It was more demanding than he expected. Then he said, “Draumr kópa!” and gazed at the water.
Its surface became completely flat, frozen by an invisible force. The reflections disappeared and the water became clear. On it shimmered an image of Saphira. Her surroundings were pure white, but Eragon could see that she was flying. Brom sat on her back, beard streaming, sword on his knees.
Eragon tiredly let the image fade. At least they’re safe. He gave himself a few minutes to recuperate, then leaned back over the water. Roran, how are you? In his mind he saw his cousin clearly. Impulsively, he drew upon the magic and uttered the words.
The water grew still, then the image formed on its surface. Roran appeared, sitting on an invisible chair. Like Saphira, his surroundings were white. There were new lines on Roran’s face—he looked more like Garrow than ever before. Eragon held the image in place as long as he could. Is Roran in Therinsford? He’s certainly nowhere I’ve been.
The strain of using magic had brought beads of sweat to his forehead. He sighed and for a long time was content just to sit. Then an absurd notion struck him. What if I tried to scry something I created with my imagination or saw in a dream? He smiled. Perhaps I’d be shown what my own consciousness looks like.
It was too tempting an idea to pass by. He knelt by the water once again. What shall I look for? He considered a few things, but discarded them all when he remembered his dream about the woman in the cell.
After fixing the scene in his mind, he spoke the words and watched the water intent
ly. He waited, but nothing happened. Disappointed, he was about to release the magic when inky blackness swirled across the water, covering the surface. The image of a lone candle flickered in the darkness, brightening to illuminate a stone cell. The woman from his dream was curled up on a cot in one corner. She lifted her head, dark hair falling back, and stared directly at Eragon. He froze, the force of her gaze keeping him in place. Chills ran up his spine as their eyes locked. Then the woman trembled and collapsed limply.
The water cleared. Eragon rocked back on his heels, gasping. “This can’t be.” She shouldn’t be real; I only dreamed about her! How could she know I was looking at her? And how could I have scryed into a dungeon that I’ve never seen? He shook his head, wondering if any of his other dreams had been visions.
The rhythmic thump of Saphira’s wings interrupted his thoughts. He hurried back to the clearing, arriving just as Saphira landed. Brom was on her back, as Eragon had seen, but his sword was now bloody. Brom’s face was contorted; the edges of his beard were stained red. “What happened?” asked Eragon, afraid that he had been wounded.
“What happened?” roared the old man. “I’ve been trying to clean up your mess!” He slashed the air with the sword, flinging drops of blood along its arc. “Do you know what you did with that little trick of yours? Do you?”
“I stopped the Urgals from catching you,” said Eragon, a pit forming in his stomach.
“Yes,” growled Brom, “but that piece of magic nearly killed you! You’ve been sleeping for two days. There were twelve Urgals. Twelve! But that didn’t stop you from trying to throw them all the way to Teirm, now did it? What were you thinking? Sending a rock through each of their heads would have been the smart thing to do. But no, you had to knock them unconscious so they could run away later. I’ve spent the last two days trying to track them down. Even with Saphira, three escaped!”