Eldest (The Inheritance Cycle 2) - Page 15

Roran found himself standing beside Sloan. The butcher held one of Fisk’s makeshift shields in his left hand, and in his right a cleaver curved like a half-moon. His belt was festooned with at least a dozen knives, all of them large and honed to a razor edge. He and Roran exchanged brisk nods, then refocused on where the soldier had disappeared.

Less than a minute later, the disembodied voice of a Ra’zac slithered out of the mist: “By continuing to defend Carvahall, you proclaim your choice and ssseal your doom. You ssshall die!”

Loring responded: “Show your maggot-riddled faces if you dare, you lily-livered, bandy-legged, snake-eyed wretches! We’ll crack your skulls open and fatten our hogs on your blood!”

A dark shape floated toward them, followed by the dull thump of a spear embedding itself in a door an inch from Gedric’s left arm.

“Take cover!” shouted Horst from the middle of the line. Roran knelt behind his shield and peered through a hairline gap between two of the boards. He was just in time, for a half-dozen spears hurtled over the wall of trees and buried themselves among the cowering villagers.

From somewhere in the mist came an agonized scream.

Roran’s heart jumped with a painful flutter. He panted for breath, though he had not moved, and his hands were slick with sweat. He heard the faint sound of shattering glass on the northern edge of Carvahall…then the bellow of an explosion and crashing timbers.

Spinning around, he and Sloan sped through Carvahall, where they found a team of six soldiers dragging away the splintered remains of several trees. Beyond them, pale and wraithlike in the glittering shards of rain, sat the Ra’zac on their black horses. Without slowing, Roran fell upon the first man, jabbing his spear. His first and second stabs were deflected by an upraised arm, then Roran caught the soldier on the hip, and when he stumbled, in his throat.

Sloan howled like an enraged beast, threw his cleaver, and split one of the men’s helms, crushing his skull. Two soldiers charged him with drawn swords. Sloan sidestepped, laughing now, and blocked their attacks with his shield. One soldier swung so hard, his blade stuck in the shield’s rim. Sloan yanked him closer and gored him through the eye with a carving knife from his belt. Drawing a second cleaver, the butcher circled his other opponent with a maniacal grin. “Shall I gut and hamstring you?” he demanded, almost prancing with a terrible, bloody glee.

Roran lost his spear to the next two men he faced. He barely managed to drag out his hammer in time to stop a sword from shearing off his leg. The soldier who had torn the spear from Roran’s grip now cast the weapon at him, aiming for his breast. Roran dropped his hammer, caught the shaft in midair—which astounded him as much as the soldiers—spun it around, and drove the spear through the armor and ribs of the man who had launched it. Left weaponless, Roran was forced to retreat before the remaining soldier. He stumbled over a corpse, cutting his calf on a sword as he fell, and rolled to avoid a two-handed blow from the soldier, scrabbling frantically in the ankle-deep mud for something, anything he could use for a weapon. A hilt bruised his fingers, and he ripped it from the muck and slashed at the soldier’s sword hand, severing his thumb.

The man stared dumbly at the glistening stump, then said, “This is what comes from not shielding myself.”

“Aye,” agreed Roran, and beheaded him.

The last soldier panicked and fled toward the impassive specters of the Ra’zac while Sloan bombarded him with a stream of insults and foul names. When the soldier finally pierced the shining curtain of rain, Roran watched with a thrill of horror as the two black figures bent down from their steeds on either side of the man and gripped the nape of his neck with twisted hands. The cruel fingers tightened, and the man shrieked desperately and convulsed, then went limp. The Ra’zac placed the corpse behind one of their saddles before turning their horses and riding away.

Roran shuddered and looked at Sloan, who was cleaning his blades. “You fought well.” He had never suspected that the butcher contained such ferocity.

Sloan said in a low voice, “They’ll never get Katrina. Never, even if I must skin the lot of them, or fight a thousand Urgals and the king to boot. I’d tear the sky itself down and let the Empire drown in its own blood before she suffers so much as a scratch.” He clamped his mouth shut then, jammed the last of his knives into his belt, and began dragging the three broken trees back into position.

