Eragon shivered, and with a touch of amusement, Glaedr said, Saphira, if you are wise, you will heat one of these rocks with the fire from your belly so that your Rider does not freeze.
Thereupon Saphira arched her neck, and a jet of blue flame emanated from between her serrated fangs and splashed against the scree, blackening the lichen, which released a bitter smell as it burned. The air grew so hot that Eragon was forced to turn away. He felt the insects underneath the rocks being crisped in the inferno. After a minute, Saphira clapped shut her jaws, leaving a circle of stones five feet across glowing cherry red.
Thank you, Eragon said to her. He hunched by the edge of the scorched rocks and warmed his hands over them.
Remember, Saphira, to use your tongue to direct the stream, admonished Glaedr. Now…it took nine years for the elves’ wisest magicians to devise the needed spell. When they had, they and the dragons gathered together at Ilirea. The elves provided the structure of the enchantment, the dragons provided the strength, and together they melded the souls of elves and dragons.
The joining changed us. We dragons gained the use of language and other trappings of civilization, while the elves shared in our longevity, since before that moment, their lives were as short as humans’. In the end, the elves were the most affected. Our magic, dragons’ magic—which permeates every fiber of our being—was transmitted to the elves and, in time, gave them their much-vaunted strength and grace. Humans have never been influenced as strongly, since you were added to the spell after its completion and it has not had as much time to work upon you as with the elves. Still—and here Glaedr’s eye gleamed—it has already gentled your race from the rough barbarians who first landed in Alagaësia, though you have begun to regress since the Fall.
“Were dwarves ever part of this spell?” asked Eragon.
No, and that is why there has never been a dwarf Rider. They do not care for dragons, nor we for them, and they found the idea of being joined with us repellent. Perhaps it is fortunate that they did not enter into our pact, for they have escaped the decline of humans and elves.
Decline, Master? queried Saphira in what Eragon would have sworn was a teasing tone of voice.
Aye, decline. If one or another of our three races suffer, so do they all. By killing dragons, Galbatorix harmed his own race as well as the elves. The two of you have not seen this, for you are new to Ellesméra, but the elves are on the wane; their power is not what it once was. And humans have lost much of their culture and been consumed by chaos and corruption. Only by righting the imbalance between our three races shall order return to the world.
The old dragon kneaded the scree with his talons, crumbling it into gravel so that he was more comfortable. Layered within the enchantment Queen Tarmunora oversaw was the mechanism that allows a hatchling to be linked with his or her Rider. When a dragon decides to give an egg to the Riders, certain words are said over the egg—which I shall teach you later—that prevent the dragon inside from hatching until it is brought into contact with the person with whom it decides to bond. As dragons can remain in their eggs indefinitely, time is of no concern, nor is the infant harmed. You yourself are an example of this, Saphira.
The bond that forms between a Rider and dragon is but an enhanced version of the bond that already exists between our races. The human or elf becomes stronger and fairer, while some of the dragon’s fiercer traits are tempered by a more reasoned outlook…. I see a thought biting at your tongue, Eragon. What is it?
“It’s just…” He hesitated. “I have a hard time imagining you or Saphira being any fiercer. Not,” he added anxiously, “that that’s a bad thing.”
The ground shook as if with an avalanche as Glaedr chuckled, rolling his great big staring eye behind its horny lid and back again. If ever you met an unbonded dragon, you would not say so. A dragon alone answers to no one and no thing, takes whatever pleases it, and bears no thought of kindness for aught but its kith and kin. Fierce and proud were the wild dragons, even arrogant…. The females were so formidable, it was accounted a great accomplishment among the Riders’ dragons to mate with one.
The lack of this bond is why Galbatorix’s partnership with Shruikan, his second dragon, is such a perverted union. Shruikan did not choose Galbatorix as his partner; he was twisted by certain black magics into serving Galbatorix’s madness. Galbatorix has constructed a depraved imitation of the relationship that you, Eragon, and you, Saphira, possess and that he lost when the Urgals murdered his original dragon.
