Eldest (The Inheritance Cycle 2) - Page 62

Hunkering beside Eragon, Orik wiped his brow and shook his head. “How’d you know it was me? I was shielding myself.”

Every consciousness feels different, explained Saphira. Just like no two voices sound exactly the same.


Eragon asked, “What brings you here?”

Orik shrugged. “It struck me you might appreciate a spot of company in this grim night. Especially since Arya’s otherwise engaged and you don’t have Murtagh with you for this battle.”

And I wish I did, thought Eragon. Murtagh had been the only human who matched Eragon’s skill with a sword, at least before the Agaetí Blödhren. Sparring with him had been one of Eragon’s few pleasures during their time together. I would have enjoyed fighting with you again, old friend.

Remembering how Murtagh was killed—dragged underground by Urgals in Farthen Dûr—forced Eragon to confront a sobering truth: No matter how great a warrior you were, as often as not, pure chance dictated who lived and who died in war.

Orik must have sensed his mood, for he clapped Eragon on the shoulder and said, “You’ll be fine. Just imagine how the soldiers out there feel, knowing they have to face you before long!”

Gratitude made Eragon smile again. “I’m glad you came.”

The tip of Orik’s nose reddened, and he glanced down, rolling his bow between gnarled hands. “Ah, well,” he grumbled, “Hrothgar wouldn’t much like it if I let something happen to you. Besides, we’re foster brothers now, eh?”

Through Eragon, Saphira asked, What about the other dwarves? Aren’t they under your command?

A twinkle sprang into Orik’s eyes. “Why, yes, so they are. And they’ll be joining us before long. Seeing as Eragon’s a member of Dûrgrimst Ingeitum, it’s only right we fight the Empire together. That way, the two of you won’t be so vulnerable; you can concentrate on finding Galbatorix’s magicians instead of defending yourselves from constant attacks.”

“A good idea. Thank you.” Orik grunted an acknowledgment. Then Eragon asked, “What do you think about Nasuada and the Urgals?”

“She made the right choice.”

“You agree with her!”

“I do. I don’t like it any more than you, but I do.”

Silence enveloped them after that. Eragon sat against Saphira and stared out at the Empire, trying to prevent his growing anxiety from overwhelming him. Minutes dragged by. To him, the interminable waiting before a battle was as stressful as the actual fighting. He oiled Saphira’s saddle, polished rust off his hauberk, and then resumed familiarizing himself with the minds of Du Vrangr Gata, anything to pass the time.

Over an hour later, he paused as he sensed two beings approaching from across the no-man’s-land. Angela? Solembum? Puzzled and alarmed, he woke Orik—who had dozed off—and told him what he had discovered.

The dwarf frowned and drew his war ax from his belt. “I’ve only met the herbalist a few times, but she didn’t seem like the sort who would betray us. She’s been welcome among the Varden for decades.”

“We should still find out what she was doing,” said Eragon.

Together they picked their way through the camp to intercept the duo as they approached the fortifications. Angela soon trotted into the light, Solembum at her heels. The witch was muffled in a dark, full-length cloak that allowed her to blend into the mottled landscape. Displaying a surprising amount of alacrity, strength, and flexibility, she clambered over the many rows of breastwork the dwarves had engineered, swinging from pole to pole, leaping over trenches, and finally running helter-skelter down the steep face of the last rampart to stop, panting, by Saphira.

Throwing back the hood of her cloak, Angela flashed them a bright smile. “A welcoming committee! How thoughtful of you.” As she spoke, the werecat shivered along his length, fur rippling. Then his outline blurred as if seen through cloudy water, resolving once more into the nude figure of a shaggy-haired boy. Angela dipped her hand into a leather purse at her belt and passed a child’s tunic and breeches back to Solembum, along with the small black dagger he fought with.

“What were you doing out there?” asked Orik, peering at them with a suspicious gaze.

“Oh, this and that.”

“I think you better tell us,” said Eragon.

Her face hardened. “Is that so? Don’t you trust Solembum and me?” The werecat bared his pointed teeth.

“Not really,” admitted Eragon, but with a small smile.

