Eldest (The Inheritance Cycle 2) - Page 9

After an appropriate pause, Solembum picked up his dinner and followed, ever so dignified.


Dawn was a half hour away when Eragon and Saphira arrived at Tronjheim’s north gate. The gate was raised just enough to let Saphira pass, so they hurried underneath it, then waited in the recessed area beyond, where red jasper pillars loomed above and carved beasts snarled between the bloody piers. Past those, at the very edge of Tronjheim, sat two thirty-foot-high gold griffins. Identical pairs guarded each of the city-mountain’s gates. No one was in sight.

Eragon held Snowfire’s reins. The stallion was brushed, reshod, and saddled, his saddlebags bulging with goods. He pawed the floor impatiently; Eragon had not ridden him for over a week.

Before long Orik ambled up, bearing a large pack on his back and a bundle in his arms. “No horse?” asked Eragon, somewhat surprised. Are we supposed to walk all the way to Du Weldenvarden?

Orik grunted. “We’ll be stopping at Tarnag, just north of here. From there we take rafts along the Az Ragni to Hedarth, an outpost for trading with the elves. We won’t need steeds before Hedarth, so I’ll use my own feet till then.”

He set the bundle down with a clang, then unwrapped it, revealing Eragon’s armor. The shield had been repainted—so the oak tree stood clearly in the center—and all the dings and scrapes removed. Beneath it was the long mail shirt, burnished and oiled until the steel gleamed brilliantly. No sign existed of where it had been rent when Durza cut Eragon’s back. The coif, gloves, bracers, greaves, and helmet were likewise repaired.

“Our greatest smiths worked on these,” said Orik, “as well as your armor, Saphira. However, since we can’t take dragon armor with us, it was given to the Varden, who will guard it against our return.”

Please thank him for me, said Saphira.

Eragon obliged, then laced on the greaves and bracers, storing the other items in his bags. Last of all, he reached for his helm, only to find Orik holding it. The dwarf rolled the piece between his hands, then said, “Do not be so quick to don this, Eragon. There is a choice you must make first.”

“What choice is that?”

Raising the helmet, Orik uncovered its polished brow, which, Eragon now saw, had been altered: etched in the steel were the hammer and stars of Hrothgar and Orik’s clan, the Ingeitum. Orik scowled, looking both pleased and troubled, and said in a formal voice, “Mine king, Hrothgar, desires that I present this helm as a symbol of the friendship he bears for you. And with it Hrothgar extends an offer to adopt you as one of Dûrgrimst Ingeitum, as a member of his own family.”

Eragon stared at the helm, amazed that Hrothgar would make such a gesture. Does this mean I’d be subjected to his rule?…If I continue to accrue loyalties and allegiances at this pace, I’ll be incapacitated before long—unable to do anything without breaking some oath!

You don’t have to put it on, pointed out Saphira.

And risk insulting Hrothgar? Once again, we’re trapped.

It may be intended as a gift, though, another sign of otho, not a trap. I would guess he’s thanking us for my offer to repair Isidar Mithrim.

That had not occurred to Eragon, for he had been too busy trying to figure out how the dwarf king might gain advantage over them. True. But I think it’s also an attempt to correct the imbalance of power created when I swore fealty to Nasuada. The dwarves couldn’t have been pleased with that turn of events. He looked back at Orik, who was waiting anxiously. “How often has this been done?”

“For a human? Never. Hrothgar argued with the Ingeitum families for a day and a night before they agreed to accept you. If you consent to bear our crest, you will have full rights as clan member. You may attend our councils and give voice on every issue. And,” he grew very somber, “if you so wish, you will have the right to be buried with our dead.”

For the first time, the enormity of Hrothgar’s action struck Eragon. The dwarves could offer no higher honor. With a swift motion, he took the helm from Orik and pressed it down upon his head. “I am privileged to join Dûrgrimst Ingeitum.”