Glaedr paused and looked between the two of them. His eye was all that moved. That which links you exceeds any simple connection between minds. Your very souls, your identities—call it what you will—have been welded on a primal level. His eye flicked to Eragon. Do you believe that a person’s soul is separate from his body?
“I don’t know,” said Eragon. “Saphira once took me out of my body and let me see the world through her eyes…. It seemed like I was no longer connected to my body. And if the wraiths that a sorcerer calls upon can exist, then maybe our consciousness is independent of flesh as well.”
Extending the needle-sharp tip of his foreclaw, Glaedr flipped over a rock to expose a woodrat cowering in its nest. He snapped up the rat with a flash of his red tongue; Eragon winced as he felt the animal’s life extinguished.
When the flesh is destroyed, so is the soul, said Glaedr.
“But an animal isn’t a person,” protested Eragon.
After your meditations, do you truly believe that any of us are so different from a woodrat? That we are gifted with a miraculous quality that other creatures do not enjoy and that somehow preserves our beings after death?
“No,” muttered Eragon.
I thought not. Because we are so closely joined, when a dragon or Rider is injured, they must harden their hearts and sever the connection between them in order to protect each other from unnecessary suffering, even insanity. And since the soul cannot be torn from the flesh, you must resist the temptation to try to take your partner’s soul into your own body and shelter it there, as that will result in both your deaths. Even if it were possible, it would be an abomination to have multiple consciousnesses in one body.
“How terrible,” said Eragon, “to die alone, separate even from the one who is closest to you.”
Everyone dies alone, Eragon. Whether you are a king on a battlefield or a lowly peasant lying in bed among your family, no one can accompany you into the void…. Now I will have you practice separating your consciousnesses. Start by…
Eragon stared at the tray of dinner left in the anteroom of the tree house. He cataloged the contents: bread with hazelnut butter, berries, beans, a bowl of leafy greens, two hard-boiled eggs—which, in accordance with the elves’ beliefs, were unfertilized—and a stoppered jug of fresh spring water. He knew that each dish was prepared with the utmost care, that the elves lavished all of their culinary skill upon his meals, and that not even Islanzadí ate better than him.
He could not bear the sight of the tray.
I want meat, he growled, stomping back into the bedroom. Saphira looked up at him from her dais. I’d even settle for fish or fowl, anything besides this never-ending stream of vegetables. They don’t fill up my stomach. I’m not a horse; why should I be fed like one?
Saphira unfolded her legs, walked to the edge of the teardrop gap overlooking Ellesméra, and said, I have needed to eat these past few days. Would you like to join me? You can cook as much meat as you like and the elves will never know.
That I would, he said, brightening. Should I get the saddle?
We won’t go that far.
Eragon fetched his supply of salt, herbs, and other seasonings from his bags and then, careful not to overexert himself, climbed into the gap between the spikes along Saphira’s spine.
Launching herself off the ground, Saphira let an updraft waft her high above the city, whereupon she glided off the column of warm air, slipping down and sideways as she followed a braided stream throug
h Du Weldenvarden to a pond some miles thence. She landed and hunched low to the ground, making it easier for Eragon to dismount.
She said, There are rabbits in the grass by the edge of the water. See if you can catch them. In the meantime, I go to hunt deer.
What, you don’t want to share your own prey?
No, I don’t, she replied grumpily. Though I will if those oversized mice elude you.
He grinned as she took off, then faced the tangled clumps of grass and cow parsnip that surrounded the pond and set about procuring his dinner.
Less than a minute later, Eragon collected a brace of dead rabbits from their nest. It had taken him but an instant to locate the rabbits with his mind and then kill them with one of the twelve death words. What he had learned from Oromis had drained the challenge and excitement from the chase. I didn’t even have to stalk them, he thought, remembering the years he had spent honing his tracking abilities. He grimaced with sour amusement. I can finally bag any game I want and it seems meaningless to me. At least when I hunted with a pebble with Brom, it was still a challenge, but this…this is slaughter.