“That’s good,” said Angela. She patted him on the cheek. “You’ll live longer. If you must know, then, I was doing my best to help defeat the Empire, only my methods don’t involve yelling and running around with a sword.”

“And what exactly are your methods?” growled Orik.

Angela paused to roll up her cloak into a tight bundle, which she stored in her purse. “I’d rather not say; I want it to be a surprise. You won’t have to wait long to find out. It’ll start in a few hours.”

Orik tugged on his beard. “What will start? If you can’t give us a straight answer, we’ll have to take you to Nasuada. Maybe she can wring some sense out of you.”

“It’s no use dragging me off to Nasuada,” said Angela. “She gave me permission to cross lines.”

“So you say,” challenged Orik, ever more belligerent.

“And so I say,” announced Nasuada, walking up to them from behind, as Eragon knew she would. He also sensed that she was accompanied by four Kull, one of whom was Garzhvog. Scowling, he turned to face them, making no attempt to hide his anger at the Urgals’ presence.

“My Lady,” muttered Eragon.

Orik was not as composed; he jumped back with a mighty oath, grasping his war ax. He quickly realized that they were not under attack and gave Nasuada a terse greeting. But his hand never left the haft of his weapon and his eyes never left the hulking Urgals. Angela seemed to have no such inhibitions. She paid Nasuada the respect due to her, then addressed the Urgals in their own harsh language, to which they answered with evident delight.

Nasuada drew Eragon off to the side so they could have a measure of privacy. There, she said, “I need you to put aside your feelings for a moment and judge what I am about to tell you with logic and reason. Can you do that?” He nodded, stiff-faced. “Good. I’m doing everything I can to ensure we don’t lose tomorrow. It doesn’t matter, though, how well we fight, or how well I lead the Varden, or even if we rout the Empire if you,” she poked him in the chest, “are killed. Do you understand?” He nodded again. “There’s nothing I can do to protect you if Galbatorix reveals himself; if he does, you will face him alone. Du Vrangr Gata poses no more of a threat to him than they do to you, and I’ll not have them eradicated without reason.”

“I have always known,” said Eragon, “that I would face Galbatorix alone but for Saphira.”

A sad smile touched Nasuada’s lips. She looked very tired in the flickering torchlight. “Well, there’s no reason to invent trouble where none exists. It’s possible Galbatorix isn’t even here.” She did not seem to believe her own words, though. “In any case, I can at least keep you from dying from a sword in the gut. I heard what the dwarves intend to do, and I thought I could improve upon the concept. I asked Garzhvog and three of his rams to be your guards, so long as they agreed—which they have—to let you examine their minds for treachery.”

Eragon went rigid. “You can’t expect me to fight with those monsters. Besides, I already accepted the dwarves’ offer to defend Saphira and me. They would take it poorly if I rejected them in favor of Urgals.”

“Then they can both guard you,” retorted Nasuada. She searched his face for a long time, looking for what he could not tell. “Oh, Eragon. I’d hoped you could see past your hate. What else would you do in my position?” She sighed when he remained silent. “If anyone has cause to hold a grudge against the Urgals, it is I. They killed my father. Yet I cannot allow that to interfere with deciding what’s best for the Varden…. At least ask Saphira’s opinion

before you say yea or nay. I can order you to accept the Urgals’ protection, but I would rather not.”

You’re being foolish, observed Saphira without prompting.

Foolish to not want Kull watching my back?

No, foolish to refuse help, no matter where it comes from, in our present situation. Think. You know what Oromis would do, and you know what he would say. Don’t you trust his judgment?

He can’t be right about everything, said Eragon.

That’s no argument…. Search yourself, Eragon, and tell me whether I speak the truth. You know the correct path. I would be disappointed if you could not bring yourself to embrace it.

Saphira and Nasuada’s cajoling only made Eragon more reluctant to agree. Still, he knew he had no choice. “All right, I’ll let them guard me, but only if I find nothing suspicious in their minds. Will you promise that, after this battle, you won’t make me work with an Urgal again?”

Nasuada shook her head. “I can’t do that, not when it might hurt the Varden.” She paused and said, “Oh, and Eragon?”

