“What if I’m asleep? Could the necklace consume all my energy before I was aware of it?”
“Nay. It will wake you.”
Eragon rolled the hammer between his fingers. It was difficult to avert another’s spells, least of all Galbatorix’s. If Gannel is so accomplished, what other enchantments might be hidden in his gift? He noticed a line of runes cut along the hammer’s haft. They spelled Astim Hefthyn. The stairs ended as he asked, “Why do dwarves write with the same runes as humans?”
For the first time since they met, Gannel laughed, his voice booming through the temple as his large shoulders shook. “It is the other way around; humans write with our runes. When your ancestors landed in Alagaësia, they were as illiterate as rabbits. However, they soon adopted our alphabet and matched it to this language. Some of your words even come from us, like father, which was originally farthen.”
“So then Farthen Dûr means…?” Eragon slipped the necklace over his head and tucked it under his tunic.
Stopping at a door, Gannel ushered Eragon through to a curved gallery located directly below the cupola. The passageway banded Celbedeil, providing a view through the open archways of the mountains behind Tarnag, as well as the terraced city far below.
Eragon barely glanced at the landscape, for the gallery’s inner wall was covered with a single continuous painting, a gigantic narrative band that began with a depiction of the dwarves’ creation under Helzvog’s hand. The figures and objects stood in relief from the surface, giving the panorama a feeling of hyperrealism with its saturated, glowing colors and minute detail.
Captivated, Eragon asked, “How was this made?”
“Each scene is carved out of small plates of marble, which are fired with enamel, then fitted into a single piece.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to use regular paint?”
“It would,” said Gannel, “but not if we wanted it to endure centuries—millennia—without change. Enamel never fades or loses its brilliancy, unlike oil paint. This first section was carved only a decade after the discovery of Farthen Dûr, well before elves set foot on Alagaësia.”
The priest took Eragon by the arm and guided him along the tableau. Each step carried them through uncounted years of history.
Eragon saw how the dwarves were once nomads on a seemingly endless plain, until the land grew so hot and desolate they were forced to migrate south to the Beor Mountains. That was how the Hadarac Desert was formed, he realized, amazed.
As they proceeded down the mural, heading toward the back of Celbedeil, Eragon witnessed everything from the domestication of Feldûnost to the carving of Isidar Mithrim, the first meeting between dwarves and elves, and the coronation of each new dwarf king. Dragons frequently appeared, burning and slaughtering. Eragon had difficulty restraining comment during those sections.
His steps slowed as the painting shifted to the event he had hoped to find: the war between elves and dragons. Here the dwarves had devoted a vast amount of space to the destruction wreaked upon Alagaësia by the two races. Eragon shuddered with horror at the sight of elves and dragons killing each other. The battles continued for yards, each image more bloody than the last, until the darkness lifted and a young elf was shown kneeling on the edge of a cliff, holding a white dragon egg.
“Is that…?” whispered Eragon.
“Aye, it’s Eragon, the First Rider. It’s a good likeness too, as he agreed to sit for our artisans.”
Drawn forward by his fascination, Eragon studied the face of his namesake. I always imagined him older. The elf had angled eyes that peered down a hooked nose and narrow chin, giving him a fierce appearance. It was an alien face, completely different from his own…and yet the set of his shoulders, high and tense, reminded Eragon of how he had felt upon finding Saphira’s egg. We’re not so different, you and I, he thought, touching the cool enamel. And once my ears match yours, we shall truly be brothers through time…. I wonder, would you approve of my actions? He knew they had made at least one identical choice; they had both kept the egg.
He heard a door open and close and turned to see Arya approaching from the far end of the gallery. She scanned the wall with the same blank expression Eragon had seen her use when confronting the Council of Elders. Whatever her specific emotions, he sensed that she found the situation distasteful.
Arya inclined her head. “Grimstborith.”
“You have been educating Eragon in your mythology?”
Gannel smiled flatly. “One should always understand the faith of the society that one belongs to.”
“Yet comprehension does not imply belief.” She fingered the pillar of an archway. “Nor does it mean that those who purvey such beliefs do so for more than…material gain.”