The warning of the sword-shaper Rhunön returned to him then: “When you can have anything you want by uttering a few words, the goal matters not, only the journey to it.”
I should have paid more attention to her, realized Eragon.
With practiced movements, he drew his old hunting knife, skinned and gutted the rabbits, and then—putting aside the hearts, lungs, kidneys, and livers—buried the viscera so that the scent would not attract scavengers. Next he dug a pit, filled it with wood, and lit a small blaze with magic, since he had not thought to bring his flint and steel. He tended the fire until he had a bed of coals. Cutting a wand of dogwood, he stripped the bark and seared the wood over the coals to burn off the bitter sap, then spitted the carcasses on the wand and suspended them between two forked branches pounded into the ground. For the organs, he placed a flat stone upon a section of the coals and greased it with fat for a makeshift frying pan.
Saphira found him crouched by the fire, slowly turning the wand to cook the meat evenly. She landed with a limp deer hanging from her jaws and the remains of a second deer clutched in her talons. Measuring her length out in the fragrant grass, she proceeded to gorge upon her prey, eating the entire deer, including the hide. Bones cracked between her razor teeth, like branches snapping in a gale.
When the rabbits were ready, Eragon waved them in the air to cool them, then stared at the glistening, golden meat, the smell of which he found almost unbearably enticing.
As he opened his mouth to take the first bite, his thoughts turned unbidden to his meditations. He remembered his excursions into the minds of birds and squirrels and mice, how full of energy they felt and how vigorously they fought for the right to exist in the face of danger. And if this life is all they have…
Gripped by revulsion, Eragon thrust the meat away, as appalled by the fact that he had killed the rabbits as if he had murdered two people. His stomach churned and threatened to make him purge himself.
Saphira paused in her feast to eye him with concern.
Taking a long breath, Eragon pressed his fists against his knees in an attempt to master himself and understand why he was so strongly affected. His entire life he had eaten meat, fish, and fowl. He enjoyed it. And yet it now made him physically ill to consider dining upon the rabbits. He looked at Saphira. I can’t do it, he said.
It is the way of the world that everything eats everything else. Why do you resist the order of things?
He pondered her question. He did not condemn those who did partake of flesh—he knew that it was the only means of survival for many a poor farmer. But he could no longer do so himself unless faced with starvation. Having been inside of a rabbit and having felt what a rabbit feels…eating one would be akin to eating himself. Because we can better ourselves, he answered Saphira. Should we give in to our impulses to hurt or kill any who anger us, to take whatever we want from those who are weaker, and, in general, to disregard the feelings of others? We are made imperfect and must guard against our flaws lest they destroy us. He gestured at the rabbits. As Oromis said, why should we cause unnecessary suffering?
Would you deny all of your desires, then?
I would deny those that are destructive.
You are adamant on this?
In that case, said Saphira, advancing upon him, these will make a fine dessert. In a blink, she gulped down the rabbits and then licked clean the stone with the organs, abrading the slate with the barbs on her tongue. I, at least, cannot live on plants alone—that is food for prey, not a dragon. I refuse to be ashamed about how I must sustain myself. Everything has its place in the world. Even a rabbit knows that.
I’m not trying to make you feel guilty, he said, patting her on the leg. This is a personal decision. I won’t force my choice upon anyone.
Very wise, she said with a touch of sarcasm.
BROKEN EGG AND SCATTERED NEST
“Concentrate, Eragon,” said Oromis, though not unkindly.
Eragon blinked and rubbed his eyes in an attempt to focus on the glyphs that decorated the curling parchment paper before him. “Sorry, Master.” Weariness dragged upon him like lead weights tied to his limbs. He squinted at the curved and spiked glyphs, raised his goose-feather quill, and began to copy them again.
