“Brom gave it to me. Why?”
Murtagh shoved the sword back and crossed his arms angrily. He was breathing hard. “That sword,” he said with emotion, “was once as well known as its owner. The last Rider to carry it was Morzan—a brutal, savage man. I thought you were a foe of the Empire, yet here I find you bearing one of the Forsworn’s bloody swords!”
Eragon stared at Zar’roc with shock. He realized that Brom must have taken it from Morzan after they fought in Gil’ead. “Brom never told me where it came from,” he said truthfully. “I had no idea it was Morzan’s.”
“He never told you?” asked Murtagh, a note of disbelief in his voice. Eragon shook his head. “That’s strange. I can think of no reason for him to have concealed it.”
“Neither can I. But then, he kept many secrets,” said Eragon. It felt unsettling to hold the sword of the man who had betrayed the Riders to Galbatorix. This blade probably killed many Riders in its time, he thought with revulsion. And worse, dragons! “Even so, I’m going to carry it. I don’t have a sword of my own. Until such time as I get one, I’ll use Zar’roc.”
Murtagh flinched as Eragon said the name. “It’s your choice,” he said. He returned to skinning, keeping his gaze focused downward.
When the meal was ready, Eragon ate slowly, though he was quite hungry. The hot food made him feel better. As they scraped out their bowls, he said, “I have to sell my horse.”
“Why not Brom’s?” asked Murtagh. He seemed to have gotten over his bad temper.
“Snowfire? Because Brom promised to take care of him. Since he . . . isn’t around, I’ll do it for him.”
Murtagh set his bowl on his lap. “If that’s what you want, I’m sure we can find a buyer in some town or village.”
“We?” asked Eragon.
Murtagh looked at him sideways in a calculating way. “You won’t want to stay here for much longer. If the Ra’zac are nearby, Brom’s tomb will be like a beacon for them.” Eragon had not thought of that. “And your ribs are going to take time to heal. I know you can defend yourself with magic, but you need a companion who can lift things and use a sword. I’m asking to travel with you, at least for the time being. But I must warn you, the Empire is searching for me. There’ll be blood over it eventually.”
Eragon laughed weakly and found himself crying because it hurt so much. Once his breath was back, he said, “I don’t care if the entire army is searching for you. You’re right. I do need help. I would be glad to have you along, though I have to talk to Saphira about it. But I have to warn you, Galbatorix just might send the entire army after me. You won’t be any safer with Saphira and me than if you were on your own.”
“I know that,” said Murtagh with a quick grin. “But all the same, it won’t stop me.”
“Good.” Eragon smiled with gratitude.
While they spoke, Saphira crawled into the cave and greeted Eragon. She was glad to see him, but there was deep sadness in her thoughts and words. She laid her big blue head on the floor and asked, Are you well again?
I miss the old one.
As do I . . . I never suspected that he was a Rider. Brom! He really was an old man—as old as the Forsworn. Everything he taught me about magic he must have learned from the Riders themselves.
Saphira shifted slightly. I knew what he was the moment he touched me at your farm.
And you didn’t tell me? Why?
He asked me not to, she said simply.
Eragon decided not to make an issue of it. Saphira never meant to hurt him. Brom kept more than that secret, he told her, then explained about Zar’roc and Murtagh’s reaction to it. I understand now why Brom didn’t explain Zar’roc’s origins when he gave it to me. If he had, I probably would have run away from him at the first opportunity.
You would do well to rid yourself of that sword, she said with distaste. I know it’s a peerless weapon, but you would be better off with a normal blade rather than Morzan’s butchery tool.
Perhaps. Saphira, where does our path go from here? Murtagh offered to come with us. I don’t know his past, but he seems honest enough. Should we go to the Varden now? Only I don’t know how to find them. Brom never told us.
He told me, said Saphira.
Eragon grew angry. Why did he trust you, but not me, with all this knowledge?
