“If they do, they will regret it,” muttered Eragon. He resolved to return to the site at the earliest opportunity and place wards around Brom’s tomb to protect it from grave robbers. “Besides, they will be too busy hunting gold lilies to bother Brom.”
“Nothing. It’s not important.” The three of them sipped their tea. Helen nibbled on a biscuit. Then Eragon asked, “You met Morzan, didn’t you?”
“They were not the friendliest of occasions, but yes, I met him.”
“What was he like?”
“As a person? I really couldn’t say, although I’m well acquainted with tales of his atrocities. Every time Brom and I crossed paths with him, he was trying to kill us. Or rather, capture, torture, and then kill us, none of which are conducive to establishing a close relationship.” Eragon was too intent to respond to Jeod’s humor. Jeod shifted on the bed. “As a warrior, Morzan was terrifying. We spent a great deal of time running away from him, I seem to remember—him and his dragon, that is. Few things are as frightening as having an enraged dragon chasing you.”
“How did he look?”
“You seem inordinately interested in him.”
Eragon blinked once. “I’m curious. He was the last of the Forsworn to die, and Brom was the one who slew him. And now Morzan’s son is my mortal enemy.”
“Let me see, then,” said Jeod. “He was tall, he had broad shoulders, his hair was dark like a raven’s feathers, and his eyes were different colors. One was blue and one was black. His chin was bare, and he was missing the tip of one of his fingers; I forget which. Handsome he was, in a cruel, haughty manner, and when he spoke, he was most charismatic. His armor was always polished bright, whether mail or a breastplate, as if he had no fear of being spotted by his enemies, which I suppose he hadn’t. When he laughed, it sounded as if he were in pain.”
“What of his companion, the woman Selena? Did you meet her as well?”
Jeod laughed. “If I had, I would not be here today. Morzan may have been a fearsome swordsman, a formidable magician, and a murderous traitor, but it was that woman of his who inspired the most terror in people. Morzan only used her for missions that were so repugnant, difficult, or secretive that no one else would agree to undertake them. She was his Black Hand, and her presence always signaled imminent death, torture, betrayal, or some other horror.” Eragon felt sick hearing his mother described thusly. “She was utterly ruthless, devoid of either pity or compassion. It was said that when she asked Morzan to enter his service, he tested her by teaching her the word for heal in the ancient language—for she was a spellcaster as well as a common fighter—and then pitting her against twelve of his finest swordsmen.”
“How did she defeat them?”
“She healed them of their fear and their hate and all the things that drive a man to kill. And then while they stood grinning at each other like idiot sheep, she went up to the men and cut their throats…. Are you feeling well, Eragon? You are as pale as a corpse.”
“I’m fine. What else do you remember?”
Jeod tapped the side of his mug. “Precious little concerning Selena. She was always somewhat of an enigma. No one besides Morzan even knew her real name until just a few months before Morzan’s death. To the public at large, she has never been anything other than the Black Hand; the Black Hand we have now—the collection of spies, assassins, and magicians who carry out Galbatorix’s low skulduggery—is Galbatorix’s attempt to recreate Selena’s usefulness to Morzan. Even among the Varden, only a handful of people were privy to her name, and most of them are moldering in graves now. As I recall, it was Brom who discovered her true identity. Before I went to the Varden with the information concerning the secret passageway into Castle Ilirea—which the elves built millennia ago and which Galbatorix expanded upon to form the black citadel that now dominates Urû’baen—before I went to them, Brom had spent a rather significant length of time spying on Morzan’s estate in the hope he might unearth a hitherto unsuspected weakness of Morzan’s…. I believe Brom gained admittance to Morzan’s hall by disguising himself as a member of the serving staff. It was then that he found out what he did about Selena. Still, we never did learn why she was so attached to Morzan. Perhaps she loved him. In any event, she was utterly loyal to him, even to the point of death. Soon after Brom killed Morzan, word reached the Varden that sickness had taken her. It is as if the trained hawk was so fond of her master, she could not live without him.”
