Brisingr (The Inheritance Cycle 3) - Page 34

Jörmundur bowed.

“And tell them that although I cannot join them in this battle, on account of my arms, my spirit marches with them.”

“My Lady.”

As Jörmundur hurried off, Narheim urged his pony closer to Nasuada. “What of mine own people, Nasuada? What role shall we play?”

Nasuada frowned at the thick, choking dust that drifted across the rolling expanse of grass. “You can help guard our perimeter. If the soldiers should somehow win free of—” She was forced to pause as four hundred Urgals—more had arrived since the Battle of the Burning Plains—pounded out of the center of the camp, through the gate, and onto the field beyond, roaring incomprehensible warcries the whole while. As they vanished into the dust, Nasuada resumed speaking: “If the soldiers should win free, your axes will be most welcome in the lines.”

The wind gusted toward them, carrying with it the screams of dying men and horses, the shivery sound of metal sliding over metal, the clink of swords glancing off helmets, the dull impact of spears on shields, and, underlying it all, a horrible humorless laughter that issued from a multitude of throats and continued without pause throughout the mayhem. It was, Eragon thought, the laughter of the insane.

Narheim pounded his fist against his hip. “By Morgothal, we are not ones to stand by idly when there is a fight to be had! Release us, Nasuada, and let us hew a few necks for you!”

“No!” exclaimed Nasuada. “No, no, and no! I have given you my orders, and I expect you to abide by them. This is a battle of horses and men and Urgals and perhaps even dragons. It is not a fit place for dwarves. You would be trampled like children.” At Narheim’s outraged oath, she raised a hand. “I am well aware you are fearsome warriors. No one knows that better than I, who fought beside you in Farthen Dûr. However, not to put too fine a point on it, you are short by our standards, and I would rather not risk your warriors in a fray such as this, where your stature might be your undoing. Better to wait here, on the high ground, where you stand taller than anyone who tries to climb this berm, and let the soldiers come to you. If any soldiers do reach us, they shall be warriors of such tremendous skill, I want you and your people there to repel them, for one might as well try to uproot a mountain as defeat a dwarf.”

Still displeased, Narheim grumbled some response, but whatever he said was lost as the Varden Nasuada had deployed filed through the cleft in the embankment where the gate had been. The noise of tramping feet and clattering equipment faded as the men drew away from the camp. Then the wind stiffened into a steady breeze, and from the direction of the fighting, the grim giggle again wafted toward them.

A moment later, a mental shout of incredible strength overwhelmed Eragon’s defenses and tore through his consciousness, filling him with agony as he heard a man say, Ah, no, help me! They won’t die! Angvard take them, they won’t die! The link between their minds vanished then, and Eragon swallowed hard as he realized that the man had been killed.

Nasuada shifted in her saddle, her expression strained. “Who was that?”

“You heard him too?”

“It seems we all did,” said Arya.

“I think it was Barden, one of the spellcasters who rides with King Orrin, but—”


Thorn had been circling higher and higher while King Orrin and his men engaged the soldiers, but now the dragon hung motionless in the sky, halfway between the soldiers and the camp, and Murtagh’s voice, augmented with magic, echoed forth across the land: “Eragon! I see you there, hiding behind Nasuada’s skirts. Come fight me, Eragon! It is your destiny. Or are you a coward, Shadeslayer?”

Saphira answered for Eragon by lifting her head and roaring even louder than Murtagh’s thunderous speech, then discharging a twenty-foot-long jet of crackling blue fire. The horses close to Saphira, including Nasuada’s, bolted away, leaving Saphira and Eragon alone on the embankment with the elves.

Walking over to Saphira, Arya placed a hand on Eragon’s left leg and looked up at him with her slanted green eyes. “Accept this from me, Shur’tugal,” she said. And he felt a surge of energy flow into him.

“Eka elrun ono,” he murmured to her.

Also in the ancient language, she said, “Be careful, Eragon. I would not want to see you broken by Murtagh. I …” It seemed as if she were going to say more, but she hesitated, then removed her hand from his leg and retreated to stand by Blödhgarm.

