Shall I, or shall you? Eragon quickly asked Saphira.
You want to tell them, so tell them.
Eragon looked up at Arya. Then, still in the ancient language, he said to both her and Glaedr, “Solembum has told me the name of a place, a place on Vroengard, where Saphira and I may find someone or something to help us defeat Galbatorix. However, the name is enchanted. Every time I say the name, you soon forget it.” A faint expression of shock appeared on Arya’s face. “Do you believe me?”
“I believe you,” Arya slowly said.
I believe that you believe what you are saying, Glaedr growled. But that does not necessarily make it so.
“How else can I prove it? You won’t remember if I tell you the name or share my memories with you. You could question Solembum, but again, what good would it do?”
What good? For one, we can prove that you haven’t been tricked or deceived by something that only appeared to be Solembum. And as for the spell, there may be a way to demonstrate its existence. Summon the werecat, and then we shall see what can be done.
Will you? Eragon asked Saphira. He thought that the werecat would be more likely to come if Saphira asked him.
A moment later, he felt her searching with her mind through the camp, and then he sensed the touch of Solembum’s consciousness against Saphira’s. After she and the werecat exchanged a brief, wordless communication, Saphira announced, He is on his way.
They waited in silence, Eragon staring down at his hands as he compiled a list of supplies he would need for the trip to Vroengard.
When Solembum pushed aside the flaps to the tent and entered, Eragon was surprised to see that he was now in his human form: that of a young boy, dark-eyed and insolent. In his left hand, the werecat held a leg of roast goose, on which he was gnawing. A ring of grease coated his lips and chin, and drops of melted fat had splattered his bare chest.
As he chewed on a strip of flesh, Solembum motioned with his sharp, pointed chin toward the patch of dirt where Glaedr’s heart of hearts lay buried. What is it you want, firebreather? he asked.
To know if you are who you seem to be! said Glaedr, and the dragon’s consciousness seemed to surround Solembum’s, pressing inward like piles of black clouds around a brightly burning but wind-battered flame. The dragon’s strength was immense, and from personal experience, Eragon knew that few could hope to withstand him.
With a gargled yowl, Solembum spat out his mouthful of meat and sprang backward, as if he had stepped on a viper. He stood where he was, then, trembling with effort, his sharp teeth bared, and a look of such fury in his tawny eyes, Eragon placed his hand on the hilt of Brisingr as a precaution. The flame dimmed but held: a white-hot point of light amid a sea of churning thunderheads.
After a minute, the storm diminished and the clouds withdrew, although they did not disappear entirely.
My apologies, werecat, said Glaedr, but I had to know for certain.
Solembum hissed, and the hair on his head fluffed and spiked so that it resembled the blossom of a thistle. If you still had your body, old one, I would cut off your tail for that.
You, little cat? You could not have done more than scratch me.
Again Solembum hissed, and then he turned on his heel and stalked toward the entrance, his shoulders hunched close to his ears.
Wait, said Glaedr. Did you tell Eragon about this place on Vroengard, this place of secrets that none can remember?
The werecat paused, and without turning around, he growled and brandished the goose leg over his head in an impatient, dismissive gesture. I did.
And did you tell him the page in Domia abr Wyrda wherein he found the location of this place?
So it seems, but I have no memory of it, and I hope that whatever is on Vroengard singes your whiskers and burns your paws.
The entrance to the tent made a loud flapping sound as Solembum swatted it aside; then his small form melted into the shadows, as if he had never existed.
Eragon stood and, with the toe of his boot, pushed the scrap of half-eaten meat out of the tent.
“You should not have been so rough with him,” said Arya.
I had no other choice, said Glaedr.
“Didn’t you? You could have asked his permission first.”
And given him the opportunity to prepare? No. It is done; let it be, Arya.
“I cannot. His pride is wounded. You should attempt to placate him. It would be dangerous to have a werecat as your enemy.”
It is even more dangerous to have a dragon as your enemy. Let it be, elfling.
Troubled, Eragon exchanged looks with Arya. Glaedr’s tone bothered him—and her as well, he could see—but Eragon could not decide what to do about it.
Now, Eragon, the golden dragon said, will you allow me to examine the memories of your conversation with Solembum?
“If you want, but … why? You’ll only end up forgetting.”
Perhaps. And then again, perhaps not. We shall see. Addressing Arya, Glaedr said, Separate your mind from ours, and do not allow Eragon’s memories to taint your consciousness.
“As you wish, Glaedr-elda.” As Arya spoke, the music of her thoughts grew ever more distant. A moment later, the eerie singing faded to silence.
Then Glaedr returned his attention to Eragon. Show me, he commanded.
Ignoring his trepidation, Eragon cast his mind back to when Solembum had first arrived at the tent, and he carefully recalled everything that had transpired between the two of them thereafter. Glaedr’s consciousness melded with Eragon’s so that the dragon could relive the experiences along with him. It was an unsettling sensation; it felt as if he and the dragon were two images stamped onto the same side of a coin.