While he did, Roran rolled the dead soldiers through the trampled mud, away from the fortifications. Now I have killed five. At the completion of his labor, he straightened and glanced around, puzzled, for all he heard was silence and the hissing rain. Why has no one come to help us?

Wondering what else might have occurred, he returned with Sloan to the scene of the first attack. Two soldiers hung lifelessly on the slick branches of the tree wall, but that was not what held their attention. Horst and the other villagers knelt in a circle around a small body. Roran caught his breath. It was Elmund, son of Delwin. The ten-year-old boy had been struck in his side by a spear. His parents sat in the mud beside him, their faces as blank as stone.

Something has to be done, thought Roran, dropping to his knees and leaning against his spear. Few children survived their first five or six years. But to lose your firstborn son now, when everything indicated that he should grow tall and strong to take his father’s place in Carvahall—it was enough to crush you. Katrina…the children…they all have to be protected.

But where?…Where?…Where?…Where!


On the first day from Tarnag, Eragon made an effort to learn the names of Ûndin’s guards. They were Ama, Tríhga, Hedin, Ekksvar, Shrrgnien—which Eragon found unpronounceable, though he was told it meant Wolfheart—Dûthmér, and Thorv.

Each raft had a small cabin in the center. Eragon preferred to spend his time seated on the edge of the logs, watching the Beor Mountains scroll by. Kingfishers and jackdaws flitted along the clear river, while blue herons stood stiltlike on the marshy bank, which was planked with splotches of light that fell through the boughs of hazel, beech, and willow. Occasionally, a bullfrog would croak from a bed of ferns.

When Orik settled beside him, Eragon said, “It’s beautiful.”

“That it is.” The dwarf quietly lit his pipe, then leaned back and puffed.

Eragon listened to the creak of wood and rope as Tríhga steered the raft with the long paddle at the aft. “Orik, can you tell me why Brom joined the Varden? I know so little about him. For most of my life, he was just the town storyteller.”

“He never joined the Varden; he helped found it.” Orik paused to tap some ashes into the water. “After Galbatorix became king, Brom was the only Rider still alive, outside of the Forsworn.”

“But he wasn’t a Rider, not then. His dragon was killed in the fighting at Doru Araeba.”

“Well, a Rider by training. Brom was the first to organize the friends and allies of the Riders who had been forced into exile. It was he who convinced Hrothgar to allow the Varden to live in Farthen Dûr, and he who obtained the elves’ assistance.”

They were silent for a while. “Why did Brom relinquish the leadership?” asked Eragon.

Orik smiled wryly. “Perhaps he never wanted it. It was before Hrothgar adopted me, so I saw little of Brom in Tronjheim…. He was always off fighting the Forsworn or engaged in one plot or another.”

“Your parents are dead?”

“Aye. The pox took them when I was young, and Hrothgar was kind enough to welcome me into his hall and, since he has no children of his own, to make me his heir.”

Eragon thought of his helm, marked with the Ingeitum symbol. Hrothgar has been kind to me as well.

When the afternoon twilight arrived, the dwarves hung a round lantern at each corner of the rafts. The lanterns were red, which Eragon remembered was to preserve night vision. He stood by Arya and studied the lanterns’ pure, motionless depths. “Do you know how these are made?” he asked.

“It was a

spell we gave the dwarves long ago. They use it with great skill.”

Eragon reached up and scratched his chin and cheeks, feeling the patches of stubble that had begun to appear. “Could you teach me more magic while we travel?”

She looked at him, her balance perfect on the undulating logs. “It is not my place. A teacher is waiting for you.”

“Then tell me this, at least,” he said. “What does the name of my sword mean?”

Arya’s voice was very soft. “Misery is your sword. And so it was until you wielded it.”

Eragon stared with aversion at Zar’roc. The more he learned about his weapon, the more malevolent it seemed, as if the blade could cause misfortune of its own free will. Not only did Morzan kill Riders with it, but Zar’roc’s very name is evil. If Brom had not given it to him, and if not for the fact that Zar’roc never dulled and could not be broken, Eragon would have thrown it into the river at that very moment.