“Fly well, Bjartskular!” the elves sang out as Saphira launched herself off the embankment.

As Saphira winged her way toward Thorn, Eragon joined his mind first with her and then with Arya and, through Arya, with Blödhgarm and the eleven other elves. By having Arya serve as the focal point for the elves, Eragon was able to concentrate on the thoughts of Arya and Saphira; he knew them so well that their reactions would not distract him in the middle of a fight.

Eragon grasped the shield with his left hand and unsheathed his falchion, holding it upraised so he would not accidentally stab Saphira’s wings as she flapped, nor slash her shoulders nor her neck, which were in constant motion. I’m glad I took the time last night to reinforce the falchion with magic, he said to Saphira and Arya.

Let us hope your spells hold, Saphira answered.

Remember, said Arya, remain as close to us as you can. The more distance you place between us, the harder it is for us to maintain this bond with you.

Thorn did not dive at Saphira or otherwise attack her as she neared him, but rather slid away on rigid wings, allowing her to rise to his level unmolested. The two dragons balanced upon the thermals, facing each other across a gap of fifty yards, the tips of their barbed tails twitching, both of their muzzles wrinkled with ferocious snarls.

He’s bigger, observed Saphira. It’s not been two weeks since we last fought and he has grown another four feet, if not more.

She was right. Thorn was longer from head to tail, and deeper in the chest, than he had been when they first clashed over the Burning Plains. He was barely older than a hatchling, but he was already nearly as large as Saphira.

Eragon reluctantly shifted his gaze from the dragon to the Rider.

Murtagh was bareheaded, and his long black hair billowed behind him like a sleek mane. His face was hard, harder than Eragon had ever seen before, and Eragon knew that this time Murtagh would not, could not, show him mercy. The volume of his voice substantially reduced, but still louder than normal, Murtagh said, “You and Saphira have caused us a great deal of pain, Eragon. Galbatorix was furious with us for letting you go. And after the two of you killed the Ra’zac, he was so angry, he slew five of his servants and then turned his wrath upon Thorn and me. We have both suffered horribly on account of you. We shall not do so again.” He drew back his arm, as if Thorn were about to lunge forward and Murtagh were preparing to slash at Eragon and Saphira.

“Wait!” cried Eragon. “I know of a way you can both free yourselves of your oaths to Galbatorix.”

An expression of desperate longing transformed Murtagh’s features, and he lowered Zar’roc a few inches. Then he scowled and spat toward the ground and shouted, “I don’t believe you! It’s not possible!”

“It is! Just let me explain.”

Murtagh seemed to be struggling with himself, and for a while Eragon thought he might refuse. Swinging his head around, Thorn looked back at Murtagh, and something passed between them. “Blast you, Eragon,” said Murtagh, and lay Zar’roc across the front of his saddle. “Blast you for baiting us with this. We had already made peace with our lot, and you have to tantalize us with the specter of a hope we had abandoned. If this proves to be a false hope, brother, I swear I’ll cut off your right hand before we present you to Galbatorix…. You won’t need it for what you will be doing in Urû’baen.”

A threat of his own occurred to Eragon, but he suppressed it. Lowering the falchion, he said, “Galbatorix would not have told you, but when I was among the elves—”

Eragon, do not reveal anything more abo

ut us! exclaimed Arya.

“—I learned that if your personality changes, so does your true name in the ancient language. Who you are isn’t cast in iron, Murtagh! If you and Thorn can change something about yourselves, your oaths will no longer bind you, and Galbatorix will lose his hold on you.”

Thorn drifted several yards closer to Saphira. “Why didn’t you mention this before?” Murtagh demanded.

“I was too confused at the time.”

A scant fifty feet separated Thorn and Saphira by then. The red dragon’s snarl had subsided to a faint warning curl of his upper lip, and in his sparkling crimson eyes appeared a vast, puzzled sadness, as if he hoped Saphira or Eragon might know why he had been brought into the world merely so Galbatorix could enslave him, abuse him, and force him to destroy other beings’ lives. The tip of Thorn’s nose twitched as he sniffed at Saphira. She sniffed him in return, and her tongue darted out of her mouth as she tasted his scent. Pity for Thorn welled up inside Eragon and Saphira together, and they wished they could speak with him directly, but they dared not open their minds to him.