She was not entirely loyal, thought Eragon. She defied Morzan when it came to me, even though she lost her life as a result. If only she could have rescued Murtagh as well. As for Jeod’s accounts of her misdeeds, Eragon chose to believe that Morzan had perverted her essentially good nature. For the sake of his own sanity, Eragon could not accept that both his parents had been evil.
“She loved him,” he said, staring at the murky dregs at the bottom of his mug. “In the beginning, she loved him; maybe not so much later. Murtagh is her son.”
Jeod raised an eyebrow. “Indeed? You have it from Murtagh himself, I suppose?” Eragon nodded. “Well, that explains a number of questions I always had. Murtagh’s mother… I’m surprised that Brom didn’t uncover that particular secret.”
“Morzan did everything he could to conceal Murtagh’s existence, even from the other members of the Forsworn.”
“Knowing the history of those power-hungry, backstabbing knaves, he probably saved Murtagh’s life. More’s the pity too.”
Silence crept among them then, like a shy animal ready to flee at the slightest motion. Eragon continued to gaze into his mug. A host of questions bedeviled him, but he knew that Jeod could not answer them and it was unlikely anyone else could either: Why had Brom hidden himself in Carvahall? To keep watch over Eragon, the son of his most hated foe? Had it been some cruel joke giving Eragon Zar’roc, his father’s blade? And why had Brom not told him the truth about his parentage? He tightened his grip on the mug and, without meaning to, shattered the clay.
The three of them started at the unexpected noise.
“Here, let me help you with that,” said Helen, bustling forward and dabbing at his tunic with a rag. Embarrassed, Eragon apologized several times, to which both Jeod and Helen responded by assuring him it was a small mishap and not to worry himself about it.
While Helen picked up the shards of fire-hardened clay, Jeod began to dig through the layers of books, scrolls, and loose papers that covered the bed, saying, “Ah, it had nearly slipped my mind. I have something for you, Eragon, that might prove useful. If only I can find it here….” With a pleased exclamation, he straightened, flourishing a book, which he handed to Eragon.
It was Domia abr Wyrda, the Dominance of Fate, a complete history of Alagaësia written by Heslant the Monk. Eragon had first seen it in Jeod’s library in Teirm. He had not expected that he would ever get a chance to examine it again. Savoring the feeling, he ran his hands over the carved leather on the front cover, which was shiny with age, then opened the book and admired the neat rows of runes within, lettered in glossy red ink. Awed by the size of the knowledge hoard he held, Eragon said, “You wish me to have this?”
“I do,” asserted Jeod. He moved out of the way as Helen retrieved a fragment of the mug from under the bed. “I think you might profit by it. You are engaged in historic events, Eragon, and the roots of the difficulties you face lie in happenings from decades, centuries, and millennia ago. If I were you, I would study at every opportunity the lessons history has to teach us, for they may help you with the problems of today. In my own life, reading the record of the past has often provided me with the courage and the insight to choose the correct path.”
Eragon longed to accept the gift, but still he hesitated. “Brom said that Domia abr Wyrda was the most valuable thing in your house. And rare as well…. Besides, what of your work? Don’t you need this for your research?”
“Domia abr Wyrda is valuable and it is rare,” said Jeod, “but only in the Empi
re, where Galbatorix burns every copy he finds and hangs their unfortunate owners. Here in the camp, I have already had six copies foisted upon me by members of King Orrin’s court, and this is hardly what one would call a great center of learning. However, I do not part with it lightly, and only because you can put it to better use than I can. Books should go where they will be most appreciated, and not sit unread, gathering dust on a forgotten shelf, don’t you agree?”
“I do.” Eragon closed Domia abr Wyrda and again traced the intricate patterns on the front with his fingers, fascinated by the swirling designs that had been chiseled into the leather. “Thank you. I shall treasure it for as long as it is mine to watch over.” Jeod dipped his head and leaned back against the wall of the tent, appearing satisfied. Turning the book on its edge, Eragon examined the lettering on the spine. “What was Heslant a monk of?”
“A small, secretive sect called the Arcaena that originated in the area by Kuasta. Their order, which has endured for at least five hundred years, believes that all knowledge is sacred.” A hint of a smile lent Jeod’s features a mysterious cast. “They have dedicated themselves to collecting every piece of information in the world and preserving it against a time when they believe an unspecified catastrophe will destroy all the civilizations in Alagaësia.”
