Eldest (The Inheritance Cycle 2) - Page 55

An expression of profound sorrow engulfed the ancient Rider. “It was necessary,” he replied.

“Necessary that so many had to die?”

“Necessary that you understand the terrible price of using this type of magic. Mere words cannot convey the feeling of having those whose minds you share die. You had to experience it for yourself.”

“I won’t do that again,” vowed Eragon.

“Nor will you have to. If you are disciplined, you can choose to draw the power only from plants and animals that can withstand the loss. It’s impractical in battle, but you may do so in your lessons.” Oromis gestured at him, and, still simmering, Eragon allowed the elf to lean on him as they returned to the hut. “You see why this technique was not taught to younger riders. If it were to become known to a spellweaver of evil disposition, he or she could wreak vast amounts of destruction, especially since it would be difficult to stop anyone with access to so much power.” Once they were back inside, the elf sighed, lowered himself into his chair, and pressed the tips of his fingers together.

Eragon sat as well. “Since it’s possible to absorb energy from”—he waved his hand—“from life, is it also possible to absorb it directly from light or fire or from any of the other forms of energy?”

“Ah, Eragon, if it were, we could destroy Galbatorix in an instant. We can exchange energy with other living beings, we can use that energy to move our bodies or to fuel a spell, and we can even store that energy in certain objects for later use, but we cannot assimilate the fundamental forces of nature. Reason says that it can be done, but no one has managed to devise a spell that allows it.”

Nine days later, Eragon presented himself to Oromis and said, “Master, it struck me last night that neither you nor the hundreds of elven scrolls I’ve read have mentioned your religion. What do elves believe?”

A long sigh was Oromis’s first answer. Then: “We believe that the world behaves according to certain inviolable rules and that, by persistent effort, we can discover those rules and use them to predict events when circumstances repeat.”

Eragon blinked. That did not tell him what he wanted to know. “But who, or what, do you worship?”


“You worship the concept of nothing?”

“No, Eragon. We do not worship at all.”

The thought was so alien, it took Eragon several moments to grasp what Oromis meant. The villagers of Carvahall lacked a single overriding doctrine, but they did share a collection of superstitions and rituals, most of which concerned warding off bad luck. During the course of his training, it had dawned upon Eragon that many of the phenomena that the villagers attributed to supernatural sources were in fact natural processes, such as when he learned in his meditations that maggots hatched from fly eggs instead of spontaneously arising from the dirt, as he had thought before. Nor did it make sense for him to put out an offering of food to keep sprites from turning the milk sour when he knew that sour milk was actually caused by a proliferation of tiny organisms in the liquid. Still, Eragon remained convinced that otherworldly forces influenced the world in mysterious ways, a belief that his exposure to the dwarves’ religion had bolstered. He said, “Where do you think the world came from, then, if it wasn’t created by the gods?”

“Which gods, Eragon?”

“Your gods, the dwarf gods, our gods…someone must have created it.”

Oromis raised an eyebrow. “I would not necessarily agree with you. But be as that may, I cannot prove that gods do not exist. Nor can I prove that the world and everything in it was not created by an entity or entities in the distant past. But I can tell you that in the millennia we elves have studied nature, we have never witnessed an instance where the rules that govern the world have been broken. That is, we have never seen a miracle. Many events have defied our ability to explain, but we are convinced that we failed because we are still woefully ignorant about the universe and not because a deity altered the workings of nature.”

“A god wouldn’t have to alter nature to accomplish his will,” asserted Eragon. “He could do it within the system that already exists…. He could use magic to affect events.”

Oromis smiled. “Very true. But ask yourself this, Eragon: If gods exist, have they been good custodians of Alagaësia? Death, sickness, poverty, tyranny, and countless other miseries stalk the land. If this is the handiwork of divine beings, then they are to be rebelled against and overthrown, not given obeisance, obedience, and reverence.”

“The dwarves believe—”

“Exactly! The dwarves believe. When it comes to certain matters, they rely upon faith rather than reason. They have even been known to ignore proven facts that contradict their dogma.”

