Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle 1) - Page 34

The images stopped. It is far, said Arya, but do not let the distance dissuade you. When you arrive at the lake Kóstha-mérna at the end of the Beartooth River, take a rock, bang on the cliff next to the waterfall, and cry, Aí varden abr du Shur’tugals gata vanta. You will be admitted. You will be challenged, but do not falter no matter how perilous it seems.

What should they give you for the poison? he asked.

Her voice quavered, but then she regained her strength. Tell them—to give me Túnivor’s Nectar. You must leave me now . . . I have expended too much energy already. Do not talk with me again unless there is no hope of reaching the Varden. If that is the case, there is information I must impart to you so the Varden will survive. Farewell, Eragon, rider of dragons . . . my life is in your hands.

Arya withdrew from their contact. The unearthly strains that had echoed across their link were gone. Eragon took a shuddering breath and forced his eyes open. Murtagh and Saphira stood on either side of him, watching with concern. “Are you all right?” asked Murtagh. “You’ve been kneeling here for almost fifteen minutes.”

“I have?” asked Eragon, blinking.

Yes, and grimacing like a pained gargoyle, commented Saphira dryly.

Eragon stood, wincing as his cramped knees stretched. “I talked with Arya!” Murtagh frowned quizzically, as if to inquire if he had gone mad. Eragon explained, “The elf—that’s her name.”

And what is it that ails her? asked Saphira impatiently.

Eragon swiftly told them of his entire discussion. “How far away are the Varden?” asked Murtagh.

“I’m not exactly sure,” confessed Eragon. “From what she showed me, I think it’s even farther than from here to Gil’ead.”

“And we’re supposed to cover that in three or four days?” demanded Murtagh angrily. “It took us five long days to get here! What do you want to do, kill the horses? They’re exhausted as it is.”

“But if we do nothing, she’ll die! If it’s too much for the horses, Saphira can fly ahead with Arya and me; at least we would get to the Varden in time. You could catch up with us in a few days.”

Murtagh grunted and crossed his arms. “Of course. Murtagh the pack animal. Murtagh the horse leader. I should have remembered that’s all I’m good for nowadays. Oh, and let’s not forget, every soldier in the Empire is searching for me now because you couldn’t defend yourself, and I had to go and save you. Yes, I suppose I’ll just follow your instructions and bring up the horses in the rear like a good servant.”

Eragon was bewildered by the sudden venom in Murtagh’s voice. “What’s wrong with you? I’m grateful for what you did. There’s no reason to be angry with me! I didn’t ask you to accompany me or to rescue me from Gil’ead. You chose that. I haven’t forced you to do anything.”

“Oh, not openly, no. What else could I do but help you with the Ra’zac? And then later, at Gil’ead, how could I have left with a clear conscience? The problem with you,” said Murtagh, poking Eragon in the chest, “is that you’re so totally helpless you force everyone to take care of you!”

The words stung Eragon’s pride; he recognized a grain of truth in them. “Don’t touch me,” he growled.

Murtagh laughed, a harsh note in his voice. “Or what, you’ll punch me? You couldn’t hit a brick wall.” He went to shove Eragon again, but Eragon grabbed his arm and struck him in the stomach.

“I said, don’t touch me!”

Murtagh doubled over, swearing. Then he yelled and launched himself at Eragon. They fell in a tangle of arms and legs, pounding on each other. Eragon kicked at Murtagh’s right hip, missed, and grazed the fire. Sparks and burning embers scattered through the air.

They scrabbled across the ground, trying to get leverage. Eragon managed to get his feet under Murtagh’s chest and kicked mightily. Murtagh flew upside down over Eragon’s head, landing flat on his back with a solid thump.

Murtagh’s breath whooshed out. He rolled stiffly to his feet, then wheeled to face Eragon, panting heavily. They charged each other once more. Saphira’s tail slapped between them, accompanied by a deafening roar. Eragon ignored her and tried to jump over her tail, but a taloned paw caught him in midair and flung him back to the ground.


He futilely tried to push Saphira’s muscled leg off his chest and saw that Murtagh was likewise pinned. Saphira roared again, snapping her jaws. She swung her head over Eragon and glared at him. You of all people should know better! Fighting like starving dogs over a scrap of meat. What would Brom say?