“It seems a strange religion,” Eragon said.
“Are not all religions strange to those who stand outside of them?” countered Jeod.
Eragon said, “I have a gift for you as well, or rather, for you, Helen.” She tilted her head, a quizzical frown on her face. “Your family was a merchant family, yes?” She jerked her chin in an affirmative. “Were you very familiar with the business yourself?”
Lightning sparked in Helen’s eyes. “If I had not married him”—she motioned with a shoulder—“I would have taken over the family affairs when my father died. I was an only child, and my father taught me everything he knew.”
That was what Eragon had hoped to hear. To Jeod, he said, “You claimed that you are content with your lot here with the Varden.”
“And so I am. Mostly.”
“I understand. However, you risked a great deal to help Brom and me, and you risked even more to help Roran and everyone else from Carvahall.”
“The Palancar Pirates.”
Eragon chuckled and continued. “Without your assistance, the Empire would surely have captured them. And because of your act of rebellion, you both lost all that was dear to you in Teirm.”
“We would have lost it anyway. I was bankrupt and the Twins had betrayed me to the Empire. It was only a matter of time before Lord Risthart had me arrested.”
“Maybe, but you still helped Roran. Who can blame you if you were protecting your own necks at the same time? The fact remains that you abandoned your lives in Teirm in order to steal the Dragon Wing along with Roran and the villagers. And for your sacrifice, I will always be grateful. So this is part of my thanks….”
Sliding a finger underneath his belt, Eragon removed the second of the three gold orbs and presented it to Helen. She cradled it as gently as if it were a baby robin. While she gazed at it with wonder, and Jeod craned his neck to see over the edge of her hand, Eragon said, “It’s not a fortune, but if you are clever, you should be able to make it grow. What Nasuada did with lace taught me that there is a great deal of opportunity for a person to prosper in war.”
“Oh yes,” breathed Helen. “War is a merchant’s delight.”
“For one, Nasuada mentioned to me last night at dinner that the dwarves are running low on mead, and as you might suspect, they have the means to buy as many casks as they want, even if the price were a thousandfold of what it was before the war. But then, that’s just a suggestion. You may find others who are more desperate to trade if you look for yourself.”
Eragon staggered back a step as Helen rushed at him and embraced him. Her hair tickled his chin. She released him, suddenly shy, then her excitement burst forth again and she lifted the honey-colored globe in front of her nose and said, “Thank you, Eragon! Oh, thank you!” She pointed at the gold. “This I can use. I know I can. With it, I’ll build an empire even larger than my father’s.” The shiny orb disappeared within her clenched fist. “You believe my ambition exceeds my abilities? It shall be as I have said. I shall not fail!”
Eragon bowed to her. “I hope that you succeed and that your success benefits us all.”
Eragon noticed that hard cords stood out in Helen’s neck as she curtsied and said, “You are most generous, Shadeslayer. Again I thank you.”
“Yes, thank you,” said Jeod, rising from the bed. “I cannot think that we deserve this”—Helen shot him a furious look, which he ignored—“but it is most welcome nevertheless.”
Improvising, Eragon added, “And for you, Jeod, your gift is not from me, but Saphira. She has agreed to let you fly on her when you both have a spare hour or two.” It pained Eragon to share Saphira, and he knew that she would be upset he had not consulted her before volunteering her services, but after giving Helen the gold, he would have felt guilty about not giving Jeod something of equal value.
A film of tears glazed Jeod’s eyes. He grasped Eragon’s hand and shook it and, still holding it, said, “I cannot imagine a higher honor. Thank you. You don’t know how much you have done for us.”
Extricating himself from Jeod’s grip, Eragon edged toward the entrance to the tent while excusing himself as gracefully as he could and making his farewells. Finally, after yet another round of thanks on their part and a self-deprecating “It was nothing,” he managed to escape outdoors.
Eragon hefted Domia abr Wyrda and then glanced at the sun. It would not be long until Saphira returned, but he still had time to attend to one other thing. First, though, he would have to stop by his tent; he did not want to risk damaging Domia abr Wyrda by carrying it with him across the camp.