Her scales rustled over the dry rock as she stood above him, eyes profound. After we left Teirm and were attacked by the Urgals, he told me many things, some of which I will not speak of unless necessary. He was concerned about his own death and what would happen to you after it. One fact he imparted to me was the name of a man, Dormnad, who lives in Gil’ead. He can help us find the Varden. Brom also wanted you to know that of all the people in Alagaësia, he believed you were the best suited to inherit the Riders’ legacy.
Tears welled in Eragon’s eyes. This was the highest praise he could have ever received from Brom. A responsibility I will bear honorably.
We will go to Gil’ead, then, stated Eragon, strength and purpose returning to him. And what of Murtagh? Do you think he should come with us?
We owe him our lives, said Saphira. But even if that weren’t so, he has seen both you and me. We should keep him close so he doesn’t furnish the Empire with our location and descriptions, willingly or not.
He agreed with her, then told Saphira about his dream. What I saw disturbed me. I feel that time is running out for her; something dreadful is going to happen soon. She’s in mortal danger—I’m sure of it—but I don’t know how to find her! She could be anywhere.
What does your heart say? asked Saphira.
My heart died a while back, said Eragon with a hint of black humor. However, I think we should go north to Gil’ead. With any luck, one of the towns or cities along our path is where this woman is being held. I’m afraid that my next dream of her will show a grave. I couldn’t stand that.
I’m not sure, he said, shrugging. It’s just that when I see her, I feel as if she’s precious and shouldn’t be lost. . . . It’s very strange. Saphira opened her long mouth and laughed silently, fangs gleaming. What is it? snapped Eragon. She shook her head and quietly padded away.
Eragon grumbled to himself, then told Murtagh what they had decided. Murtagh said, “If you find this Dormnad and then continue on to the Varden, I will leave you. Encountering the Varden would be as dangerous for me as walking unarmed into Urû’baen with a fanfare of trumpets to announce my arrival.”
“We won’t have to part anytime soon,” said Eragon. “It’s a long way to Gil’ead.” His voice cracked slightly, and he squinted at the sun to distract himself. “We should leave before the day grows any older.”
“Are you strong enough to travel?” asked Murtagh, frowning.
“I have to do something or I’ll go crazy,” said Eragon brusquely. “Sparring, practicing magic, or sitting around twiddling my thumbs aren’t good options right now, so I choose to ride.”
They doused the fire, packed, and led the horses out of the cave. Eragon handed Cadoc’s and Snowfire’s reins to Murtagh, saying, “Go on, I’ll be right down.” Murtagh began the slow descent from the cave.
Eragon struggled up the sandstone, resting when his side made it impossible to breathe. When he reached the top, he found Saphira already there. They stood together before Brom’s grave and paid their last respects. I can’t believe he’s gone . . . forever. As Eragon turned to depart, Saphira snaked out her long neck to touch the tomb with the tip of her nose. Her sides vibrated as a low humming filled the air.
The sandstone around her nose shimmered like gilded dew, turning clear with dancing silver highlights. Eragon watched in wonder as tendrils of white diamond twisted over the tomb’s surface in a web of priceless filigree. Sparkling shadows were cast on the ground, reflecting splashes of brilliant colors that shifted dazzlingly as the sandstone continued to change. With a satisfied snort, Saphira stepped back and examined her
The sculpted sandstone mausoleum of moments before had transformed into a sparkling gemstone vault—under which Brom’s untouched face was visible. Eragon gazed with yearning at the old man, who seemed to be only sleeping. “What did you do?” he asked Saphira with awe.
I gave him the only gift I could. Now time will not ravage him. He can rest in peace for eternity.
Thank you. Eragon put a hand on her side, and they left together.
CAPTURE AT GIL’EAD
Riding was extremely painful for Eragon—his broken ribs prevented them from going faster than a walk, and it was impossible for him to breathe deeply without a burst of agony. Nevertheless, he refused to stop. Saphira flew close by, her mind linked with his for solace and strength.
Murtagh rode confidently beside Cadoc, flowing smoothly with his horse’s movements. Eragon watched the gray animal for a while. “You have a beautiful horse. What’s his name?”