Eragon felt his cheeks burn and averted his eyes. He knew what Brom would have said. Saphira held them on the ground, letting them simmer, then said to Eragon pointedly, Now, if you don’t want to spend the night under my foot, you will politely ask Murtagh what is troubling him. She snaked her head over to Murtagh and stared down at him with an impassive blue eye. And tell him that I won’t stand for insults from either of you.

Won’t you let us up? complained Eragon.


Eragon reluctantly turned his head toward Murtagh, tasting blood in the side of his mouth. Murtagh avoided his eyes and looked up at the sky. “Well, is she going to get off us?”

“No, not unless we talk. . . . She wants me to ask you what’s really the problem,” said Eragon, embarrassed.

Saphira growled an affirmative and continued to stare at Murtagh. It was impossible for him to escape her piercing glare. Finally he shrugged, muttering something under his breath. Saphira’s claws tightened on his chest, and her tail whistled through the air. Murtagh shot her an angry glance, then grudgingly said louder, “I told you before: I don’t want to go to the Varden.”

Eragon frowned. Was that all that was the matter? “Don’t want to . . . or can’t?”

Murtagh tried to shove Saphira’s leg off him, then gave up with a curse. “Don’t want to! They’ll expect things from me that I can’t deliver.”

“Did you steal something from them?”

“I wish it were that simple.”

Eragon rolled his eyes, exasperated. “Well, what is it, then? Did you kill someone important or bed the wrong woman?”

“No, I was born,” said Murtagh cryptically. He pushed at Saphira again. This time she released them both. They got to their feet under her watchful eye and brushed dirt from their backs.

“You’re avoiding the question,” Eragon said, dabbing his split lip.

“So what?” spat Murtagh as he stomped to the edge of the camp. After a minute he sighed. “It doesn’t matter why I’m in this predicament, but I can tell you that the Varden wouldn’t welcome me even if I came bearing the king’s head. Oh, they might greet me nicely enough and let me into their councils, but trust me? Never. And if I were to arrive under less fortuitous circumstances, like the present ones, they’d likely clap me in irons.”

“Won’t you tell me what this is about?” asked Eragon. “I’ve done things I’m not proud of, too, so it’s not as if I’m going to pass judgment.”

Murtagh shook his head slowly, eyes glistening. “It isn’t like that. I haven’t done anything to deserve this treatment, though it would have been easier to atone for if I had. No . . . my only wrongdoing is existing in the first place.” He stopped and took a shaky breath. “You see, my father—”

A sharp hiss from Saphira cut him off abruptly. Look!

They followed her gaze westward. Murtagh’s face paled. “Demons above and below!”

A league or so away, parallel to the mountain range, was a column of figures marching east. The line of troops, hundreds strong, stretched for nearly a mile. Dust billowed from their heels. Their weapons glinted in the dying light. A standard-bearer rode before them in a black chariot, holding aloft a crimson banner.

“It’s the Empire,” said Eragon tiredly. “They’ve found us . . . somehow.” Saphira poked her head over his shoulder and gazed at the column.

“Yes . . . but those are Urgals, not men,” said Murtagh.


?How can you tell?”

Murtagh pointed at the standard. “That flag bears the personal symbol of an Urgal chieftain. He’s a ruthless brute, given to violent fits and insanity.”

“You’ve met him?”

Murtagh’s eyes tightened. “Once, briefly. I still have scars from that encounter. These Urgals might not have been sent here for us, but I’m sure we’ve been seen by now and that they will follow us. Their chieftain isn’t the sort to let a dragon escape his grasp, especially if he’s heard about Gil’ead.”

Eragon hurried to the fire and covered it with dirt. “We have to flee! You don’t want to go to the Varden, but I have to take Arya to them before she dies. Here’s a compromise: come with me until I reach the lake Kóstha-mérna, then go your own way.” Murtagh hesitated. Eragon added quickly, “If you leave now, in sight of the column, Urgals will follow you. And then where will you be, facing them alone?”

“Very well,” said Murtagh, tossing his saddlebags over Tornac’s flanks, “but when we near the Varden, I will leave.”

