Pain shadowed Arya’s face. She looked away into the distance. “Let us walk.” They descended from the knoll and meandered toward Farthen Dûr. Eragon respected Arya’s silence as they walked. Saphira padded quietly beside them. Finally Arya lifted her head and said with the grace of her kind, “Ajihad told me you were present when Saphira’s egg appeared.”
“Yes.” For the first time, Eragon thought about the energy it must have taken to transport the egg over the dozens of leagues that separated Du Weldenvarden from the Spine. To even attempt such a feat was courting disaster, if not death.
Her next words were heavy. “Then know this: at the moment you first beheld it, I was captured by Durza.” Her voice filled with bitterness and grief. “It was he who led the Urgals that ambushed and slew my companions, Faolin and Glenwing. Somehow he knew where to wait for us—we had no warning. I was drugged and transported to Gil’ead. There, Durza was charged by Galbatorix to learn where I had sent the egg and all I knew of Ellesméra.”
She stared ahead icily, jaw clenched. “He tried for months without success. His methods were . . . harsh. When torture failed, he ordered his soldiers to use me as they would. Fortunately, I still had the strength to nudge their minds and make them incapable. At last Galbatorix ordered that I was to be brought to Urû’baen. Dread filled me when I learned this, as I was weary in both mind and body and had no strength to resist him. If it were not for you, I would have stood before Galbatorix in a week’s time.”
Eragon shuddered inwardly. It was amazing what she had survived. The memory of her injuries was still vivid in his mind. Softly, he asked, “Why do you tell me all this?”
“So that you know what I was saved from. Do not presume I can ignore your deed.”
Humbled, he bowed his head. “What will you do now—return to Ellesméra?”
“No, not yet. There is much that must be done here. I cannot abandon the Varden—Ajihad needs my help. I’ve seen you tested in both arms and magic today. Brom taught you well. You are ready to proceed in your training.”
“You mean for me to go to Ellesméra?”
Eragon felt a flash of irritation. Did he and Saphira have no say in the matter? “When?”
“That is yet to be decided, but not for some weeks.”
At least they gave us that much time, thought Eragon. Saphira mentioned something to him, and he in turn asked Arya, “What did the Twins want me to do?”
Arya’s sculpted lip curled with disgust. “Something not even they can accomplish. It is possible to speak the name of an object in the ancient language and summon its true form. It takes years of work and great discipline, but the reward is complete control over the object. That is why one’s true name is always kept hidden, for if it were known by any with evil in their hearts, they could dominate you utterly.”
“It’s strange,” said Eragon after a moment, “but before I was captured at Gil’ead, I had visions of you in my dreams. It was like scrying—and I was able to scry you later—but it was always during my sleep.”
Arya pursed her lips pensively. “There were times I felt as if another presence was watching me, but I was often confused and feverish. I’ve never heard of anyone, either in lore or legend, being able to scry in their sleep.”
“I don’t understand it myself,” said Eragon, looking at his hands. He twirled Brom’s ring around his finger. “What does the tattoo on your shoulder mean? I didn’t mean to see it, but when I was healing your wounds . . . it couldn’t be helped. It’s just like the symbol on this ring.”
“You have a ring with the yawë on it?” she asked sharply.
“Yes. It was Brom’s. See?”
He held out the ring. Arya examined the sapphire, then said, “This is a token given only to the most valued elf-friends—so valued, in fact, it has not been used in centuries. Or so I thought. I never knew that Queen Islanzadi thought so highly of Brom.”
“I shouldn’t wear it, then,” said Eragon, afraid that he had been presumptuous.
“No, keep it. It will give you protection if you meet my people by chance, and it may help you gain favor with the queen. Tell no one of my tattoo. It should not be revealed.”
He enjoyed talking with Arya and wished their conversation could have lasted longer. When they parted, he wandered through Farthen Dûr, conversing with Saphira. Despite his prodding, she refused to tell him what Arya had said to her. Eventually his thoughts turned to Murtagh and then to Nasuada’s advice. I’ll get something to eat, then go see him, he decided. Will you wait for me so I can return to the dragonhold with you?
I will wait—go, said Saphira.