“Tornac, after the man who taught me how to fight.” Murtagh patted the horse’s side. “He was given to me when he was just a foal. You’d be hard pressed to find a more courageous and intelligent animal in all of Alagaësia, Saphira excepted, of course.”
“He is a magnificent beast,” said Eragon admiringly.
Murtagh laughed. “Yes, but Snowfire is as close to his match as I’ve ever seen.”
They covered only a short distance that day, yet Eragon was glad to be on the move again. It kept his mind off other, more morbid matters. They were riding through unsettled land. The road to Dras-Leona was several leagues to their left. They would skirt the city by a wide margin on the way to Gil’ead, which was almost as far to the north as Carvahall.
They sold Cadoc in a small village. As the horse was led away by his new owner, Eragon regretfully pocketed the few coins he had gained from the transaction. It was difficult to relinquish Cadoc after crossing half of Alagaësia—and outracing Urgals—on him.
The days rolled by unnoticed as their small group traveled in isolation. Eragon was pleased to find that he and Murtagh shared many of the same interests; they spent hours debating the finer points of archery and hunting.
There was one subject, however, they avoided discussing by unspoken consent: their pasts. Eragon did not explain how he had found Saphira, met Brom, or where he came from. Murtagh was likewise mute as to why the Empire was chasing him. It was a simple arrangement, but it worked.
Yet because of their proximity, it was inevitable that they learned about each other. Eragon was intrigued by Murtagh’s familiarity with the power struggles and politics within the Empire. He seemed to know what every noble and courtier was doing and how it affected everyone else. Eragon listened carefully, suspicions whirling through his mind.
The first week went by without any sign of the Ra’zac, which allayed some of Eragon’s fears. Even so, they still kept watches at night. Eragon had expected to encounter Urgals on the way to Gil’ead, but they found no trace of them. I thought these remote places would be teeming with monsters, he mused. Still, I’m not one to complain if they’ve gone elsewhere.
He dreamed of the woman no more. And though he tried to scry her, he saw only an empty cell. Whenever they passed a town or city, he checked to see if it had a jail. If it did, he would disguise himself and visit it, but she was not to be found. His disguises became increasingly elaborate as he saw notices featuring his name and description—and offering a substantial reward for his capture—posted in various towns.
Their travels north forced them toward the capital, Urû’baen. It was a heavily populated area, which made it difficult to escape notice. Soldiers patrolled the roads and guarded the bridges. It took them several tense, irritable days to skirt the capital.
Once they were safely past Urû’baen, they found themselves on the edge of a vast plain. It was the same one that Eragon had crossed after leaving Palancar Valley, except now he was on the opposite side. They kept to the perimeter of the plain and continued north, following the Ramr River.
Eragon’s sixteenth birthday came and went during this time. At Carvahall a celebration would have been held for his entrance into manhood, but in the wilderness he did not even mention it to Murtagh.
At nearly six months of age, Saphira was much larger. Her wings were massive; every inch of them was needed to lift her muscular body and thick bones. The fangs that jutted from her jaw were nearly as thick around as Eragon’s fist, their points as sharp as Zar’roc.
The day finally came when Eragon unwrapped his side for the last time. His ribs had healed completely, leaving him with only a small scar where the Ra’zac’s boot had cut his side. As Saphira watched, he stretched slowly, then with increasing vigor when there was no pain. He flexed his muscles, pleased. In an earlier time he would have smiled, but after Brom’s death, such expressions did not come easily.
He tugged his tunic on and walked back to the small fire they had made. Murtagh sat next to it, whittling a piece of wood. Eragon drew Zar’roc. Murtagh tensed, though his face remained calm. “Now that I am strong enough, would you like to spar?” asked Eragon.
Murtagh tossed the wood to the side. “With sharpened swords? We could kill each other.”
“Here, give me your sword,” said Eragon. Murtagh hesitated, then handed over his long hand-and-a-half sword. Eragon blocked the edges with magic, the way Brom had taught him. While Murtagh examined the blade, Eragon said, “I can undo that once we’re finished.”