Eragon burned to question Murtagh further, but not with Urgals so near. He gathered his belongings and saddled Snowfire. Saphira fanned her wings, took off in a rush, and circled above. She kept guard over Murtagh and Eragon as they left camp.

What direction shall I fly? she asked.

East, along the Beors.

Stilling her wings, Saphira rose on an updraft and teetered on the pillar of warm air, hovering in the sky over the horses. I wonder why the Urgals are here. Maybe they were sent to attack the Varden.

Then we should try to warn them, he said, guiding Snowfire past half-visible obstacles. As the night deepened, the Urgals faded into the gloom behind them.


When morning came, Eragon’s cheek was raw from chafing against Snowfire’s neck, and he was sore from his fight with Murtagh. They had alternated sleeping in their saddles throughout the night. It had allowed them to outdistance the Urgal troops, but neither of them knew if the lead could be retained. The horses were exhausted to the point of stopping, yet they still maintained a relentless pace. Whether it would be enough to escape depended on how rested the monsters were . . . and if Eragon and Murtagh’s horses survived.

The Beor Mountains cast great shadows over the land, stealing the sun’s warmth. To the north was the Hadarac Desert, a thin white band as bright as noonday snow.

I must eat, said Saphira. Days have passed since I last hunted. Hunger claws my belly. If I start now, I might be able to catch enough of those bounding deer for a few mouthfuls.

Eragon smiled at her exaggeration. Go if you must, but leave Arya here.

I will be swift. He untied the elf from her belly and transferred her to Snowfire’s saddle. Saphira soared away, disappearing in the direction of the mountains. Eragon ran beside the horses, close enough to Snowfire to keep Arya from falling. Neither he nor Murtagh intruded on the silence. Yesterday’s fight no longer seemed as important because of the Urgals, but the bruises remained.

Saphira made her kills within the hour and notified Eragon of her success. Eragon was pleased that she would soon return. Her absence made him nervous.

They stopped at a pond to let the horses drink. Eragon idly plucked a stalk of grass, twirling it while he stared at the elf. He was startled from his reverie by the steely rasp of a sword being unsheathed. He instinctively grasped Zar’roc and spun around in search of the enemy. There was only Murtagh, his long sword held ready. He pointed at a hill ahead of them, where a tall, brown-cloaked man sat on a sorrel horse, mace in hand. Behind him was a group of twenty horsemen. No one moved. “Could they be Varden?” asked Murtagh.

Eragon surreptitiously strung his bow. “According to Arya, they’re still scores of leagues away. This might be one of their patrols or raiding groups.”

“Assuming they’re not bandits.” Murtagh swung onto Tornac and readied his own bow.

“Should we try to outrun them?” asked Eragon, draping a blanket over Arya. The horsemen must have seen her, but he hoped to conceal the fact that she was an elf.

“It wouldn’t do any good,” said Murtagh, shaking his head. “Tornac and Snowfire are fine war-horses, but they’re tired, and they aren’t sprinters. Look at the horses those men have; they’re meant for running. They would catch us before we had gone a half-mile. Besides, they may have something important to say. You’d better tell Saphira to hurry back.”

Eragon was already doing that. He explained the situation, then warned, Don’t show yourself unless it’s necessary. We’re not in the Empire, but I still don’t want anyone to know about you.

Never mind that, she replied. Remember, magic can protect you where speed and luck fail. He felt her take off and race toward them, skimming close to the ground.

The band of men watched them from the hill.

Eragon nervously gripped Zar’roc. The wire-wrapped hilt was secure under his glove. He said in a low voice, “If they threaten us, I can frighten them away with magic. If that doesn’t work, there’s Saphira. I wonder how they’d react to a Rider? So many stories have been told about their powers. . . . It might be enough to avoid a fight.”

“Don’t count on it,” said Murtagh flatly. “If there’s a fight, we’ll just have to kill enough of them to convince them we’re not worth the effort.” His face was controlled and unemotional.

The man on the sorrel horse signaled with his mace, sending the horsemen cantering toward them. The men shook javelins over their heads, whooping loudly as they neared. Battered sheaths hung from their sides. Their weapons were rusty and stained. Four of them trained arrows on Eragon and Murtagh.