“Like what?” demanded Eragon.

“Dwarf priests use coral as proof that stone is alive and can grow, which also corroborates their story that Helzvog formed the race of dwarves out of granite. But we elves discovered that coral is actually an exoskeleton secreted by minuscule animals that live inside it. Any magician can sense the animals if he opens his mind. We explained this to the dwarves, but they refused to listen, saying that the life we felt resides in every kind of stone, although their priests are the only ones who are supposed to be able to detect the life in landlocked stones.”

For a long time, Eragon stared out the window, turning Oromis’s words over in his mind. “You don’t believe in an afterlife, then.”

“From what Glaedr said, you already knew that.”

“And you don’t put stock in gods.”

“We give credence only to that which we can prove exists. Since we cannot find evidence that gods, miracles, and other supernatural things are real, we do not trouble ourselves about them. If that were to change, if Helzvog were to reveal himself to us, then we would accept the new information and revise our position.”

“It seems a cold world without something…more.”

“On the contrary,” said Oromis, “it is a better world. A place where we are responsible for our own actions, where we can be kind to one another because we want to and because it is the right thing to do instead of being frightened into behaving by the threat of divine punishment. I won’t tell you what to believe, Eragon. It is far better to be taught to think critically and then be allowed to make your own decisions than to have someone else’s notions thrust upon you. You asked after our religion, and I have answered you true. Make of it what you will.”

Their discussion—coupled with his previous worries—left Eragon so disturbed that he had difficulty concentrating on his studies in the following days, even when Oromis began to show him how to sing to plants, which Eragon had been eager to learn.

Eragon recognized that his own experiences had already led him to adopt a more skeptical attitude; in principle, he agreed with much of what Oromis had said. The problem he struggled with, though, was that if the elves were right, it meant that nearly all the humans and dwarves were deluded, something Eragon found difficult to accept. That many people can’t be mistaken, he insisted to himself.

When he asked Saphira about it, she said, It matters little to me, Eragon. Dragons have never believed in higher powers. Why should we when deer and other prey consider us to be a higher power? He laughed at that. Only do not ignore reality in order to comfort yourself, for once you do, you make it easy for others to deceive you.

That night, Eragon’s uncertainties burst forth in his waking dreams, which raged like a wounded bear through his mind, tearing disparate images from his memories and mixing them into such a clamor, he felt as if he were transported back into the confusion of the battle under Farthen Dûr. He saw Garrow lying dead in Horst’s house, then Brom dead in the lonely sandstone cave, and then the face of Angela the herbalist, who whispered, “Beware, Argetlam, betrayal is clear. And it will come from within your family. Beware, Shadeslayer!”

Then the crimson sky was torn apart and Eragon again beheld the two armies from his premonition in the Beor Mountains. Th

e banks of warriors collided upon an orange and yellow field, accompanied by the harsh screams of gore-crows and the whistle of black arrows. The earth itself seemed to burn: green flames belched from scorched holes that dotted the ground, charring the mangled corpses left in the armies’ wake. He heard the roar of a gigantic beast from above that rapidly app—

Eragon jolted upright in bed and scrabbled at the dwarf necklace, which burned at his throat. Using his tunic to protect his hand, he pulled the silver hammer away from his skin and then sat and waited in the dark, his heart thudding from the surprise. He felt his strength ebb as Gannel’s spell thwarted whoever was trying to scry him and Saphira. Once again, he wondered if Galbatorix himself was behind the spell, or if it was one of the king’s pet magicians.

Eragon frowned and released the hammer as the metal grew cold again. Something’s wrong. I know that much, and I’ve known it for a while, as has Saphira. Too uneasy to resume the trancelike state that had replaced sleep for him, he crept from their bedroom without waking Saphira and climbed the spiral staircase to the study. There he unshuttered a white lantern and read one of Analísia’s epics until sunrise in an attempt to calm himself.