I own a book, he thought, delighted.
He set off at a trot, clasping the book against his chest, as Blödhgarm and the other elves followed close behind.
I NEED A SWORD!
Once Domia abr Wyrda was safely ensconced in his tent, Eragon went to the Varden’s armory, a large open pavilion filled with racks of spears, swords, pikes, bows, and crossbows. Mounds of shields and leather armor filled slatted crates. The more expensive mail, tunics, coifs, and leggings hung on wooden stands. Hundreds of conical helmets gleamed like polished silver. Bales of arrows lined the pavilion, and among them sat a score or more fletchers, busy refurbishing arrows whose feathers had been damaged during the Battle of the Burning Plains. A constant stream of men rushed in and out of the pavilion: some bringing weapons and armor to be repaired, others new recruits coming to be outfitted, and still others ferrying equipment to different parts of the camp. Everyone seemed to be shouting at the top of their lungs. And in the center of the commotion stood the man Eragon had hoped to see: Fredric, the Varden’s weapon master.
Blödhgarm accompanied Eragon as he strode into the pavilion toward Fredric. As soon as they stepped underneath the cloth roof, the men inside fell silent, their eyes fixed on the two of them. Then they resumed their activities, albeit with quicker steps and quieter voices.
Raising an arm in welcome, Fredric hurried to meet them. As always, he wore his suit of hairy oxhide armor—which smelled nearly as offensive as the animal must have in its original form—as well as a massive two-handed sword hung crosswise over his back, the hilt projecting above his right shoulder. “Shadeslayer!” he rumbled. “How can I help you this fine afternoon?”
“I need a sword.”
Fredric’s smile broke through his beard. “Ah, I wondered if you’d be visiting me about that. When you set out for Helgrind without a blade in hand, I thought, well, maybe you’re beyond such things now. Maybe you can do all your fighting with magic.”
“No, not yet.”
“Well, I can’t say as I’m sorry. Everyone needs a good sword, no matter how skilled they may be with conjuring. In the en
d, it always comes down to steel against steel. Just you watch, that’s how this fight with the Empire will be resolved, with the point of a sword being driven through Galbatorix’s accursed heart. Heh, I’d wager a year’s wages that even Galbatorix has a sword of his own and that he uses it too, despite him being able to gut you like a fish with a flick of his finger. Nothing can quite compare to the feel of fine steel in your fist.”
While he spoke, Fredric led them toward a rack of swords that stood apart from the others. “What kind of sword are you looking for?” he asked. “That Zar’roc you had was a one-handed sword, if I remember rightly. With a blade about two thumbs wide—two of my thumbs, in any case—and of a shape equally suited for both the cut and thrust, yes?” Eragon indicated that was so, and the weapon master grunted and began to pull swords off the rack and swing them through the air, only to replace them with seeming dissatisfaction. “Elf blades tend to be thinner and lighter than ours or the dwarves’, on account of the enchantments they forge into the steel. If we made ours as delicate as theirs, the swords wouldn’t last more than a minute in a battle before bending, breaking, or chipping so badly, you couldn’t cut soft cheese with them.” His eyes darted toward Blödhgarm. “Isn’t that so, elf?”
“Even as you say, human,” responded Blödhgarm in a perfectly modulated voice.
Fredric nodded and examined the edge of another sword, then snorted and dropped it back on the rack. “Which means whatever sword you choose will probably be heavier than you’re used to. That shouldn’t pose much difficulty for you, Shadeslayer, but the extra weight may still upset the timing of your blows.”
“I appreciate the warning,” said Eragon.
“Not at all,” said Fredric. “That’s what I’m here for: to keep as many of the Varden from getting killed as I can and to help them kill as many of Galbatorix’s blasted soldiers as I can. It’s a good job.” Leaving the rack, he lumbered over to another one, hidden behind a pile of rectangular shields. “Finding the right sword for someone is an art unto itself. A sword should feel like an extension of your arm, as if it had grown out of your very flesh. You shouldn’t have to think about how you want it to move; you should simply move it as instinctively as an egret his beak or a dragon her claws. The perfect sword is intent incarnate: what you want, so it does.”