Their leader swirled the mace in the air, and his men responded with yells as they wildly encircled Eragon and Murtagh. Eragon’s lips twitched. He almost loosed a blast of magic into their midst, then restrained himself. We don’t know what they want yet, he reminded himself, containing his growing apprehension.

The moment Eragon and Murtagh were thoroughly surrounded, the leader reined in his horse, then crossed his arms and examined them critically. He raised his eyebrows. “Well, these are better than the usual dregs we find! At least we got healthy ones this time. And we didn’t even have to shoot them. Grieg will be pleased.” The men chuckled.

At his words, a sinking sensation filled Eragon’s gut. A suspicion stirred in his mind. Saphira . . .

“Now as for you two,” said the leader, speaking to Eragon and Murtagh, “if you would be so good as to drop your weapons, you’ll avoid being turned into living quivers by my men.” The archers grinned suggestively; the men laughed again.

Murtagh’s only movement was to shift his sword. “Who are you and what do you want? We are free men traveling through this land. You have no right to stop us.”

“Oh, I have every right,” said the man contemptuously. “And as for my name, slaves do not address their masters in that manner, unless they want to be beaten.”

Eragon cursed to himself. Slavers! He remembered vividly the people he had seen at auction in Dras-Leona. Rage boiled within him. He glared at the men around him with new hatred and disgust.

The lines deepened on the leader’s face. “Throw down your swords and surrender!” The slavers tensed, staring at them with cold eyes as neither Eragon nor Murtagh lowered his weapon. Eragon’s palm tingled. He heard a rustle behind him, then a loud curse. Startled, he spun around.

One of the slavers had pulled the blanket off Arya, revealing her face. He gaped in astonishment, then shouted, “Torkenbrand, this one’s an elf!” The men stirred with surprise while the leader spurred his horse over to Snowfire. He looked down at Arya and whistled.

“Well, ’ow much is she worth?” someone asked.

Torkenbrand was quiet for a moment, then spread his hands and said, “At the very least? Fortunes upon fortunes. The Empire will pay a mountain of gold for her!”

The slavers yelled with excitement and pounded each other on the back. A roar filled Eragon’s min

d as Saphira banked sharply far overhead. Attack now! he cried. But let them escape if they run. She immediately folded her wings and plummeted downward. Eragon caught Murtagh’s attention with a sharp signal. Murtagh took the cue. He smashed his elbow into a slaver’s face, knocking the man out of his saddle, and jabbed his heels into Tornac.

With a toss of his mane, the war-horse jumped forward, twirled around, and reared. Murtagh brandished his sword as Tornac plunged back down, driving his forehooves into the back of the dismounted slaver. The man screamed.

Before the slavers could gather their senses, Eragon scrambled out of the commotion and raised his hands, invoking words in the ancient language. A globule of indigo fire struck the ground in the midst of the fray, bursting into a fountain of molten drops that dissipated like sun-warmed dew. A second later, Saphira dropped from the sky and landed next to him. She parted her jaws, displaying her massive fangs, and bellowed. “Behold!” cried Eragon over the furor, “I am a Rider!” He raised Zar’roc over his head, the red blade dazzling in the sunlight, then pointed it at the slavers. “Flee if you wish to live!”

The men shouted incoherently and scrambled over each other in their haste to escape. In the confusion, Torkenbrand was struck in the temple with a javelin. He tumbled to the ground, stunned. The men ignored their fallen leader and raced away in a ragged mass, casting fearful looks at Saphira.

Torkenbrand struggled to his knees. Blood ran from his temple, branching across his cheek with crimson tendrils. Murtagh dismounted and strode over to him, sword in hand. Torkenbrand weakly raised his arm as if to ward off a blow. Murtagh gazed at him coldly, then swung his blade at Torkenbrand’s neck. “No!” shouted Eragon, but it was too late.

Torkenbrand’s decapitated trunk crumpled to the ground in a puff of dirt. His head landed with a hard thump. Eragon rushed to Murtagh, his jaw working furiously. “Is your brain rotten?” he yelled, enraged. “Why did you kill him?”

Murtagh wiped his sword on the back of Torkenbrand’s jerkin. The steel left a dark stain. “I don’t see why you’re so upset—”

Tags: Christopher Paolini The Inheritance Cycle Fantasy
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