With a grateful smile, Eragon dashed to Tronjheim, ate in an obscure corner of a kitchen, then followed Nasuada’s instructions until he reached a small gray door guarded by a man and a dwarf. When he requested entrance, the dwarf banged on the door three times, then unbolted it. “Just holler when you want to leave,” said the man with a friendly smile.
The cell was warm and well lit, with a washbasin in one corner and a writing desk—equipped with quills and ink—in another. The ceiling was extensively carved with lacquered figures; the floor was covered with a plush rug. Murtagh lay on a stout bed, reading a scroll. He looked up in surprise and exclaimed cheerily, “Eragon! I’d hoped you would come!”
“How did . . . I mean I thought—”
“You thought I was stuck in some rat hole chewing on hardtack,” said Murtagh, rolling upright with a grin. “Actually, I expected the same thing, but Ajihad lets me have all this as long as I don’t cause trouble. And they bring me huge meals, as well as anything I want from the library. If I’m not careful, I’ll turn into a fat scholar.”
Eragon laughed, and with a wondering smile seated himself next to Murtagh. “But aren’t you angry? You’re still a prisoner.”
“Oh, I was at first,” said Murtagh with a shrug. “But the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that this is really the best place for me. Even if Ajihad gave me my freedom, I would stay in my room most of the time anyway.”
“You know well enough. No one would be at ease around me, knowing my true identity, and there would always be people who wouldn’t limit themselves to harsh looks or words. But enough of that, I’m eager to know what’s new. Come, tell me.”
Eragon recounted the events of the past two days, including his encounter with the Twins in the library. When he finished, Murtagh leaned back reflectively. “I suspect,” he said, “that Arya is more important than either of us thought. Consider what you’ve learned: she is a master of the sword, powerful in magic, and, most significantly, was chosen to guard Saphira’s egg. She cannot be ordinary, even among the elves.”
Murtagh stared at the ceiling. “You know, I find this imprisonment oddly peaceful. For once in my life I don’t have to be afraid. I know I ought to be . . . yet something about this place puts me at ease. A good night’s sleep helps, too.”
“I know what you mean,” said Eragon wryly. He moved to a softer place on the bed. “Nasuada said that she visited you. Did she say anything interesting?”
Murtagh’s gaze shifted into the distance, and he shook his head. “No, she only wanted to meet me. Doesn’t she look like a princess? And the way she carries herself! When she first entered through that doorway, I thought she was one of the great ladies of Galbatorix’s court. I’ve seen earls and counts who had wives that, compared to her, were more fitted for life as a hog than of nobility.”
Eragon listened to his praise with growing apprehension. It may mean nothing, he reminded himself. You’re leaping to conclusions. Yet the foreboding would not leave him. Trying to shake off the feeling, he asked, “How long are you going to remain imprisoned, Murtagh? You can’t hide forever.”
Murtagh shrugged carelessly, but there was weight behind his words. “For now I’m content to stay and rest. There’s no re
ason for me to seek shelter elsewhere nor submit myself to the Twins’ examination. No doubt I’ll tire of this eventually, but for now . . . I am content.”
Saphira woke Eragon with a sharp rap of her snout, bruising him with her hard jaw. “Ouch!” he exclaimed, sitting upright. The cave was dark except for a faint glow emanating from the shuttered lantern. Outside in the dragonhold, Isidar Mithrim glittered with a thousand different colors, illuminated by its girdle of lanterns.
An agitated dwarf stood in the entrance to the cave, wringing his hands. “You must come, Argetlam! Great trouble—Ajihad summons you. There is no time!”
“What’s wrong?” asked Eragon.
The dwarf only shook his head, beard wagging. “Go, you must! Carkna bragha! Now!”
Eragon belted on Zar’roc, grabbed his bow and arrows, then strapped the saddle onto Saphira. So much for a good night’s sleep, she groused, crouching low to the floor so he could clamber onto her back. He yawned loudly as Saphira launched herself from the cave.
Orik was waiting for them with a grim expression when they landed at Tronjheim’s gates. “Come, the others are waiting.” He led them through Tronjheim to Ajihad’s study. On the way, Eragon plied him with questions, but Orik would only say, “I don’t know enough myself—wait until you hear Ajihad.”
