“I don’t see how, unless…” Eragon hesitated, then smiled. “Unless I was aware of the consciousnesses of all the people around me. Then I could sense if they meant me harm.”
Oromis appeared pleased by his answer. “Even so, Eragon-finiarel. And that’s the answer to your question. Your meditations condition your mind to find and exploit flaws in your enemies’ mental armor, no matter how small.”
“But won’t another magic user know if I touch their mind?”
“Aye, they will know, but most people won’t. And as for the magicians, they will know, they will be afraid, and they will shield their minds from you out of their fear, and you will know them because of it.”
“Isn’t it dangerous to leave your consciousness unguarded? If you’re attacked mentally, you could easily be overwhelmed.”
“It’s less dangerous than being blind to the world.”
Eragon nodded. He tapped his spoon against his bowl in a measured meter of time, engrossed in his thoughts, then said, “It feels wrong.”
“Oh? Explain yourself.”
“What about people’s privacy? Brom taught me to never intrude in someone’s mind unless it was absolutely necessary…. I guess I’m uncomfortable with the idea of prying into people’s secrets…secrets that they have every right to keep to themselves.” He cocked his head. “Why didn’t Brom tell me about this if it’s so important? Why didn’t he train me in it himself?”
“Brom told you,” said Oromis, “what was appropriate to tell you under the circumstances. Dipping into the pool of minds can prove addictive to those with a malicious personality or a taste for power. It was not taught to prospective Riders—though we had them meditate as you do throughout their training—until we were convinced that they were mature enough to resist temptation.
“It is an invasion of privacy, and you will learn many things from it that you never wanted to. However, this is for your own good and the good of the Varden. I can say from experience, and from watching other Riders experience the same, that this, above all else, will help you to understand what drives people. And understanding begets empathy and compassion, even for the meanest beggar in the meanest city of Alagaësia.”
They were quiet for a while, eating, then Oromis asked, “Can you tell me, What is the most important mental tool a person can possess?”
It was a serious question, and Eragon considered it for a reasonable span before he ventured to say, “Determination.”
Oromis tore the loaf in half with his long white fingers. “I can understand why you arrived at that conclusion—determination has served you well in your adventures—but no. I meant the tool most necessary to choose the best course of action in any given situation. Determination is as common among men who are dull and foolish as it is among those who are brilliant intellects. So, no, determination cannot be what we’re looking for.”
This time Eragon treated the question as he would a riddle, counting the number of words, whispering them out loud to establish whether they rhymed, and otherwise examining them for hidden meaning. The problem was, he was no more than a mediocre riddler and had never placed very high in Carvahall’s annual riddle contest. He thought too literally to work out the answers to riddles that he had not heard before, a legacy of Garrow’s practical upbringing.
“Wisdom,” he finally said. “Wisdom is the most important tool for a person to possess.”
“A fair guess, but, again, no. The answer is logic. Or, to put it another way, the ability to reason analytically. Applied properly, it can overcome any lack of wisdom, which one only gains through age and experience.”
Eragon frowned. “Yes, but isn’t having a good heart more important than logic? Pure logic can lead you to conclusions that are ethically wrong, whereas if you are moral and righteous, that will ensure that you don’t act shamefully.”
A razor-thin smile curled Oromis’s lips. “You confuse the issue. All I wanted to know was the most useful tool a person can have, regardless of whether that person is good or evil. I agree that it’s important to be of a virtuous nature, but I would also contend that if you had to choose between giving a man a noble disposition or teaching him to think clearly, you’d do better to teach him to think clearly. Too many problems in this world are caused by men with noble dispositions and clouded minds.
“History provides us with numerous examples of people who were convinced that they were doing the right thing and committed terrible crimes because of it. Keep in mind, Eragon, that no one thinks of himself as a villain, and few make decisions they think are wrong. A person may dislike his choice, but he will stand by it because, even in the worst circumstances, he believes that it was the best option available to him at the time.
“On its own, being a decent person is no guarantee that you will act well, which brings us back to the one protection we have against demagogues, tricksters, and the madness of crowds, and our surest guide through the uncertain shoals of life: clear and reasoned thinking. Logic will never fail you, unless you’re unaware of—or deliberately ignore—the consequences of your deeds.”
“If elves are so logical,” said Eragon, “then you must all agree on what to do.”
“Hardly,” averred Oromis. “Like every race, we adhere to a wide range of tenets, and, as a result, we often arrive at differing conclusions, even in identical situations. Conclusions, I might add, that make logical sense from each person’s point of view. And although I wish it were otherwise, not all elves have trained their minds properly.”
“How do you intend to teach me this logic?”
Oromis’s smile broadened. “By the oldest and most effective method: debating. I will ask you a question, then you will answer and defend your position.” He waited while Eragon refilled his bowl with stew. “For example, why do you fight the Empire?”
The sudden change of topic caught Eragon off guard. He had a feeling that Oromis had just reached the subject that he had been driving toward all along. “As I said before, to help those who suffer from Galbatorix’s rule and, to a lesser extent, for personal vengeance.”
“Then you fight for humanitarian reasons?”
“What do you mean?”