Orik nodded with approval and said, “Then take this Knurlnien, this Heart of Stone, and cup it between your hands—yes, like so. You must steel yourself now and prick open a vein to wet the stone. A few drops will suffice…. To finish, repeat after me: Os il domqirânû carn dûr thargen, zeitmen, oen grimst vor formv edaris rak skilfz. Narho is belgond…” It was a lengthy recitation and all the longer because Orik stopped to translate every few sentences. Afterward, Eragon healed his wrist with a quick spell.

“Whatever else the clans may say about this business,” observed Orik, “you have behaved with integrity and respect. They cannot ignore that.” He grinned. “We are of the same clan now, eh? You are my foster brother! Under more normal circumstances, Hrothgar would have presented your helm himself and we would have held a lengthy ceremony to commemorate your induction into Dûrgrimst Ingeitum, but events move too swiftly for us to tarry. Fear not that you are being slighted, though! Your adoption shall be celebrated with the proper rituals when you and Saphira next return to Farthen Dûr. You shall feast and dance and have many pieces of paper to sign in order to formalize your new position.”

“I look forward to the day,” said Eragon. He was still preoccupied with sifting through the numerous possible ramifications of belonging to Dûrgrimst Ingeitum.

Sitting against a pillar, Orik shrugged off his pack and drew his ax, which he proceeded to twirl between his palms. After several minutes, he leaned forward, glaring back into Tronjheim. “Barzûl knurlar! Where are they? Arya said she would be right here. Ha! Elves’ only concept of time is late and even later.”

“Have you dealt with them much?” asked Eragon, crouching. Saphira watched with interest.

The dwarf laughed suddenly. “Eta. Only Arya, and then sporadically because she traveled so often. In seven decades, I’ve learned but one thing about her: You can’t rush an elf. Trying is like hammering a file—it might break, but it’ll never bend.”

“Aren’t dwarves the same?”

“Ah, but stone will shift, given enough time.” Orik sighed and shook his head. “Of all the races, elves change the least, which is one reason I’m reluctant to go.”

“But we’ll get to meet Queen Islanzadí and see Ellesméra and who knows what else? When was the last time a dwarf was invited into Du Weldenvarden?”

Orik frowned at him. “Scenery means nothing. Urgent tasks remain in Tronjheim and our other cities, yet I must tramp across Alagaësia to exchange pleasantries and sit and grow fat as you are tutored. It could take years!”

Years!…Still, if that’s what is required to defeat Shades and the Ra’zac, I’ll do it.

Saphira touched his mind: I doubt Nasuada will let us stay in Ellesméra for more than a few months. With what she told us, we’ll be needed fairly soon.

“At last!” said Orik, pushing himself upright.

Approaching were Nasuada—slippers flashing beneath her dress, like mice darting from a hole—Jörmundur, and Arya, who bore a pack like Orik’s. She wore the same black leather outfit Eragon had first seen her in, as well as her sword.

At that moment, it struck Eragon that Arya and Nasuada might not approve of him joining the Ingeitum. Guilt and trepidation shot through him as he realized that it had been his duty to consult Nasuada first. And Arya! He cringed, remembering how angry she had been after his first meeting with the Council of Elders.

Thus, when Nasuada stopped before him, he averted his eyes, ashamed. But she only said, “You accepted.” Her voice was gentle, restrained.

He nodded, still looking down.

“I wondered if you would. Now once again, all three races have a hold on you. The dwarves can claim your allegiance as a member of Dûrgrimst Ingeitum, the elves will train and shape you—and their influence may be the strongest, for you and Saphira are bound by their magic—and you have sworn fealty to me, a human…. Perhaps it is best that we share your loya

lty.” She met his surprise with an odd smile, then pressed a small bag of coins into his palm and stepped away.

Jörmundur extended a hand, which Eragon shook, feeling a bit dazed. “Have a good trip, Eragon. Guard yourself well.”

“Come,” said Arya, gliding past them into the darkness of Farthen Dûr. “It is time to leave. Aiedail has set, and we have far to go.”

“Aye,” Orik agreed. He pulled out a red lantern from the side of his pack.