With so little distance between them, Eragon noticed the bundles of cords that ridged Murtagh’s neck and the forked vein that pulsed in the middle of his forehead.

“I am not evil!” said Murtagh. “I’ve done the best I could under the circumstances. I doubt you would have survived as well as I did if our mother had seen fit to leave you in Urû’baen and hide me in Carvahall.”

“Perhaps not.”

Murtagh banged his breastplate with his fist. “Aha! Then how am I supposed to follow your advice? If I am already a good man, if I have already done as well as could be expected, how can I change? Must I become worse than I am? Must I embrace Galbatorix’s darkness in order to free myself of it? That hardly seems like a reasonable solution. If I succeeded in so altering my identity, you would not like who I had become, and you would curse me as strongly as you curse Galbatorix now.”

Frustrated, Eragon said, “Yes, but you do not have to become better or worse than you are now, only different. There are many kinds of people in the world and many ways to behave honorably. Look at someone whom you admire but who has chosen paths other than your own through life and model your actions upon his. It may take a while, but if you can shift your personality enough, you can leave Galbatorix, and you can leave the Empire, and you and Thorn could join us in the Varden, where you would be free to do as you wish.”

What of your own oaths to avenge Hrothgar’s death? Saphira asked. Eragon ignored her.

Murtagh sneered at him. “So you are asking me to be that which I am not. If Thorn and I are to save ourselves, we must destroy our current identities. Your cure is worse than our affliction.”

“I’m asking you to allow yourself to grow into something other than you are now. It’s a difficult thing to do, I know, but people remake themselves all the time. Let go of your anger, for one, and you can turn your back on Galbatorix once and for all.”

“Let go of my anger?” Murtagh laughed. “I’ll let go of my anger when you forget yours over the Empire’s role in the death of your uncle and the razing of your farm. Anger defines us, Eragon, and without it, you and I would be a feast for maggots. Still …” His eyes half lidded, Murtagh tapped Zar’roc’s crossguard, the cords in his neck softening, although the vein that split his forehead remained swollen as ever. “The concept is intriguing, I admit. Perhaps we can work on it together when we are in Urû’baen. That is, if the king permits us to be alone with each other. Of course, he may decide to keep us permanently separated. I would if I were in his position.”

Eragon tightened his fingers around the hilt of the falchion. “You seem to think we will accompany you to the capital.”

“Oh, but you will, brother.” A crooked smile stretched Murtagh’s mouth. “Even if we wanted to, Thorn and I could not change who we are in an instant. Until such time as we may have that opportunity, we shall remain beholden to Galbatorix, and he has ordered us, in no uncertain terms, to bring him the two of you. Neither of us is willing to brave the king’s displeasure again. We defeated you once before. It will be no great achievement to do so again.”

A spurt of flame escaped from between Saphira’s teeth, and Eragon had to stifle a similar response in words. If he lost control of his temper now, bloodshed would be unavoidable. “Please, Murtagh, Thorn, will you not at least try what I’ve suggested? Have you no desire to resist Galbatorix? You will never cast off your chains unless you are willing to defy him.”

“You underestimate Galbatorix, Eragon,” growled Murtagh. “He has been creating name-slaves for over a hundred years, ever since he recruited our father. Do you think he is unaware that a person’s true name may vary over the course of his life? He is sure to have taken precautions against that eventuality. If my true name were to change this very moment, or Thorn’s, most likely it would trigger a spell that would alert Galbatorix to the change and force us to return to him in Urû’baen so he could bind us to him again.”

“But only if he could guess your new names.”

“He is most adept at the practice.” Murtagh raised Zar’roc off the saddle. “We may make use of your suggestion in the future, but only after careful study and preparation, so that Thorn and I do not regain our freedom only to have Galbatorix steal it back from us directly afterward.” He hefted Zar’roc, the sword’s iridescent blade shimmering. “Therefore, we have no choice but to take you with us to Urû’baen. Will you go peacefully?”

Unable to contain himself any longer, Eragon said, “I would sooner tear out my own heart!”