“That you fight to help the people who Galbatorix has harmed and to stop him from hurting any more.”
“Exactly,” said Eragon.
“Ah, but answer me this, my young Rider: Won’t your war with Galbatorix cause more pain than it will ever prevent? The majority of people in the Empire live normal, productive lives untouched by their king’s madness. How can you justify invading their land, destroying their homes, and killing their sons and daughters?”
Eragon gaped, stunned that Oromis could ask such a question—Galbatorix was evil—and stunned because no easy reply presented itself. He knew that he was in the right, but how could he prove it? “Don’t you believe that Galbatorix should be overthrown?”
“That is not the question.”
“You must believe it, though,” persisted Eragon. “Look what he did to the Riders.”
Dunking his bread in his stew, Oromis resumed eating, letting Eragon fume in silence. When he finished, Oromis folded his hands in his lap and asked, “Have I upset you?”
“Yes, you have.”
“I see. Well then, continue to ponder the matter until you find an answer. I expect it to be a convincing one.”
BLACK MORNING GLORY
They cleared the table and took the dishes outside, where they cleaned them with sand. Oromis crumbled what remained of the bread around his house for the birds to eat, then they returned inside.
Oromis brought out pens and ink for Eragon, and they resumed his education of the Liduen Kvaedhí, the written form of the ancient language, which was so much more elegant than the humans’ or dwarves’ runes. Eragon lost himself in the arcane glyphs, happy to have a task that required nothing more strenuous than rote memorization.
After hours spent bent over the paper sheets, Oromis waved a hand and said, “Enough.
We will continue this tomorrow.” Eragon leaned back and rolled his shoulders while Oromis selected five scrolls from their nooks in the wall. “Two of these are in the ancient language, three are in your native tongue. They will help you to master both alphabets, as well as give you valuable information that would be tedious for me to vocalize.”
With unerring accuracy, Oromis’s hand darted out and plucked a massive sixth scroll from the wall, which he added to the pyramid in Eragon’s arms. “This is a dictionary. I doubt you can, but try to read it all.”
When the elf opened the door for him to leave, Eragon said, “Master?”
“When will we start working with magic?”
Oromis leaned on one arm against the doorway, caving in on himself as if he no longer possessed the will to remain upright. Then he sighed and said, “You must trust me to guide your training, Eragon. Still, I suppose it would be foolish of me to delay any longer. Come, leave the scrolls on the table, and let us go explore the mysteries of gramarye.”
On the greensward before the hut, Oromis stood looking out over the Crags of Tel’naeír, his back to Eragon, his feet shoulder width apart, and his hands clasped in the small of his back. Without turning around, he asked, “What is magic?”
“The manipulation of energy through the use of the ancient language.”
There was a pause before Oromis responded. “Technically, you are correct, and many spellcasters never understand more than that. However, your description fails to capture the essence of magic. Magic is the art of thinking, not strength or language—you already know that a limited vocabulary is no obstacle to using magic. As with everything else you must master, magic relies on having a disciplined intellect.
“Brom bypassed the normal training regimen and ignored the subtleties of gramarye to ensure that you had the skills you needed to remain alive. I too must distort the regimen in order to focus on the skills that you will likely require in the coming battles. However, whereas Brom taught you the crude mechanics of magic, I will teach you its finer applications, the secrets that were reserved for the wisest of the Riders: how you can kill with no more energy than moving your finger, the method by which you can instantaneously transport an item from one point to another, a spell that will allow you to identify poisons in your food and drink, a variation on scrying that allows you to hear as well as to see, how you can draw energy from your surroundings and thus preserve your own strength, and how you can maximize your strength in every possible way.
“These techniques are so potent and dangerous, they were never shared with novice Riders such as yourself, but circumstances demand that I divulge them and trust that you won’t abuse them.” Raising his right arm to his side, his hand a hooked claw, Oromis proclaimed, “Adurna!”
Eragon watched as a sphere of water coalesced from the brook by the hut and floated through the air until it hovered between Oromis’s outstretched fingers.
The brook was dark and brown under the branches of the forest, but the sphere, removed from it, was as colorless as glass. Flecks of moss, dirt, and other bits of detritus floated inside the orb.
Still gazing toward the horizon, Oromis said, “Catch.” He tossed the sphere back over his shoulder toward Eragon.
Eragon tried to grab the ball, but as soon as it touched his skin, the water lost cohesion and splashed across his chest.
“Catch it with magic,” said Oromis. Again, he cried, “Adurna!” and a sphere of water gathered itself from the surface of the brook and leaped into his hand like a trained hawk obeying its master.
This time Oromis threw the ball without warning. Eragon was prepared, though, and said, “Reisa du adurna,” even as he reached for the ball. It slowed to a halt a hairsbreadth from the skin of his palm.
“An awkward word choice,” said Oromis, “but workable, nevertheless.”
Eragon grinned and whispered, “Thrysta.”
The ball reversed its course and sped toward the base of Oromis’s silver head. However, the sphere did not land where Eragon had intended, but rather shot past the elf, whipped around, and flew back at Eragon with increased velocity.
