Inheritance (The Inheritance Cycle 4) - Page 37

Eragon was confident that they would be able to defeat the magicians, just as he was confident that Angela and Elva were perfectly capable of defending themselves from the rest of the soldiers. Saphira, however, was already wounded in several places, and she was hard-pressed to keep Thorn from attacking the rest of the camp.

Eragon glanced at the Dauthdaert in Arya’s hand, then back at the massive shapes of the dragons. We have to kill him, Eragon thought, and his heart grew heavy. Then his eye fell on Elva, and a new idea took root in his mind. The girl’s words were more powerful than any weapon; no one, not even Galbatorix, could withstand them. If she could but speak to Thorn, she could drive him away.

No! growled Glaedr. You waste time, youngling. Go to your dragon—now! She needs your help. You must kill Thorn, not scare him into fleeing! He is broken, and there is nothing you can do to save him.

Eragon looked at Arya, and she looked at him.

“Elva would be faster,” he said.

“We have the Dauthdaert—”

“Too dangerous. Too difficult.”

Arya hesitated, then nodded. Together they started toward Elva.

Before they reached her, Eragon heard a muffled scream. He turned and, to his horror, saw Murtagh striding out of the pavilion, dragging Nasuada by her wrists.

Nasuada’s hair was disheveled. A nasty scratch marred one of her cheeks, and her yellow dressing gown was torn in several places. She kicked at Murtagh’s knee, but her heel bounced off a ward, leaving Murtagh untouched. He pulled her closer with a cruel tug, then struck her on the temple with the pommel of Zar’roc, knocking her unconscious.

Eragon yelled and swerved toward them.

Murtagh gave him a brief look. Then he sheathed his sword, hoisted Nasuada onto a shoulder, and knelt on one knee, where he bowed his head, as if in prayer.

A spike of pain from Saphira distracted Eragon, and she cried, Beware! He’s escaped me!

As Eragon leaped over a mound of corpses, he risked a quick glance upward and saw Thorn’s glittering belly and velvet wings blotting out half the stars in the sky. The red dragon spun slightly as he drifted downward, like a large, weighted leaf.

Eragon dove to the side and rolled behind the pavilion, trying to put distance between himself and the dragon. A rock dug into his shoulder as he landed.

Without slowing, Thorn reached down with his right foreleg, which was as thick and knotted as a tree trunk, and closed his enormous paw around Murtagh and Nasuada. His claws sank into the earth, excavating a plug of dirt several feet deep as he picked up the two humans.

Then, with a triumphant roar and the bone-jarring thuds of flapping wings, Thorn arched upward and started to climb away from the camp.

From where she and Thorn had been grappling, Saphira took off in pursuit, streamers of blood unfurling from bites and claw marks along her limbs. She was faster than Thorn, but even if she caught him, Eragon could not imagine how she could rescue Nasuada without injuring her.

A breath of wind tugged at his hair as Arya sped past him. She ran up a pile of barrels and jumped, and her leap carried her high into the air, higher than any elf could jump without assistance. Reaching out, she grabbed hold of Thorn’s tail and hung dangling from it like an ornament.

Eragon took a half step forward, as if to stop her, then cursed and growled, “Audr!”

The spell launched him into the sky, like an arrow from a bow. He reached out to Glaedr, and the old dragon fed him energy to sustain his ascension. Eragon burned the energy without heed, not caring the price, only wanting to reach Thorn before something horrible happened to Nasuada or Arya.

As he hurtled past Saphira, Eragon watched as Arya began to climb up Thorn’s tail. She clung to the spikes along his spine with her right hand, using them like the rungs on a ladder. With her left, she plunged the Dauthdaert into Thorn, anchoring herself with the blade of the spear even as she pulled herself higher and higher up his heaving body. Thorn wriggled and twisted and snapped at her, like a horse irritated by a fly, but he could not reach her.

Then the blood-red dragon drew in his wings and legs, and with his precious cargo cradled close against his chest, he dove toward the ground, spinning round and round in a death spiral. The Dauthdaert tore loose from Thorn’s flesh, and Arya stretched out at an angle to him as she held on to a spike with only her right hand—her weak hand, the hand she had injured in the catacombs under Dras-Leona.