The large study door was opened by a pair of burly guards. Ajihad stood behind his desk, bleakly inspecting a map. Arya and a man with wiry arms were there as well. Ajihad looked up. “Good, you’re here, Eragon. Meet Jörmundur, my second in command.”
They acknowledged each other, then turned their attention to Ajihad. “I roused the five of you because we are all in grave danger. About half an hour ago a dwarf ran out of an abandoned tunnel under Tronjheim. He was bleeding and nearly incoherent, but he had enough sense left to tell the dwarves what was pursuing him: an army of Urgals, maybe a day’s march from here.”
Shocked silence filled the study. Then Jörmundur swore explosively and began asking questions at the same time Orik did. Arya remained silent. Ajihad raised his hands. “Quiet! There is more. The Urgals aren’t approaching over land, but under it. They’re in the tunnels . . . we’re going to be attacked from below.”
Eragon raised his voice in the din that followed. “Why didn’t the dwarves know about this sooner? How did the Urgals find the tunnels?”
“We’re lucky to know about it this early!” bellowed Orik. Everyone stopped talking to hear him. “There are hundreds of tunnels throughout the Beor Mountains, uninhabited since the day they were mined. The only dwarves who go in them are eccentrics who don’t want contact with anyone. We could have just as easily received no warning at all.”
Ajihad pointed at the map, and Eragon moved closer. The map depicted the southern half of Alagaësia, but unlike Eragon’s, it showed the entire Beor Mountain range in detail. Ajihad’s finger was on the section of the Beor Mountains that touched Surda’s eastern border. “This,” he said, “is where the dwarf claimed to have come from.”
“Orthíad!” exclaimed Orik. At Jörmundur’s puzzled inquiry, he explained, “It’s an ancient dwelling of ours that was deserted when Tronjheim was completed. During its time it was the greatest of our cities. But no one’s lived there for centuries.”
“And it’s old enough for some of the tunnels to have collapsed,” said Ajihad. “That’s how we surmise it was discovered from the surface. I suspect that Orthíad is now being called Ithrö Zhâda. That’s where the Urgal column that was chasing Eragon and Saphira was supposed to go, and I’m sure it’s where the Urgals have been migrating all year. From Ithrö Zhâda they can travel anywhere they want in the Beor Mountains. They have the power to destroy both the Varden and the dwarves.”
Jörmundur bent over the map, eyeing it carefully. “Do you know how many Urgals there are? Are Galbatorix’s troops with them? We can’t plan a defense without knowing how large their army is.”
Ajihad replied unhappily, “We’re unsure about both those things, yet our survival rests on that last question. If Galbatorix has augmented the Urgals’ ranks with his own men, we don’t stand a chance. But if he hasn’t—because he still doesn’t want his alliance with the Urgals revealed, or for some other reason—it’s possible we can win. Neither Orrin nor the elves can help us at this late hour. Even so, I sent runners to both of them with news of our plight. At the very least they won’t be caught by surprise if we fall.”
He drew a hand across his coal-black brow. “I’ve already talked with Hrothgar, and we’ve decided on a course of action. Our only hope is to contain the Urgals in three of the larger tunnels and channel them into Farthen Dûr so they don’t swarm inside Tronjheim like locusts.
“I need you, Eragon and Arya, to help the dwarves collapse extraneous tunnels. The job is too big for normal means. Two groups of dwarves are already working on it: one outside Tronjheim, the other beneath it. Eragon, you’re to work with the group outside. Arya, you’ll be with the one underground; Orik will guide you to them.”
“Why not collapse all the tunnels instead of leaving the large ones untouched?” asked Eragon.
“Because,” said Orik, “that would force the Urgals to clear away the rubble, and they might decide to go in a direction we don’t want them to. Plus, if we cut ourselves off, they could attack other dwarf cities—which we wouldn’t be able to assist in time.”
“There’s also another reason,” said Ajihad. “Hrothgar warned me that Tronjheim sits on such a dense network of tunnels that if too many are weakened, sections of the city will sink into the ground under their own weight. We can’t risk that.”