“Better to tear out my hearts,” Murtagh replied, then stabbed Zar’roc overhead and shouted a wild war cry.

Roaring in unison, Thorn flapped twice, fast, to climb above Saphira. He twisted in a half circle as he rose, so his head would be over Saphira’s neck, where he could immobilize her with a single bite at the base of her skull.

Saphira did not wait for him. She tipped forward, rotating her wings in their shoulder sockets, so that, for the span of a heartbeat, she pointed straight down, her wings still parallel with the dustsmeared ground, supporting her entire unstable weight. Then she pulled in her right wing and swung her head to the left and her tail to the right, spinning in a clockwise direction. Her muscular tail struck Thorn across his left side just as he sailed over her, breaking his wing in five separate places. The jagged ends of Thorn’s hollow flight bones pierced his hide and stuck out between his flashing scales. Globules of steaming dragon blood rained down upon Eragon and Saphira. A droplet splashed against the back of Eragon’s coif and seeped through the mail to his bare skin. It burned like hot oil. He scrabbled at his neck, trying to wipe off the blood.

His roar converting into a whine of pain, Thorn tumbled past Saphira, unable to stay aloft.

“Well done!” Eragon shouted to Saphira as she righted herself.

Eragon watched from above as Murtagh removed a small round object from his belt and pressed it against Thorn’s shoulder. Eragon sensed no surge of magic from Murtagh, but the object in his hand flared and Thorn’s broken wing jerked as his bones snapped back in place and muscles and tendons rippled and the tears in them vanished. Lastly, the wounds in Thorn’s hide sealed over.

How did he do that? Eragon exclaimed.

Arya answered, He must have imbued the item with a spell of healing beforehand.

We should have thought of that ourselves.

His injuries mended, Thorn halted his fall and began to ascend toward Saphira with prodigious speed, searing the air in front of him with a boiling spear of sullen red fire. Saphira dove at him, spiraling around the tower of flame. She snapped at Thorn’s neck—causing him to shy away—and raked his shoulders and chest with her front claws and buffeted him with her huge wings. The edge of her right wing clipped Murtagh, knocking him sideways in his saddle. He recovered quickly and slashed at Saphira, opening up a three-foot rent in the membrane of her wing.

Hissing, Sa

phira kicked Thorn away with her hind legs and released a jet of fire, which split and passed harmlessly on either side of Thorn.

Eragon felt through Saphira the throbbing of her wound. He stared at the bloody gash, thoughts racing. If they had been fighting any magician besides Murtagh, he would not dare to cast a spell while engaged in hostilities, for the magician would most likely believe he or she was about to die and would counter with a desperate, all-out magical attack.

It was different with Murtagh. Eragon knew Galbatorix had ordered Murtagh to capture, not kill, him and Saphira. No matter what I do, Eragon thought, he will not attempt to slay me. It was safe, then, Eragon decided, to heal Saphira. And, he belatedly realized, he could attack Murtagh with any spells he desired and Murtagh would not be able to respond with deadly force. But he wondered why Murtagh had used an enchanted object to cure Thorn’s hurts instead of casting the spell himself.

Saphira said, Perhaps he wants to preserve his strength. Or perhaps he wanted to avoid frightening you. It would not please Galbatorix if, by using magic, Murtagh caused you to panic and you killed yourself or Thorn or Murtagh as a result. Remember, the king’s great ambition is to have all four of us under his command, not dead, where we are beyond his reach.

That must be it, Eragon agreed.

As he prepared to mend Saphira’s wing, Arya said, Wait. Do not.

What? Why? Can’t you feel Saphira’s pain?

Let my brethren and I tend to her. It will confuse Murtagh, and this way, the effort shall not weaken you.

Aren’t you too far away to work such a change?

Not when the lot of us pool our resources. And, Eragon? We recommend you refrain from striking at Murtagh with magic until he attacks with mind or magic himself. He may yet be stronger than you, even with the thirteen of us lending our strength. We do not know. It is better not to test yourself against him until there is no other alternative.

Tags: Christopher Paolini The Inheritance Cycle Fantasy
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