Just as Eragon put away the scroll, Blagden flew through the open portal in the eastern wall and, with a flutter of wings, landed on the corner of the carved writing desk. The white raven fixed his beady eyes on Eragon and croaked, “Wyrda!”

Eragon inclined his head. “And may the stars watch over you, Master Blagden.”

The raven hopped closer. He cocked his head to the side and uttered a barking cough, as if he were clearing his throat, then recited in his hoarse voice:

By beak and bone,

Mine blackened stone

Sees rooks and crooks

And bloody brooks!

“What does that mean?” asked Eragon.

Blagden shrugged and repeated the verse. When Eragon still pressed him for an explanation, the bird ruffled his feathers, appearing displeased, and cackled, “Son and father alike, both as blind as bats.”

“Wait!” exclaimed Eragon, jolting upright. “Do you know my father? Who is he?”

Blagden cackled again. This time he seemed to be laughing.

While two may share two,

And one of two is certainly one,

One might be two.

“A name, Blagden. Give me a name!” When the raven remained silent, Eragon reached out with his mind, intending to wrench the information from the bird’s memories.

Blagden was too wily, however. He deflected Eragon’s probe with a flick of his thoughts. Shrieking “Wyrda!” he darted forward, plucked a bright glass stopper from an inkwell, and sped away with his trophy clutched in his beak. He dove out of sight before Eragon could cast a spell to bring him back.

Eragon’s stomach knotted as he tried to decipher Blagden’s two riddles. The last thing he had expected was to hear his father mentioned in Ellesméra. Finally, he muttered, “That’s it.” I’ll find Blagden later and wring the truth out of him. But right now…I would have to be a half-wit to ignore these portents. He jumped to his feet and ran down the stairs, waking Saphira with his mind and telling her what had transpired during the night. Retrieving his shaving mirror from the wash closet, Eragon sat between Saphira’s two front paws so that she could look over his head and see what he saw.

Arya won’t appreciate it if we intrude on her privacy, warned Saphira.

I have to know if she’s safe.

Saphira accepted that without argument. How will you find her? You said that after her imprisonment, she erected wards that—like your necklace—prevent anyone from scrying her.

If I can scry the people she’s with, I might be able to figure out how Arya is. Concentrating on an image of Nasuada, Eragon passed his hand over the mirror and murmured the traditional phrase, “Dream stare.”

The mirror shimmered and turned white, except for nine people clustered around an invisible table. Of them, Eragon was familiar with Nasuada and the Council of Elders. But he could not identify a strange girl hooded in black who lurked behind Nasuada. This puzzled him, for a magician could only scry things that he had already seen, and Eragon was certain he had never laid eyes upon the girl before. He forgot about her, though, as he noticed that the men, and even Nasuada, were armed for battle.

Let us hear their words, suggested Saphira.

The instant Eragon made the needed alteration to the spell, Nasuada’s voice emanated from the mirror: “…and confusion will destroy us. Our warriors can afford but one commander during this conflict. Decide who it is to be, Orrin, and quickly too.”

Eragon heard a disembodied sigh. “As you wish; the position is yours.”

“But, sir, she is untried!”

“Enough, Irwin,” ordered the king. “She has more experience in war than anyone in Surda. And the Varden are the only force to have defeated one of Galbatorix’s armies. If Nasuada were a Surdan general—which would be peculiar indeed, I admit—you would not hesitate to nominate her for the post. I shall be happy to deal with questions of authority if they arise afterward, for they will mean I’m still on my feet and not lying in a grave. As it is, we are so outnumbered I fear we are doomed unless Hrothgar can reach us before the end of the week. Now, where is that blasted scroll on the supply train?…Ah, thank you, Arya. Three more days without—”

After that the discussion turned to a shortage of bowstrings, which Eragon could glean nothing useful from, so he ended the spell. The mirror cleared, and he found himself staring at his own face.

She lives, he murmured. His relief was overshadowed, though, by the larger meaning of what they had heard.

Saphira looked at him. We are needed.

Aye. Why hasn’t Oromis told us about this? He must know of it.