Nasuada looked them over once more. “Very well. Eragon and Saphira, you have the Varden’s blessings, as well as mine. May your journey be safe. Remember, you carry the weight of our hopes and expectations, so acquit yourselves honorably.”

“We will do our best,” promised Eragon.

Gripping Snowfire’s reins firmly, he started after Arya, who was already several yards away. Orik followed, then Saphira. As Saphira passed Nasuada, Eragon saw her pause and lightly lick Nasuada on the cheek. Then she lengthened her stride, catching up with him.

As they continued north along the road, the gate behind them shrank smaller and smaller until it was reduced to a pinprick of light—with two lonely silhouettes where Nasuada and Jörmundur remained watching.

When they finally reached Farthen Dûr’s base, they found a pair of gigantic doors—thirty feet tall—open and waiting. Three dwarf guards bowed and moved away from the aperture. Through the doors was a tunnel of matching proportions, lined with columns and lanterns for the first fifty feet. After that it was as empty and silent as a mausoleum.

It looked exactly like Farthen Dûr’s western entrance, but Eragon knew that this tunnel was different. Instead of burrowing through the mile-thick base to emerge outside, it proceeded underneath mountain after mountain, all the way to the dwarf city Tarnag.

“Here is our path,” said Orik, lifting the lantern.

He and Arya crossed over the threshold, but Eragon held back, suddenly uncertain. While he did not fear the dark, neither did he welcome being surrounded by eternal night until they arrived at Tarnag. And once he entered the barren tunnel, he would again be hurling himself into the unknown, abandoning the few things he had grown accustomed to among the Varden in exchange for an uncertain destiny.

What is it? asked Saphira.


He took a breath, then strode forward, allowing the mountain to swallow him in its depths.


Three days after the Ra’zac’s arrival, Roran found himself pacing uncontrollably along the edge of his camp in the Spine. He had heard nothing since Albriech’s visit, nor was it possible to glean information by observing Carvahall. He glared at the distant tents where the soldiers slept, then continued pacing.

At midday Roran had a small, dry lunch. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he wondered, How long are the Ra’zac willing to wait? If it was a test of patience, he was determined to win.

To pass the time, he practiced his archery on a rotting log, stopping only when an arrow shattered on a rock embedded in the trunk. After that nothing else remained to do, except to resume striding back and forth along the bare track that stretched from a boulder to where he slept.

He was still pacing when footsteps sounded in the forest below. Grabbing his bow, Roran hid and waited. Relief rushed through him when Baldor’s face bobbed into view. Roran waved him over.

As they sat, Roran asked, “Why hasn’t anyone come?”

“We couldn’t,” said Baldor, wiping sweat off his brow. “The soldiers have been watching us too closely. This was the first opportunity we had to get away. I can’t stay long either.” He turned his face toward the peak above them and shuddered. “You’re braver than I, staying here. Have you had any trouble with wolves, bears, mountain cats?”

“No, no, I’m fine. Did the soldiers say anything new?”

“One of them bragged to Morn last night that their squad was handpicked for this mission.” Roran frowned. “They haven’t been too quiet…. At least two or three of them get drunk each night. A group of them tore up Morn’s common room the first day.”

“Did they pay for the damage?”

“’Course not.”

Roran shifted, staring down at the village. “I still have trouble believing that the Empire would go to these lengths to capture me. What could I give them? What do they think I can give them?”

Baldor followed his gaze. “The Ra’zac questioned Katrina today. Someone mentioned that the two of you are close, and the Ra’zac were curious if she knew where you’d gone.”

Roran refocused on Baldor’s open face. “Is she all right?”

“It would take more than those two to scare her,” reassured Baldor. His next sentence was cautious and probing. “Perhaps you should consider turning yourself in.”

“I’d sooner hang myself and them with me!” Roran started up and stalked over his usual route, still tapping his leg. “How can you say that, knowing how they tortured my father?”

Catching his arm, Baldor said, “What happens if you remain in hiding and the soldiers don’t give up and leave? They’ll assume we lied to help you escape. The Empire doesn’t forgive traitors.”