“You would deny the sacrifices my clan makes to bring comfort to our brethren?”
“I deny nothing, only ask what good might be accomplished if your wealth were spread among the needy, the starving, the homeless, or even to buy supplies for the Varden. Instead, you’ve piled it into a monument to your own wishful thinking.”
“Enough!” The dwarf clenched his fists, his face mottled. “Without us, the crops would wither in drought. Rivers and lakes would flood. Our flocks would give birth to one-eyed beasts. The very heavens would shatter under the gods’ rage!” Arya smiled. “Only our prayers and service prevent that from happening. If not for Helzvog, where—”
Eragon soon lost track of the argument. He did not understand Arya’s vague criticisms of Dûrgrimst Quan, but he gathered from Gannel’s responses that, in some indirect way, she had implied that the dwarf gods did not exist, questioned the mental capacity of every dwarf who entered a temple, and pointed out what she took to be flaws in their reasoning—all in a pleasant and polite voice.
After a few minutes, Arya raised her hand, stopping Gannel, and said, “That is the difference between us, Grimstborith. You devote yourself to that which you believe to be true but cannot prove. There, we must agree to disagree.” She turned to Eragon then. “Az Sweldn rak Anhûin has inflamed Tarnag’s citizens against you. Ûndin believes, as do I, that it would be best for you to remain behind his walls until we leave.”
Eragon hesitated. He wanted to see more of Celbedeil, but if there was to be trouble, then his place was by Saphira’s side. He bowed to Gannel and begged to be excused. “You need not apologize, Shadeslayer,” said the clan chief. He glared at Arya. “Do what you must, and may the blessings of Gûntera be upon you.”
Together Eragon and Arya departed the temple and, surrounded by a dozen warriors, trotted through the city. As they did, Eragon heard shouts from an angry mob on a lower tier. A stone skipped over a nearby roof. The motion drew his eye to a dark plume of smoke rising from the city’s edge.
Once in the hall, Eragon hurried to his room. There he slipped on his mail hauberk; strapped the greaves to his shins and the bracers to his forearms; jammed the leather cap, coif, and then helm over his head; and grabbed his shield. Scooping up his pack and saddlebags, he ran back to the courtyard, where he sat against Saphira’s right foreleg.
Tarnag is like an overturned anthill, she observed.
Let’s hope we don’t get bitten.
Arya joined them before long, as did a group of fifty heavily armed dwarves who settled in the middle of the courtyard. The dwarves waited impassively, talking in low grunts as they eyed the barred gate and the mountain that rose up behind them.
“They fear,” said Arya, seating herself by Eragon, “that the crowds may prevent us from reaching the rafts.”
“Saphira can always fly us out.”
“Snowfire as well? And Ûndin’s guards? No, if we are stopped, we shall have to wait until the dwarves’ outrage subsides.” She studied the darkening sky. “It’s unfortunate that you managed to offend so many dwarves, but perhaps inevitable. The clans have ever been contentious; what pleases one infuriates another.”
He fingered the ed
ge of his mail. “I wish now I hadn’t accepted Hrothgar’s offer.”
“Ah, yes. As with Nasuada, I think you made the only viable choice. You are not to blame. The fault, if any, lies with Hrothgar for making the offer in the first place. He must have been well aware of the repercussions.”
Silence reigned for several minutes. A half-dozen dwarves marched around the courtyard, stretching their legs. Finally, Eragon asked, “Do you have any family in Du Weldenvarden?”
It was a long time before Arya answered. “None that I’m close to.”
“Why…why is that?”
She hesitated again. “They disliked my choice to become the Queen’s envoy and ambassador; it seemed inappropriate. When I ignored their objections and still had the yawë tattooed on my shoulder—which indicates that I have devoted myself to the greater good of our race, as is the case with your ring from Brom—my family refused to see me again.”
“But that was over seventy years ago,” he protested.
Arya looked away, concealing her face behind a veil of hair. Eragon tried to imagine what it must have been like for her—ostracized from her family and sent to live among two completely different races. No wonder she’s so withdrawn, he realized. “Are there any other elves outside of Du Weldenvarden?”