Maybe he wanted to avoid disrupting our training.

Troubled, Eragon wondered what else of import was happening in Alagaësia that he was unaware of. Roran. With a pang of guilt, Eragon realized that it had been weeks since he last thought of his cousin, and even longer since he scryed him on the way to Ellesméra.

At Eragon’s command, the mirror revealed two figures standing against a pure white background. It took Eragon a long moment to recognize the man on the right as Roran. He was garbed in travel-worn clothes, a hammer was stuck under his belt, a thick beard obscured his face, and he bore a haunted expression that bespoke desperation. To the left was Jeod. The men surged up and down, accompanied by the thunderous crash of waves, which masked anything they said. After a while, Roran turned and walked along what Eragon assumed was the deck of a ship, bringing dozens of other villagers into view.

Where are they, and why is Jeod with them? demanded Eragon, bewildered.

Diverting the magic, he scryed in quick succession Teirm—shocked to see that the city’s wharfs had been destroyed—Therinsford, Garrow’s old farm, and then Carvahall, whereupon Eragon uttered a wounded cry.

The village was gone.

Every building, including Horst’s magnificent house, had been burned to the ground. Carvahall no longer existed except as a sooty blot beside the Anora River. The sole remaining inhabitants were four gray wolves that loped through the wreckage.

The mirror dropped from Eragon’s hand and shattered across the floor. He leaned against Saphira, tears burning in his eyes as he grieved anew for his lost home. Saphira hummed deep in her chest and brushed his arm with the side of her jaw, enveloping him in a warm blanket of sympathy. Take comfort, little one. At least your friends are still alive.

He shuddered and felt a hard core of determination coalesce in his belly. We have remained sequestered from the world for far too long. It’s high time we leave Ellesméra and confront our fate, whatever it may be. For now, Roran must fend for himself, but the Varden…the Varden we can help.

Is it time to fight, Eragon? asked Saphira, an odd note of formality in her voice.

He knew what she meant: Was it time to challenge the Empire head-on, time to kil

l and rampage to the limit of their considerable abilities, time to unleash every ounce of their rage until Galbatorix lay dead before them? Was it time to commit themselves to a campaign that could take decades to resolve?

It is time.


Eragon packed his belongings in less than five minutes. He took the saddle Oromis had given them, strapped it onto Saphira, then slung his bags over her back and buckled them down.

Saphira tossed her head, nostrils flared, and said, I will wait for you at the field. With a roar, she launched herself from the tree house, unfolding her blue wings in midair, and flew off, skimming the forest canopy.

Quick as an elf, Eragon ran to Tialdarí Hall, where he found Orik sitting in his usual corner, playing a game of Runes. The dwarf greeted him with a hearty slap on the arm. “Eragon! What brings you here at this time of the morn? I thought you’d be off banging swords with Vanir.”

“Saphira and I are leaving,” said Eragon.

Orik stopped with his mouth open, then narrowed his eyes, going serious. “You’ve had news?”

“I’ll tell you about it later. Do you want to come?”

“To Surda?”


A wide smile broke across Orik’s hairy face. “You’d have to clap me in irons before I’d stay behind. I’ve done nothing in Ellesméra but grow fat and lazy. A bit of excitement will do me good. When do we leave?”

“As soon as possible. Gather your things and meet us at the sparring grounds. Can you scrounge up a week’s worth of provisions for the two of us?”

“A week’s? But that won’t—”

“We’re flying on Saphira.”

The skin above Orik’s beard turned pale. “We dwarves don’t do well with heights, Eragon. We don’t do well at all. It’d be better if we could ride horses, like we did coming here.”

Eragon shook his head. “That would take too long. Besides, it’s easy to ride Saphira. She’ll catch you if you fall.” Orik grunted, appearing both queasy and unconvinced. Leaving the hall, Eragon sped through the sylvan city until he rejoined Saphira, and then they flew to the Crags of Tel’naeír.

Tags: Christopher Paolini The Inheritance Cycle Fantasy
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