Murtagh checked the balance of his sword. Satisfied, he said, “It will do.” Eragon safed Zar’roc, settled into a crouch, then swung at Murtagh’s shoulder. Their swords met in midair. Eragon disengaged with a flourish, thrust, and then riposted as Murtagh parried, dancing away.
He’s fast! thought Eragon.
They struggled back and forth, trying to batter each other down. After a particularly intense series of blows, Murtagh started laughing. Not only was it impossible for either of them to gain an advantage, but they were so evenly matched that they tired at the same rate. Acknowledging with grins each other’s skill, they fought on until their arms were leaden and sweat poured off their sides.
Finally Eragon called, “Enough, halt!” Murtagh stopped in mid-blow and sat down with a gasp. Eragon staggered to the ground, his chest heaving. None of his fights with Brom had been this fierce.
As he gulped air, Murtagh exclaimed, “You’re amazing! I’ve studied swordplay all my life, but never have I fought one like you. You could be the king’s weapon master if you wanted to.”
“You’re just as good,” observed Eragon, still panting. “The man who taught you, Tornac, could make a fortune with a fencing school. People would come from all parts of Alagaësia to learn from him.”
“He’s dead,” said Murtagh shortly.
Thus it became their custom to fight in the evening, which kept them lean and fit, like a pair of matched blades. With his return to health, Eragon also resumed practicing magic. Murtagh was curious about it and soon revealed that he knew a surprising amount about how it worked, though he lacked the precise details and could not use it himself. Whenever Eragon practiced speaking in the ancient language, Murtagh would listen quietly, occasionally asking what a word meant.
On the outskirts of Gil’ead they stopped the horses side by side. It had taken them nearly a month to reach it, during which time spring had finally nudged away the remnants of winter. Eragon had felt himself changing during the trip, growing stronger and calmer. He still thought about Brom and spoke about him with Saphira, but for the most part he tried not to awaken painful memories.
From a distance they could see the city was a rough, barbaric place, filled with log houses and yapping dogs. There was a rambling stone fortress at its center. The air was hazy with blue smoke. The place seemed more like a temporary trading post than a permanent city. Five miles beyond it was the hazy outline of Isenstar Lake.
They decided to camp two miles from the city, for safety. While t
heir dinner simmered, Murtagh said, “I’m not sure you should be the one to go into Gil’ead.”
“Why? I can disguise myself well enough,” said Eragon. “And Dormnad will want to see the gedwëy ignasia as proof that I really am a Rider.”
“Perhaps,” said Murtagh, “but the Empire wants you much more than me. If I’m captured, I could eventually escape. But if you are taken, they’ll drag you to the king, where you’ll be in for a slow death by torture—unless you join him. Plus, Gil’ead is one of the army’s major staging points. Those aren’t houses out there; they’re barracks. Going in there would be like handing yourself to the king on a gilded platter.”
Eragon asked Saphira for her opinion. She wrapped her tail around his legs and lay next to him. You shouldn’t have to ask me; he speaks sense. There are certain words I can give him that will convince Dormnad of his truthfulness. And Murtagh’s right; if anyone is to risk capture it should be him, because he would live through it.
He grimaced. I don’t like letting him put himself in danger for us. “All right, you can go,” he said reluctantly. “But if anything goes wrong, I’m coming after you.”
Murtagh laughed. “That would be fit for a legend: how a lone Rider took on the king’s army single-handedly.” He chuckled again and stood. “Is there anything I should know before going?”
“Shouldn’t we rest and wait until tomorrow?” asked Eragon cautiously.
“Why? The longer we stay here, the greater the chance that we’ll be discovered. If this Dormnad can take you to the Varden, then he needs to be found as quickly as possible. Neither of us should remain near Gil’ead longer than a few days.”
Again wisdom flies from his mouth, commented Saphira dryly. She told Eragon what should be said to Dormnad, and he relayed the information to Murtagh.
“Very well,” said Murtagh, adjusting his sword. “Unless there’s trouble, I’ll be back within a couple of hours. Make sure there’s some food left for me.” With a wave of his hand, he jumped onto Tornac and rode away. Eragon sat by the fire, tapping Zar’roc’s pommel apprehensively.