Still keeping her face covered, she said, “Three of us were sent forth from Ellesméra. Fäolin and Glenwing always traveled with me when we transported Saphira’s egg between Du Weldenvarden and Tronjheim. Only I survived Durza’s ambush.”
“What were they like?”
“Proud warriors. Glenwing loved speaking to birds with his mind. He would stand in the forest surrounded by a flock of songbirds and listen to their music for hours. Afterward, he might sing us the prettiest melodies.”
“And Fäolin?” This time Arya refused to answer, though her hands tightened on her bow. Undaunted, Eragon cast around for another subject. “Why do you dislike Gannel so much?”
She faced him suddenly and touched his cheek with soft fingers. Eragon flinched with surprise. “That,” she said, “is a discussion for another time.” Then she stood and calmly relocated herself across the courtyard.
Confused, Eragon stared at her back. I don’t understand, he said, leaning against Saphira’s belly. She snorted, amused, then curled her neck and tail around him and promptly fell asleep.
As the valley darkened, Eragon struggled to stay alert. He pulled out Gannel’s necklace and examined it several times with magic, but found only the priest’s guarding spell. Giving up, he replaced the necklace under his tunic, pulled his shield over him, and settled down to wait through the night.
At the first hint of light in the sky overhead—though the valley itself was still in shadow and would remain so until almost midday—Eragon roused Saphira. The dwarves were already up, busy muffling their weapons so they could creep through Tarnag with utter secrecy. Ûndin even had Eragon tie rags around Saphira’s claws and Snowfire’s hooves.
When all was ready, Ûndin and his warriors assembled in a large block around Eragon, Saphira, and Arya. The gates were carefully opened—no sound came from the oiled hinges—and then they set out for the lake.
Tarnag seemed deserted, the vacant streets lined with houses where its inhabitants lay oblivious and dreaming. The few dwarves they encountered gazed at them silently, then padded away like ghosts in the twilight.
At the gate to each tier, a guard waved them through without comment. They soon left the buildings and found themselves crossing the barren fields at Tarnag’s base. Beyond those, they reached the stone quay that edged the still, gray water.
Waiting for them were two wide rafts tied alongside a pier. Three dwarves squatted on the first raft, four on the second. They stood as Ûndin came into view.
Eragon helped the dwarves hobble and blindfold Snowfire, then coax the reluctant horse onto the second raft, where he was forced to his knees and tied down. Meanwhile, Saphira slipped off the pier into the lake. Only her head remained above the surface as she paddled through the water.
Ûndin grasped Eragon’s arm. “Here is where we part. You have my best men; they will protect you until you reach Du Weldenvarden.” Eragon tried to thank him, but Ûndin shook his head. “No, it is not a matter for gratitude. It is my duty. I am only shamed that your stay was darkened by the hatred of Az Sweldn rak Anhûin.”
Eragon bowed, then boarded the first raft with Orik and Arya. The mooring ropes were unknotted, and the dwarves pushed away from shore with long poles. As dawn approached, the two rafts drifted toward the mouth of the Az Ragni, Saphira swimming between them.
DIAMONDS IN THE NIGHT
The Empire has violated my home.
So thought Roran as he listened to the anguished moans of the men injured during the previous night’s battle with the Ra’zac and soldiers. Roran shuddered with fear and rage until his whole body was consumed with feverish chills that left his cheeks burning and his breath short. And he was sad, so very sad…as if the Ra’zac’s deeds had destroyed the innocence of his childhood haunts.
Leaving the healer, Gertrude, tending to the wounded, Roran continued toward Horst’s house, noting the makeshift barriers that filled the gaps between buildings: the boards, the barrels, the piles of rocks, and the splintered frames of the two wagons destroyed by the Ra’zac’s explosives. It all seemed pitifully fragile.
The few people who moved through Carvahall were glassy-eyed with shock, grief, and exhaustion. Roran was tired too, more than he could ever remember being. He had not slept since the night before last, and his arms and back ached from the fighting.