“Yes, my Lady?”

“In the event of my death, I have chosen you as my successor. If that should happen, I suggest you rely upon Jörmundur’s advice—he has more experience than the other members of the Council of Elders—and I would expect you to place the welfare of those underneath you before all else. Am I clear, Eragon?”

Her announcement caught him by surprise. Nothing meant more to her than the Varden. Offering it to him was the greatest act of trust she could make. Her confidence humbled and touched him; he bowed his head. “I would strive to be as good a leader as you and Ajihad have been. You honor me, Nasuada.”

“Yes, I do.” Turning away from him, she rejoined the others.

Still overwhelmed by Nasuada’s revelation, and finding his anger tempered by it, Eragon slowly walked back to Saphira. He studied Garzhvog and the other Urgals, trying to gauge their mood, but their features were so different from those he was accustomed to, he could discern nothing more than the broadest of emotions. Nor could he find any empathy within himself for the Urgals. To him, they were feral beasts that would kill him as soon as not and were incapable of love, kindness, or even true intelligence. In short, they were lesser beings.

Deep within his mind, Saphira whispered, I’m sure Galbatorix is of the same opinion.

And for good reason, he growled, intending to shock her. Suppressing his revulsion, he said out loud, “Nar Garzhvog, I am told that the four of you agreed to allow me within your minds.”

“That is so, Firesword. Lady Nightstalker told us what was required. We are honored to have the chance to battle alongside such a mighty warrior, and one who has done so much for us.”

“What do you mean? I have killed scores of your kin.” Unbidden, excerpts from one of Oromis’s scrolls rose in Eragon’s memory. He remembered reading that Urgals, both male and female, determined their rank in society through combat, and that it was this practice, above all else, that had led to so many conflicts between Urgals and other races. Which meant, he realized, that if they admired his feats in battle, then they may have accorded him the same status as one of their war chiefs.

“By killing Durza, you freed us from his control. We are in your debt, Firesword. None of our rams will challenge you, and if you visit our halls, you and the dragon, Flametongue, will be welcomed as no outsiders ever before.”

Of all the responses Eragon had expected, gratitude was the last, and it was the one he was least prepared to deal with. Unable to think of anything else, he said, “I won’t forget.” He switched his gaze to the other Urgals, then returned it to Garzhvog and his yellow eyes. “Are you ready?”

“Aye, Rider.”

As Eragon reached toward Garzhvog’s consciousness, it reminded him of how the Twins invaded his mind when he first entered Farthen Dûr. That observation was swept away as he immersed himself in the Urgal’s identity. The very nature of his search—looking for malevolent intent perhaps hidden somewhere in Garzhvog’s past—meant Eragon had to examine years of memories. Unlike the Twins, Eragon avoided causing deliberate pain, but he was not overly gentle. He could feel Garzhvog flinch with occasional pangs of discomfort. Like dwarves and elves, the mind of an Urgal possessed different elements than a human mind. Its structure emphasized rigidity and hierarchy—a result of the tribes the Urgals organized themselves into—but it felt rough and raw, brutal and cunning: the mind of a wild animal.

Though he made no effort to learn more about Garzhvog as an individual, Eragon could not help absorbing pieces of the Urgal’s life. Garzhvog did not resist. Indeed, he seemed eager to share his experiences, to convince Eragon that Urgals were not his born enemies. We cannot afford to have another Rider rise up who seeks to destroy us, said Garzhvog. Look well, O Firesword, and see if we are truly the monsters you call us….

So many images and sensations flashed between them, Eragon almost lost track: Garzhvog’s childhood with the other members of his brood in a ramshackle village built deep in the heart of the Spine; his dam brushing his hair with an antler comb and singing a soft song; learning to hunt deer and other prey with his bare hands; growing larger and larger until it was apparent that the old blood still flowed in his veins and he would stand over eight feet tall, making him a Kull; the dozens of challenges he made, accepted, and won; venturing out of the village to gain renown, so he might mate, and gradually learning to hate, distrust, and fear—yes, fear—a world that had condemned his race; fighting in Farthen Dûr; discovering they had been manipulated by Durza; and realizing that their only hope of a better life was to put aside old differences, befriend the Varden, and see Galbatorix overthrown. Nowhere was there evidence that Garzhvog lied.