Ere long, her fingers loosened and she fell away from Thorn, her arms and legs flung outward like the spokes of a wagon wheel. No doubt the result of a spell she had cast, her gyrations slowed and then ceased, as did her downward trajectory, until at last she floated upright in the night sky. Illuminated by the glow of the Dauthdaert, which she still held, she appeared to Eragon like a green firefly hovering in the darkness.

Thorn flared his wings and looped back toward her. Arya’s head swiveled as she looked over at Saphira; then she rotated in the air to face Thorn.

A malefic light sprang into existence between Thorn’s jaws an instant before an ever-expanding wall of flames billowed out of his maw and rolled over Arya, obscuring her form.

By then, Eragon was less than fifty feet away—close enough that the heat stung his cheeks.

The flames cleared to reveal Thorn turning away from Arya, doubling back on himself as quickly as his bulk would allow. As he did, he swung his tail, whipping it through the air faster than she could hope to evade.

“No!” shouted Eragon.

There was a crack as the tail struck Arya. It knocked her into the darkness, like a stone loosed from a sling, and the Dauthdaert separated from her and arced downward, its glow dwindling to a faint point that soon vanished altogether.

Iron bands seemed to tighten around Eragon’s chest, squeezing the breath out of him. Thorn was pulling away, but Eragon might still be able to overtake the dragon if he drew even more energy from Glaedr. However, his connection with Glaedr was growing tenuous and Eragon could not hope to best Thorn and Murtagh alone and high above the ground, not when Murtagh had dozens or more Eldunarí at his disposal.

Eragon swore, cut off the spell that was propelling him through the air, and dove headfirst after Arya. The wind screamed in his ears and tore at his hair and clothes, and mashed the skin on his cheeks flat, and forced him to narrow his eyes to slits. An insect struck him on the neck; the impact stung as fiercely as if he had been hit by a pebble.

As he fell, Eragon searched with his mind for Arya’s consciousness. He had just sensed a glimmer of awareness somewhere in the gloom below when Saphira shot out beneath him, her scales muted in the light of the stars. She turned upside down, and Eragon saw her reach out and catch a small, dark object with her forepaws.

A jolt of pain went through the mind Eragon had touched; then all thought ceased within it and he felt no more.

I have her, little one, said Saphira.

“Letta,” Eragon said, and he slowed to a halt.

He looked for Thorn again, but saw only stars and blackness. To the east, he heard twice the indistinct sound of flapping wings, then all was silent.

Eragon looked toward the Varden’s camp. Patches of fire glowed orange and sullen through layers of smoke. Hundreds of tents lay crumpled in the dirt, along with however many men had failed to escape before Saphira and Thorn trampled them. But those men were not the only victims of the attack. From his height, Eragon could not pick out the bodies, but he knew the soldiers had killed scores.

The taste of ashes filled Eragon’s mouth. He was shaking; tears of rage and fear and frustration clouded his eyes. Arya was injured—perhaps dead. Nasuada was gone, captured, and soon she would be at the mercy of Galbatorix’s most skilled torturers.

Hopelessness overcame Eragon.

How could they continue now? How could they possibly hope for victory without Nasuada to lead them?


UPON LANDING IN the Varden’s camp with Saphira, Eragon slid down her side

and ran to the patch of grass where she had gently deposited Arya.

The elf lay facedown, limp and motionless. When Eragon rolled her over, her eyes flickered open. “Thorn … What of Thorn?” she whispered.

He escaped, said Saphira.

“And … Nasuada? Did you rescue her?”

Eragon looked down and shook his head.

Sorrow passed over Arya’s face. She coughed and winced, then started to sit up. A thread of blood trickled from the corner of her mouth.

“Wait,” said Eragon. “Don’t move. I’ll fetch Blödhgarm.”

“There’s no need.” Grasping his shoulder, Arya pulled herself onto her feet, then gingerly rose to her full height. Her breath caught as her muscles stretched, and Eragon saw the pain she was trying to hide. “I’m only bruised, not broken. My wards protected me from the worst of Thorn’s blow.”