Before it grew any darker, Eragon swam out to Saphira. They flew together for the first time since leaving Tronjheim and soared high above the Az Ragni, where the air was thin and the water below was only a purple streak.

Without the saddle, Eragon gripped Saphira tightly with his knees, feeling her hard scales rub the scars from their first flight.

As Saphira tilted to the left, rising on an updraft, he saw three brown specks launch themselves from the mountainside below and ascend rapidly. At first Eragon took them to be falcons, but as they neared, he realized that the animals were almost twenty feet long, with attenuated tails and leathery wings. In fact, they looked like dragons, though their bodies were smaller, thinner, and more serpentine than Saphira’s. Nor did their scales glitter, but were dappled green and brown.

Excited, Eragon pointed them out to Saphira. Could they be dragons? he asked.

I don’t know. She floated in place, inspecting the newcomers as they spiraled around them. The creatures seemed puzzled by Saphira. They darted toward her, only to hiss and swoop overhead at the last moment.

Eragon grinned and reached out with his mind, trying to touch their thoughts. As he did, the three recoiled and shrieked, opening their maws like hungry snakes. Their piercing keen was mental as well as physical. It tore through Eragon with a savage strength, seeking to incapacitate him. Saphira felt it too. Continuing the racking cry, the creatures attacked with razor claws.

Hold on, warned Saphira. She folded her left wing and spun halfway around, avoiding two of the animals, then flapped quickly, rising above the other. At the same time, Eragon worked furiously to block the shriek. The instant his mind was clear, he reached for the magic. Don’t kill them, said Saphira. I want the experience.

Though the creatures were more agile than Saphira, she had the advantage of bulk and strength. One of the creatures dove at her. She flipped upside down—falling backward—and kicked the animal in the chest.

The shriek dropped in intensity as her injured foe retreated.

Saphira flared her wings, looping right side up so she faced the other two as they converged on her. She arched her neck, Eragon heard a deep rumble between her ribs, and then a jet of flame roared from her jaws. A molten-blue halo engulfed Saphira’s head, flashing through her gemlike scales until she sparkled gloriously and seemed to be lit from within.

The two dragon-beasts squawked in dismay and veered to either side. The mental assault ceased as they sped away, sinking back toward the mountainside.

You almost threw me off, said Eragon, loosening his cramped arms from around her neck.

She looked at him smugly. Almost, but not quite.

That’s true, he laughed.

Flushed with the thrill of victory, they returned to the rafts. As Saphira landed amid two great fins of water, Orik shouted, “Are you hurt?”

“No,” called Eragon. The icy water whirled around his legs as Saphira swam to the side of the raft. “Were they another race unique to the Beors?”

Orik pulled him onto the raft. “We call them Fanghur. They’re not as intelligent as dragons and they can’t breathe fire, but they are still formidable foes.”

“So we discovered.” Eragon massaged his temples in an attempt to alleviate the headache the Fanghur’s attack had brought on. “Saphira was more than a match for them, however.”

Of course, she said.

“It’s how they hunt,” explained Orik. “They use their minds to immobilize their prey while they kill it.”

Saphira flicked water at Eragon with her tail. It’s a good idea. Maybe I’ll try it next time I go hunting.

He nodded. It could come in handy in a fight too.

Arya came to the edge of the raft. “I’m glad you did not kill them. Fanghur are rare enough that those three would have been sorely missed.”

“They still manage to eat enough of our herds,” growled Thorv from inside the cabin. The dwarf marched out to Eragon, champing irritably under the twisted knots of his beard. “Do not fly anymore while in these Beor Mountains, Shadeslayer. It is difficult enough to keep you unharmed without you and thine dragon fighting wind-vipers.”

“We’ll stay on the ground until we reach the plains,” promised Eragon.


When they stopped for the night, the dwarves moored the rafts to aspen trees along the mouth of a small stream. Ama started a fire while Eragon helped Ekksvar pull Snowfire onto land. They picketed the stallion on a strip of grass.

Thorv oversaw the erection of six large tents. Hedin gathered firewood to last until morning, and Dûthmér carried supplies off the second raft and began making dinner. Arya took up watch on the edge of camp, where she was soon joined by Ekksvar, Ama, and Tríhga when they finished their tasks.