The water remained as hard and solid as polished marble when it struck Eragon, producing a dull thunk as it collided with his skull. The blow knocked him sprawling on the turf, where he lay stunned, blinking as pulsing lights swam across the sky.
“Yes,” said Oromis. “A better word might be letta or kodthr.” He finally turned to look at Eragon and raised an eyebrow with apparent surprise. “Whatever are you doing? Get up. We can’t lay about all day.”
“Yes, Master,” groaned Eragon.
When Eragon got back on his feet, Oromis had him manipulate the water in various ways—shaping it into complex knots, changing the color of light that it absorbed or reflected, and freezing it in certain prescribed sequences—none of which proved difficult for him.
The exercises continued for so long that Eragon’s initial interest faded and was replaced by impatience and puzzlement. He was chary of offending Oromis, but he saw no point to what the elf was doing; it was as if Oromis were avoiding any spells that would require him to use more than a minimal amount of strength. I’ve already demonstrated the extent of my skills. Why does he persist in reviewing these fundamentals? He said, “Master, I know all of this. Can we not move on?”
The muscles in Oromis’s neck hardened, and his shoulders were like chiseled granite for all they moved; even the elf’s breathing halted before he said, “Will you never learn respect, Eragon-vodhr? So be it!” Then he uttered four words from the ancient language in a voice so deep that their meaning escaped Eragon.
Eragon yelped as he felt each of his legs enveloped by pressure up to the knee, squeezing and constricting his calves in such a way that made it impossible for him to walk. His thighs and upper body were free to move, but other than that, it was as if he had been cast in lime mortar.
“Free yourself,” said Oromis.
Here now was a challenge that Eragon had never dealt with before: how to counter someone else’s spells. He could sever his invisible bonds using one of two different methods. The most effective would be if he knew how Oromis had immobilized him—whether by affecting his body directly or using an external source—for then he could redirect the element or force to disperse Oromis’s power. Or he could use a generic, vague spell to block whatever Oromis was doing. The downside to the tactic was that it would lead to a direct contest of strength between them. It had to happen sometime, thought Eragon. He entertained no hope of prevailing against an elf.
Assembling the required phrase, he said, “Losna kalfya iet.” Release my calves.
The surge of energy that deserted Eragon was greater than he had anticipated; he went from being moderately tired from the day’s pains and exertions to feeling as if he had hiked over rough terrain since morn. Then the pressure vanished from his legs, causing him to stagger as he regained his balance.
Oromis shook his head. “Foolish,” he said, “very foolish. If I had committed more to maintaining my spell, that would have killed you. Never use absolutes.”
“Never word your spells so that only two outcomes are possible: success or death. If an enemy had trapped your legs and if he were stronger than you, then you would have expended all of your energy trying to break his spell. You would have died with no chance to abort the attempt once you realized that it was futile.”
“How do I avoid that?” asked Eragon.
“It’s safer to make the spell a process that you can terminate at your discretion. Instead of saying release my calves, which is an absolute, you could say reduce the magic imprisoning my calves. A bit wordy, but you could then decide how much you wanted your opponent’s spell decreased and if it were safe to remove it entirely. We will try again.”
The pressure returned to Eragon’s legs as soon as Oromis mouthed his inaudible invocation. Eragon was so tired
, he doubted that he could provide much opposition. Nevertheless, he reached for the magic.
Before the ancient language left Eragon’s mouth, he became aware of a curious sensation as the weight constraining his legs lessened at a steady rate. It tickled and felt like he was being pulled out of a mire of cold, slick mud. He glanced at Oromis and saw the elf’s face scribed by passion, as if he clung to something precious that he could not bear to lose. A vein throbbed at one of Oromis’s temples.
When Eragon’s arcane fetters ceased to exist, Oromis recoiled as if he had been pricked by a wasp and stood with his gaze fixed on his two hands, his thin chest heaving. For perhaps a minute, he remained thus, then he drew himself upright and walked to the very edge of the Crags of Tel’naeír, a lone figure outlined against the pale sky.
Regret and sorrow welled in Eragon—the same emotions that had gripped him when he first saw Glaedr’s mutilated foreleg. He cursed himself for being so arrogant with Oromis, so oblivious to his infirmities, and for not placing more confidence in the elf’s judgment. I’m not the only one who must deal with past injuries. Eragon had not fully comprehended what it meant when Oromis said that all but the slightest magic escaped his grasp. Now he appreciated the depths of Oromis’s situation and the pain that it must cause him, especially for one of his race, who was born and bred with magic.
Eragon went to Oromis, knelt, and bowed in the fashion of the dwarves, pressing his bruised forehead against the ground. “Ebrithil, I beg your pardon.”
The elf gave no indication that he had heard.
The two of them lingered in their respective positions while the sun declined before them, the birds sang their evening songs, and the air grew cool and moist. From the north came the faint offbeat thumps of Saphira and Glaedr’s wing strokes as they returned for the day.
In a low, distant voice, Oromis said, “We will begin anew tomorrow, with this and other subjects.” From his profile, Eragon could tell that Oromis had regained his customary expression of impassive reserve. “Is that agreeable to you?”