Eragon was doubtful, but he accepted her statement.

What now? asked Saphira, moving closer to them. The sharp, musky smell of her blood was thick in Eragon’s nostrils.

Eragon looked around at the flames and destruction in the camp. Again he thought of Roran and Katrina and wondered if they had survived the attack. What now indeed?

Circumstances answered his question. First, a pair of wounded soldiers ran out of a bank of smoke and attacked him and Arya. By the time Eragon dispatched them, eight of the elves had converged upon their location.

After Eragon convinced them he was unharmed, the elves turned their attention to Saphira and insisted on healing the bites and scratches Thorn had given her, even though Eragon would have preferred to do it himself.

Knowing that the healing was going to require several minutes, Eragon left Saphira with the elves and hurried back through the rows of tents to the area near Nasuada’s pavilion, where Blödhgarm and the two other elven spellcasters were still locked in mental combat with the last of the four enemy magicians.

The remaining magician was kneeling on the ground, his brow pressed against his knees and his arms wrapped around the nape of his neck. Instead of adding his thoughts to the invisible fray, Eragon strode over to the magician, tapped him on the shoulder, and shouted, “Ha!”

The magician quivered, startled, and the distraction allowed the elves to slip past his defenses. This Eragon knew because the man convulsed and then rolled over, the whites of his eyes showing, and a yellowish foam bubbled out of his mouth. Soon afterward, he ceased breathing.

With clipped sentences, Eragon explained to Blödhgarm and the two other elves what had happened to Arya and Nasuada. Blödhgarm’s fur bristled, and his yellow eyes burned with anger. But his only comment was to say in the ancient language, “Dark times are upon us, Shadeslayer.” Then he sent Yaela to find and retrieve the Dauthdaert from wherever it had fallen.

Together Eragon, Blödhgarm, and Uthinarë, the elf who had stayed with them, ranged through the camp, rounding up and killing the few soldiers who had escaped the teeth of the werecats and the blades of the men, dwarves, elves, and Urgals. They also used their magic to extinguish some of the larger blazes, snuffing them out as easily as the flame of a candle.

The whole while, an overwhelming sense of dread clutched at Eragon, pressing down on him like a pile of sodden fleeces and constricting his mind so that he found it difficult to think of anything other than death, defeat, and failure. He felt as if the world were crumbling around him—as if everything he and the Varden had striven to accomplish was unspooling rapidly, and there was nothing he could do to regain control. The sense of helplessness sapped his will to do anything other than sit in a corner and give in to misery. Still, he refused to satisfy the urge, for if he did, then he might as well be dead. So he kept moving, laboring alongside the elves in spite of his despair.

It did not improve his mood when Glaedr contacted him and said, If you had listened to me, we might have stopped Thorn and saved Nasuada.

And we might not have, said Eragon. He did not want to discuss the subject further but felt compelled to add: You let your anger cloud your sight. Killing Thorn wasn’t the only solution, nor should you have been so quick to destroy one of the only remaining members of your kind.

Do not think to lecture me, youngling! snapped Glaedr. You cannot begin to understand what I have lost.

I understand better than most, Eragon replied, but Glaedr had already withdrawn from his mind, and Eragon did not think the dragon heard him.

Eragon had just put out one fire and was moving to the next when Roran hurried to him and grasped his arm. “Are you hurt?”

Relief swept through Eragon as he saw his cousin alive and well. “No,” he said.

“And Saphira?”

“The elves have already mended her wounds. What of Katrina? Is she safe?”

Roran nodded, and his posture relaxed slightly, but his expression remained troubled. “Eragon,” he said, drawing closer, “what’s happened? What is happening? I saw Jörmundur running around like a chicken with its head cut off, and Nasuada’s guards look grim as death, and I can’t get anyone to talk to me. Are we still in danger? Is Galbatorix about to attack?”

Eragon glanced around, then drew Roran to the side, where no one else could hear. “You can’t tell anyone. Not yet,” he cautioned.

“You have my word.”