Eragon could not understand what he had seen. Tearing himself from Garzhvog’s mind, he dove into each of the three remaining Urgals. Their memories confirmed the facts presented by Garzhvog. They made no attempt to conceal that they had killed humans, but it had been done at the command of Durza when the sorcerer controlled them, or when fighting humans over food or land. We did what we had to in order to care for our families, they said.

When he finished, Eragon stood before Garzhvog and knew the Urgal’s bloodline was as regal as any prince’s. He knew that, though uneducated, Garzhvog was a brilliant commander and as great a thinker and philosopher as Oromis himself. He’s certainly brighter than me, admitted Eragon to Saphira. Baring his throat as a sign of respect, he said out loud, “Nar Garzhvog,” and for the first time, he was aware of the lofty origins of the title nar. “I am proud to have you at my side. You may tell the Herndall that so long as the Urgals remain true to their word and do not turn against the Varden, I shall not oppose you.” Eragon doubted that he would ever like an Urgal, but the iron certitude of his prejudice only a few minutes before now seemed ignorant, and he could not retain it in good conscience.

Saphira flicked him on the arm with her barbed tongue, making the mail clink together. It takes courage to admit you were wrong.

Only if you are afraid of looking foolish, and I would have looked far more foolish if I persisted with an erroneous belief.

Why, little one, you just said something wise. Despite her teasing, he could sense her warm pride in what he had accomplished.

“Again, we are in your debt, Firesword,” said Garzhvog. He and the other Urgals pressed their fists against their jutting brows.

Eragon could tell that Nasuada wanted to know the details of what had just transpired but that she restrained herself. “Good. Now that this is settled, I must be off. Eragon, you’ll receive my signal from Trianna when the time has arrived.” With that she strode away into the darkness.

As Eragon settled against Saphira, Orik sidled up to him. “It’s lucky we dwarves are going to be here, eh? We’ll watch the Kull like hawks, we will. We won’t let them catch you while your back is turned. The moment they attack, we’ll cut their legs out from under them.”

“I thought you agreed with Nasuada

’s accepting the Urgals’ offer.”

“That doesn’t mean I trust them or want to be right alongside them, now does it?” Eragon smiled and did not bother to argue; it would be impossible to convince Orik that the Urgals were not rapacious killers when he himself had refused to consider the possibility until sharing an Urgal’s memories.

The night lay heavy around them as they waited for dawn. Orik removed a whetstone from his pocket and proceeded to hone the edge of his curved ax. Once they arrived, the six other dwarves did the same, and the rasp of metal on stone filled the air with a grating chorus. The Kull sat back to back, chanting death songs under their breaths. Eragon spent the time casting wards about himself, Saphira, Nasuada, Orik, and even Arya. He knew that it was dangerous to protect so many, but he could not bear it if they were harmed. When he finished, he transferred what power he dared into the diamonds embedded within the belt of Beloth the Wise.

Eragon watched with interest as Angela clad herself in green and black armor and then, taking out a carved-wood case, assembled her staff-sword from two separate handles that attached in the middle and two blades of watered steel that threaded into the ends of the resulting pole. She twirled the completed weapon around her head a few times before seeming satisfied that it would hold up to the shock of battle.

The dwarves eyed her with disapproval, and Eragon heard one grumble, “…blasphemy that any but Dûrgrimst Quan should wield the hûthvír.”

After that the only sound was the discordant music of the dwarves honing their blades.

It was near dawn when the cries began. Eragon and Saphira noticed them first because of their heightened senses, but the agonized screams were soon loud enough for the others to hear. Rising to his feet, Orik looked out toward the Empire, where the cacophony originated. “What manner of creatures are they torturing to extract such fearsome howls? The sound chills the marrow in my bones, it does.”

“I told you that you wouldn’t have to wait very long,” said Angela. Her former cheer had deserted her; she looked pale, drawn, and gray in the face, as if she were ill.

Tags: Christopher Paolini The Inheritance Cycle Fantasy
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