Jörmundur listened intently, then asked, “So there won’t be any fighting inside Tronjheim? You said the Urgals would be channeled outside the city, into Farthen Dûr.”
Ajihad responded quickly, “That’s right. We can’t defend Tronjheim’s entire perimeter—it’s too big for our forces—so we’re going to seal all the passageways and gates leading into it. That will force the Urgals out onto the flats surrounding Tronjheim, where there’s plenty of maneuvering room for our armies. Since the Urgals have access to the tunnels, we cannot risk an extended battle. As long as they are here, we will be in constant danger of them quarrying up through Tronjheim’s floor. If that happens, we’ll be trapped, attacked from both the outside and inside. We have to prevent the Urgals from taking Tronjheim. If they secure it, it’s doubtful we will have the strength to roust them.”
“And what of our families?” asked Jörmundur. “I won’t see my wife and son murdered by Urgals.”
The lines deepened on Ajihad’s face. “All the women and children are being evacuated into the surrounding valleys. If we are defeated, they have guides who will take them to Surda. That’s all I can do, under the circumstances.”
Jörmundur struggled to hide his relief. “Sir, is Nasuada going as well?”
“She is not pleased, but yes.” All eyes were on Ajihad as he squared his shoulders and announced, “The Urgals will arrive in a matter of hours. We know their numbers are great, but we must hold Farthen Dûr. Failure will mean the dwarves’ downfall, death to the Varden—and eventual defeat for Surda and the elves. This is one battle we cannot lose. Now go and complete your tasks! Jörmundur, ready the men to fight.”
They left the study and scattered: Jörmundur to the barracks, Orik and Arya to the stairs leading underground, and Eragon and Saphira down one of Tronjheim’s four main halls. Despite the early hour, the city-mountain swarmed like an anthill. People were running, shouting messages, and carrying bundles of belongings.
Eragon had fought and killed before, but the battle that awaited them sent stabs of fear into his chest. He had never had a chance to anticipate a fight. Now that he did, it filled him with dread. He was confident when facing only a few opponents—he knew he could easily defeat three or four Urgals with Zar’roc and magic—but in a large conflict, anything could happen.
ited Tronjheim and looked for the dwarves they were supposed to help. Without the sun or moon, the inside of Farthen Dûr was dark as lampblack, punctuated by glittering lanterns bobbing jerkily in the crater. Perhaps they’re on the far side of Tronjheim, suggested Saphira. Eragon agreed and swung onto her back.
They glided around Tronjheim until a clump of lanterns came into sight. Saphira angled toward them, then with no more than a whisper landed beside a group of startled dwarves who were busy digging with pickaxes. Eragon quickly explained why he was there. A sharp-nosed dwarf told him, “There’s a tunnel about four yards directly underneath us. Any help you could give us would be appreciated.”
“If you clear the area over the tunnel, I’ll see what I can do.” The sharp-nosed dwarf looked doubtful, but ordered the diggers off the site.
Breathing slowly, Eragon prepared to use magic. It might be possible to actually move all the dirt off the tunnel, but he needed to conserve his strength for later. Instead, he would try to collapse the tunnel by applying force to weak sections of its ceiling.
“Thrysta deloi,” he whispered and sent tentacles of power into the soil. Almost immediately they encountered rock. He ignored it and reached farther down until he felt the hollow emptiness of the tunnel. Then he began searching for flaws in the rock. Every time he found one, he pushed on it, elongating and widening it. It was strenuous work, but no more than it would have been to split the stone by hand. He made no visible progress—a fact that was not lost on the impatient dwarves.
Eragon persevered. Before long he was rewarded by a resounding crack that could be heard clearly on the surface. There was a persistent screech, then the ground slid inward like water draining from a tub, leaving a gaping hole seven yards across.
As the delighted dwarves walled off the tunnel with rubble, the sharp-nosed dwarf led Eragon to the next tunnel. This one was much more difficult to collapse, but he managed to duplicate the feat. Over the next few hours, he collapsed over a half-dozen tunnels throughout Farthen Dûr, with Saphira’s help.