He entered Horst’s house and saw Elain standing by the open doorway to the dining room, listening to the steady burn of conversation that emanated from within. She beckoned him over.
After they had foiled the Ra’zac’s counterattack, the prominent members of Carvahall had sequestered themselves in an attempt to decide what action the village should take and if Horst and his allies should be punished for initiating the hostilities. The group had been in deliberation most of the morning.
Roran peeked into the room. Seated around the long table were Birgit, Loring, Sloan, Gedric, Delwin, Fisk, Morn, and a number of others. Horst presided at the head of the table.
“…and I say that it was stupid and reckless!” exclaimed Kiselt, propping himself upright on his bony elbows. “You had no cause to endanger—”
Morn waved a hand. “We’ve been over this before. Whether what has been done should have been done is beside the point. I happen to agree with it—Quimby was my friend as much as anyone’s, and I shudder to think what those monsters would do with Roran—but…but what I want to know is how we can escape this predicament.”
“Easy, kill the soldiers,” barked Sloan.
“And then what? More men will follow until we drown in a sea of crimson tunics. Even if we surrender Roran, it’ll do no good; you heard what the Ra’zac said—they’ll kill us if we protect Roran and enslave us if we don’t. You may feel differently, but, as for myself, I would rather die than spend my life as a slave.” Morn shook his head, his mouth set in a flat grim line. “We cannot survive.”
Fisk leaned forward. “We could leave.”
“There’s nowhere to go,” retorted Kiselt. “We’re backed against the Spine, the soldiers have blocked the road, and beyond them is the rest of the Empire.”
“It’s all your fault,” cried Thane, stabbing a shaking finger at Horst. “They will torch our houses and murder our children because of you. You!”
Horst stood so quickly, his chair toppled over backward. “Where is your honor, man? Will you let them eat us without fighting back?”
“Yes, if it means suicide otherwise.” Thane glared around the table, then stormed out past Roran. His face was contorted by pure, unadulterated fear.
Gedric spotted Roran then and waved him in. “Come, come, we’ve been waiting for you.”
Roran clasped his hands in the small of his back as scores of h
ard eyes inspected him. “How can I help?”
“I think,” said Gedric, “we’ve all agreed that it would accomplish nothing to give you to the Empire at this point. Whether we would if that wasn’t the case is neither here nor there. The only thing we can do is prepare for another attack. Horst will make spearheads—and other weapons if he has time—and Fisk has agreed to construct shields. Fortunately, his carpentry shop didn’t burn. And someone needs to oversee our defenses. We would like it to be you. You’ll have plenty of assistance.”
Roran nodded. “I’ll do my best.”
Beside Morn, Tara stood, towering over her husband. She was a large woman, with gray-streaked black hair and strong hands that were just as capable of twisting off a chicken’s head as separating a pair of brawlers. She said, “Make sure you do, Roran, else we’ll have more funerals.” Then she turned to Horst. “Before we go any further, there are men to bury. And there are children who should be sent to safety, maybe to Cawley’s farm on Nost Creek. You should go as well, Elain.”
“I won’t leave Horst,” said Elain calmly.
Tara bristled. “This is no place for a woman five months pregnant. You’ll lose the child running around like you have.”
“It would do me far more harm to worry in ignorance than remain here. I have borne my sons; I will stay, as I know you and every other wife in Carvahall will.”
Horst came around the table and, with a tender expression, took Elain’s hand. “Nor would I have you anywhere but at my side. The children should go, though. Cawley will care for them well, but we must make sure that the route to his farm is clear.”
“Not only that,” rasped Loring, “none of us, not one blasted man jack can have a thing to do with the families down the valley, ’side from Cawley, of course. They can’t help us, and we don’t want those desecrators to trouble ’em.”
Everyone agreed that he was right, then the meeting ended and the attendees dispersed throughout Carvahall. Before long, however, they recongregated—along with most of the village—in the small cemetery behind Gertrude’s house. Ten white-swathed corpses were arranged beside their graves, a sprig of hemlock on each of their cold chests and a silver amulet around each of their necks.