Roran shrugged off Baldor. He spun around, tapping his leg, then abruptly sat. If I don’t show myself, the Ra’zac will blame the people at hand. If I attempt to lead the Ra’zac away… Roran was not a skilled enough woodsman to evade thirty men and the Ra’zac. Eragon could do it, but not me. Still, unless the situation changed, it might be the only choice available to him.

He looked at Baldor. “I don’t want anyone to be hurt on my behalf. I’ll wait for now, and if the Ra’zac grow impatient and threaten someone…Well then, I’ll think of something else to do.”

“It’s a nasty situation all around,” offered Baldor.

“One I intend to survive.”

Baldor departed soon afterward, leaving Roran alone with his thoughts on his endless path. He covered mile after mile, grinding a rut into the earth under the weight of his ruminations. When chill dusk arrived, he removed his boots—for fear of wearing them out—and proceeded to pad barefoot.

Just as the waxing moon rose and subsumed the night shadows in beams of marble light, Roran noticed a disturbance in Carvahall. Scores of lanterns bobbed through the darkened village, winking in and out as they floated behind houses. The yellow specks clustered in the center of Carvahall, like a cloud of fireflies, then streamed haphazardly toward the edge of town, where they were met by a hard line of torches from the soldiers’ camp.

For two hours, Roran watched the opposing sides face each other—the agitated lanterns milling helplessly against the stolid torches. Finally, the lambent groups dispersed and filtered back into the tents and houses.

When nothing else of interest occurred, Roran untied his bedroll and slipped under the blankets.

Throughout the next day, Carvahall was consumed with unusual activity. Figures strode between houses and even, Roran was surprised to see, rode out into Palancar Valley toward various farms. At noon he saw two men enter the soldiers’ camp and disappear into the Ra’zac’s tent for almost an hour.

So involved was he with the proceedings, Roran barely moved the entire day.

He was in the middle of dinner when, as he had hoped, Baldor reappeared. “Hungry?” asked Roran, gesturing.

Baldor shook his head and sat with an air of exhaustion. Dark lines under his eyes made his skin look thin and bruised. “Quimby’s dead.”

Roran’s bowl clattered as it struck the ground. He cursed, wiping cold stew off his leg, then asked, “How?”

“A couple of soldiers started bothering Tara last night.” Tara was Morn’s wife. “She didn’t really mind, except the men got in a fight over who she was supposed to serve next. Quimby was there—checking a cask Morn said had turned—and he tried to break them up.” Roran nodded. That was Quimby, always interfering to make sure others behaved properly. “Only thing is, a soldier threw a pitcher and hit him on the temple. Killed him


Roran stared at the ground with his hands on his hips, struggling to regain control over his ragged breathing. He felt as if Baldor had knocked the wind out of him. It doesn’t seem possible…. Quimby, gone? The farmer and part-time brewer was as much a part of the landscape as the mountains surrounding Carvahall, an unquestioned presence that shaped the fabric of the village. “Will the men be punished?”

Baldor held up his hand. “Right after Quimby died, the Ra’zac stole his body from the tavern and hauled it out to their tents. We tried to get it back last night, but they wouldn’t talk with us.”

“I saw.”

Baldor grunted, rubbing his face. “Dad and Loring met with the Ra’zac today and managed to convince them to release the body. The soldiers, however, won’t face any consequences.” He paused. “I was about to leave when Quimby was handed over. You know what his wife got? Bones.”


“Every one of them was nibbled clean—you could see the bite marks—and most had been cracked open for the marrow.”

Disgust gripped Roran, as well as profound horror for Quimby’s fate. It was well known that a person’s spirit could never rest until his body was given a proper burial. Revolted by the desecration, he asked, “What, who, ate him then?”

“The soldiers were just as appalled. It must have been the Ra’zac.”

“Why? To what end?”

“I don’t think,” said Baldor, “that the Ra’zac are human. You’ve never seen them up close, but their breath is foul, and they always cover their faces with black scarves. Their backs are humped and twisted, and they speak to each other with clicks. Even their men seem to fear them.”

Tags: Christopher Paolini The Inheritance Cycle Fantasy
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