With a few quick sentences, Eragon summarized the situation to Roran. By the time he finished, Roran’s expression had grown bleak. “We can’t let the Varden disband,” he said.

“Of course not. That won’t happen, but King Orrin may try to assume command, or—” Eragon fell silent as a group of warriors passed nearby. Then: “Stay with me, will you? I may need your help.”

“My help? For what would you need my help?”

“The whole army admires you, Roran, even the Urgals. You’re Stronghammer, the hero of Aroughs, and your opinion carries weight. That might prove important.”

Roran was silent for a moment, then nodded. “I’ll do what I can.”

“For now, just keep watch for soldiers,” said Eragon, and continued toward the fire that was his intended destination.

Half an hour later, as quiet and order had begun to settle over the camp again, a runner informed Eragon that Arya desired his immediate presence in King Orik’s pavilion.

Eragon and Roran exchanged glances, then set out toward the northwestern quadrant of the camp, where the majority of the dwarves had pitched their tents.

“There is no choice,” said Jörmundur. “Nasuada made her wishes perfectly clear. You, Eragon, must take her place and lead the Varden in her stead.”

The faces ringing the interior of the tent were stern and unyielding. Dark shadows clung to the hollows of their temples and to the deep frown lines of the assorted two-legs, as Eragon knew Saphira would have called them. The only one not frowning was Saphira—her head was pushed through the entrance to the pavilion so that she could participate in the conclave—but her lips were pulled back slightly, as if she was about to snarl.

Also present were King Orrin, a purple cloak wrapped over his night robes; Arya, looking shaken but determined; King Orik, who had found a mail shirt to cover himself; the werecat king, Grimrr Halfpaw, a white linen bandage wrapped around a sword cut on his right shoulder; Nar Garzhvog, the Kull, stooping to avoid brushing his horns against the ceiling; and Roran, who stood by the wall of the tent listening to the proceedings, so far without comment.

No one else had been allowed into the pavilion. Not guards, not advisers, not servants, not even Blödhgarm or the other elves. Outside, a block of men, dwarves, and Urgals stood twelve deep before the entrance—their task to prevent anyone, no matter how powerful or dangerous, from interfering with the meeting. And woven about the tent were a number of hastily cast spells intended to prevent eavesdropping both mundane and magical.

“I never wanted this,” said Eragon, staring down at the map of Alagaësia stretched out on the table in the center of the pavilion.

“None of us did,” said King Orrin

in a biting tone.

It had been wise of Arya, Eragon thought, to stage the meeting in Orik’s pavilion. The dwarf king was known to be a staunch supporter of Nasuada and the Varden—as well as being Eragon’s clan chief and foster brother—but no one could accuse him of aspiring to Nasuada’s position, nor would the humans necessarily accept him as her replacement.

Still, by staging the meeting in Orik’s pavilion, Arya had strengthened Eragon’s case and undercut his critics, without appearing to endorse or attack either. She was, Eragon had to admit, far more accomplished at manipulating others than he. The only risk in what she had done was that it might cause others to think Orik was his master, but that was a risk Eragon was willing to accept in exchange for his friend’s support.

“I never wanted this,” he repeated, then lifted his gaze to meet the watchful eyes of those around him. “But now that it’s happened, I swear on the graves of all we’ve lost that I’ll do my best to live up to Nasuada’s example and lead the Varden to victory against Galbatorix and the Empire.” He strove to project an air of confidence, but the truth was, the enormity of the situation frightened him and he had no idea whether he was up to the task. Nasuada had been impressively capable, and it was intimidating to consider trying to do even half of what she had done.

“Very commendable, I’m sure,” said King Orrin. “However, the Varden has always worked in concert with its allies—with the men of Surda; with our royal friend King Orik and the dwarves of the Beor Mountains; with the elves; and now, more recently, with the Urgals, as led by Nar Garzhvog, and with the werecats.” He nodded toward Grimrr, who nodded briefly in return. “It would not do for the rank and file to see us disagreeing with one another in public. Would you not agree?”

Tags: Christopher Paolini The Inheritance Cycle Fantasy
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