When Eragon realized he had nothing to do, he squatted by the fire with Orik and Shrrgnien. As Shrrgnien pulled off his gloves and held his scarred hands over the flames, Eragon noticed that a polished steel stud—perhaps a quarter of an inch long—protruded from each of the dwarf’s knuckles, except for on his thumbs.

“What are those?” he asked.

Shrrgnien looked at Orik and laughed. “These are mine Ascûdgamln…mine ‘fists of steel.’” Without standing, he twisted and punched the bole of an aspen, leaving four symmetrical holes in the bark. Shrrgnien laughed again. “They are good for hitting things, eh?”

Eragon’s curiosity and envy were aroused. “How are they made? I mean, how are the spikes attached to your hands?”

Shrrgnien hesitated, trying to find the right words. “A healer puts you in a deep sleep, so you feel no pain. Then a hole is—is drilled, yes?—is drilled down through the joints…” He broke off and spoke quickly to Orik in the dwarf language.

“A metal socket is embedded in each hole,” explained Orik. “Magic is used to seal it in place, and when the warrior has fully recovered, various-sized spikes can be threaded into the sockets.”

“Yes, see,” said Shrrgnien, grinning. He gripped the stud above his left index finger, carefully twisted it free of his knuckle, and then handed it to Eragon.

Eragon smiled as he rolled the sharp lump around his palm. “I wouldn’t mind having ‘fists of steel’ myself.” He returned the stud to Shrrgnien.

“It’s a dangerous operation,” warned Orik. “Few knurlan get Ascûdgamln because you can easily lose the use of your hands if the drill goes too deep.” He raised his fist and showed it to Eragon. “Our bones are thicker than yours. It might not work for a human.”

“I’ll remember that.” Still, Eragon could not help but imagine what it would be like to fight with Ascûdgamln, to be able to strike anything he wanted with impunity, including armored Urgals. He loved the idea.

After eating, Eragon retired to his tent. The fire provided enough light that he could see the silhouette of Saphira nestled alongside the tent, like a figure cut from black paper and pasted against the canvas wall.

Eragon sat with the blankets pulled over his legs and stared at his lap, drowsy but unwilling to sleep quite yet. Unbidden

, his mind turned to thoughts of home. He wondered how Roran, Horst, and everyone else from Carvahall was doing, and if the weather in Palancar Valley was warm enough for the farmers to start planting their crops. Longing and sadness suddenly gripped Eragon.

He removed a wood bowl from his pack and, taking his waterskin, filled it to the brim with liquid. Then he focused on an image of Roran and whispered, “Draumr kópa.”

As always, the water went black before brightening to reveal the object being scryed. Eragon saw Roran sitting alone in a candlelit bedroom he recognized from Horst’s house. Roran must have given up his job in Therinsford, realized Eragon. His cousin leaned on his knees and clasped his hands, staring at the far wall with an expression that Eragon knew meant Roran was grappling with some difficult problem. Still, Roran seemed well enough, if a bit drawn, which comforted Eragon. After a minute, he released the magic, ending the spell and clearing the surface of the water.

Reassured, Eragon emptied the bowl, then lay down, pulling the blankets up to his chin. He closed his eyes and sank into the warm dusk that separates consciousness and sleep, where reality bends and sways to the wind of thought, and where creativity blossoms in its freedom from boundaries and all things are possible.

Slumber soon took him. Most of his rest was uneventful, but right before he woke, the usual night phantasms were replaced with a vision as clear and vibrant as any waking experience.

He saw a tortured sky, black and crimson with smoke. Crows and eagles swirled high above flights of arrows that arched from one side to another of a great battle. A man sprawled in the clotted mud with a dented helm and bloody mail—his face concealed behind an upthrown arm.

An armored hand entered Eragon’s view. The gauntlet was so near it blotted out half the world with polished steel. Like an inexorable machine, the thumb and last three fingers curled into a fist, leaving the trunk of the index finger to point at the downed man with all the authority of fate itself.

Tags: Christopher Paolini The Inheritance Cycle Fantasy
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