Through the window behind Oromis, the green shelf on top of the Crags of Tel’naeír was streaked with shadows from the descending sun. Beyond, feathery clouds banded the sky.
Eragon’s hand jerked as a line of pain shot up his leg, and he broke the nib of the quill and sprayed ink across the paper, ruining it. Across from him, Oromis also started, clutching his right arm.
Saphira! cried Eragon. He reached for her with his mind and, to his bewilderment, was deflected by impenetrable barriers that she had erected around herself. He could barely feel her. It was as if he were trying to grasp an orb of polished granite coated with oil. She kept slipping away from him.
He looked at Oromis. “Something’s happened to them, hasn’t it?”
“I know not. Glaedr returns, but he refuses to talk to me.” Taking his blade, Naegling, from the wall, Oromis strode outside and stood upon the edge of the crags, head uplifted as he waited for the gold dragon to appear.
Eragon joined him, thinking of everything—probable and improbable—that might have befallen Saphira. The two dragons had left at noon, flying north to a place called the Stone of Broken Eggs, where the wild dragons had nested in ages past. It was an easy trip. It couldn’t be Urgals; the elves don’t allow them into Du Weldenvarden, he told himself.
At last Glaedr came into view high above as a winking speck among the darkening clouds. As he descended to land, Eragon saw a wound on the back of the dragon’s right foreleg, a tear in his lapped scales as wide as Eragon’s hand. Scarlet blood laced the grooves between the surrounding scales.
The moment Glaedr touched the ground, Oromis rushed toward him, only to stop when the dragon growled at him. Hopping on his injured leg, Glaedr crawled to the edge of the forest, where he curled up beneath the outstretched boughs, his back to Eragon, and set about licking clean his wound.
Oromis went and knelt in the clover by Glaedr, keeping his distance with calm patience. It was obvious that he would wait as long as need be. Eragon fidgeted as the minutes elapsed. Finally, by some unspoken signal, Glaedr allowed Oromis to draw near and inspect his leg. Magic glowed from Oromis’s gedwëy ignasia as he placed his hand over the rent in Glaedr’s scales.
“How is he?” asked Eragon when Oromis withdrew.
“It looks a fearsome wound, but it is no more than a scratch for one so large as Glaedr.”
“What about Saphira, though? I still can’t contact her.”
“You must go to her,” said Oromis. “She is hurt, in more ways than one. Glaedr said little of what transpired, but I have guessed much, and you would do well to hurry.”
glanced about for any means of transportation and groaned with anguish when he confirmed that none existed. “How can I reach her? It’s too far to run, there’s no trail, and I can’t—”
“Calm thyself, Eragon. What was the name of the steed who bore you hence from Sílthrim?”
It took Eragon a moment to recall. “Folkvír.”
“Then summon him with your skill at gramarye. Name him and your need in this, the most powerful of languages, and he will come to your assistance.”
Letting the magic suffuse his voice, Eragon cried out for Folkvír, sending his plea echoing over the forested hills toward Ellesméra with all the urgency he could muster.
Oromis nodded, satisfied. “Well done.”
Twelve minutes later, Folkvír emerged like a silver ghost from the dark shadows among the trees, tossing his mane and snorting with excitement. The stallion’s sides heaved from the speed of his journey.
Throwing a leg over the small elven horse, Eragon said, “I’ll return as soon as I can.”
“Do what you must,” said Oromis.
Then Eragon touched his heels to Folkvír’s ribs and shouted, “Run, Folkvír! Run!” The horse leaped forward and bounded into Du Weldenvarden, threading his way with incredible dexterity between the gnarled pines. Eragon guided him toward Saphira with images from his mind.
Lacking a trail through the underbrush, a horse like Snowfire would have taken three or four hours to reach the Stone of Broken Eggs. Folkvír managed the trip in a bit over an hour.