When he finished, Glaedr withdrew somewhat from Eragon’s mind and then, to Arya, said, When I have forgotten, if I do, repeat to me the words “Andumë and Fíronmas at the hill of sorrows, and their flesh like glass.” This place on Vroengard … I know of it. Or I once did. It was something of importance, something … The dragon’s thoughts grayed for a second, as if a layer of mist had been blown over the hills and valleys of his being, obscuring them. Well? he demanded, regaining his former brusque attitude. Why do we tarry? Eragon, show me your memories.
“I already have.”
Even as Glaedr’s mood turned to disbelief, Arya said, “Glaedr, remember: ‘Andumë and Fíronmas at the hill of sorrows, and their flesh like glass.’”
How—Glaedr started, and then he growled with such force, Eragon almost expected to hear the sound out loud. Argh. I hate spells that interfere with one’s memory. They’re the worst form of magic, always leading to chaos and confusion. Half the time they seem to end with family members killing one another without realizing it.
What does the phrase you used mean? Saphira asked.
Nothing, except to me and Oromis. But that was the point; no one would know of it unless I told them.
Arya sighed. “So the spell is real. I suppose you have to go to Vroengard, then. To ignore something of this importance would be folly. If nothing else, we need to know who the spider is at the center of this web.”
I shall go as well, said Glaedr. If someone means to harm you, they may not expect to fight two dragons instead of one. In any event, you will need a guide. Vroengard has become a dangerous place since the destruction of the Riders, and I would not have you fall prey to some forgotten evil.
Eragon hesitated as he noticed a strange yearning in Arya’s gaze, and he realized that she wanted to accompany them as well. “Saphira will fly faster if she only has to carry one person,” he said in a quiet voice.
“I know. … Only, I always wanted to visit the home of the Riders.”
“I’m sure you will. Someday.”
She nodded. “Someday.”
Eragon took a moment to marshal his energy and reflect on everything that needed to be done before he, Saphira, and Glaedr could leave. Then he drew a deep breath and rose from the cot.
he called. “Will you please join us?”
FIRST, ERAGON HAD Garven, with all secrecy, send one of the Nighthawks to collect provisions for the trip to Vroengard. Saphira had eaten after the capture of Dras-Leona, but she had not gorged herself, else she would have been too slow and too heavy to fight if the need arose, as indeed it had. She was well enough fed, then, to fly to Vroengard without stopping, but once there, Eragon knew she would have to find food on or around the island, which worried him.
I can always fly back on an empty stomach, she assured him, but he was not so certain.
Next Eragon sent a runner to bring Jörmundur and Blödhgarm to his tent. Once they arrived, it took Eragon, Arya, and Saphira another hour to explain the situation to them and—harder still—to convince them that the trip was necessary. Blödhgarm was the easiest to win over to their point of view, whereas Jörmundur objected vociferously. Not because he doubted the veracity of the information from Solembum, nor even because he doubted its importance—on both those points he accepted Eragon’s word without question—but, as he argued with increasing vehemence, because it would destroy the Varden if they woke to find not only that Nasuada had been kidnapped but that Eragon and Saphira had vanished to parts unknown.
“Furthermore, we don’t dare let Galbatorix think that you’ve left us,” Jörmundur said. “Not when we’re so close to Urû’baen. He might send Murtagh and Thorn to intercept you. Or he might take the opportunity to crush the Varden once and for all. We can’t risk it.”
His concerns, Eragon was forced to acknowledge, were valid.
After much discussion, they finally arrived at a solution: Blödhgarm and the other elves would create apparitions of both Eragon and Saphira, even as they had created one of Eragon when he had gone to the Beor Mountains to participate in the election and coronation of Hrothgar’s successor.
The images would apear to be perfect living, breathing, thinking replicas of Eragon and Saphira, but their minds would be empty, and if anyone peered into them, the ruse would be discovered. As a result, the image of Saphira would be unable to speak, and although the elves could feign speech on the part of Eragon, that too would be better to avoid, lest some oddity of diction alert those listening that all was not as it seemed. The limitations of the illusions meant that they would work best at a distance and that the people who had reason to interact with Eragon and Saphira on a more personal basis—such as the kings Orrin and Orik—would soon realize that something was amiss.
So Eragon ordered Garven to wake all the Nighthawks and bring them to him as discreetly as possible. When the whole company was gathered before his tent, Eragon explained to the motley group of men, dwarves, and Urgals why he and Saphira were leaving, although he was purposefully vague about the details and he kept their destination a secret. Then he explained how the elves were going to conceal their absence, and he had the men swear oaths of secrecy in the ancient language. He trusted them, but one could never be too careful where Galbatorix and his spies were concerned.
Afterward, Eragon and Arya visited Orrin, Orik, Roran, and the sorceress Trianna. As with the Nighthawks, they explained the situation and from each of them extracted oaths of secrecy.
King Orrin, as Eragon expected, proved to be the most intransigent. He expressed outrage at the prospect of either Eragon or Saphira traveling to Vroengard and railed at length against the idea. He questioned Eragon’s bravery, questioned the value of Solembum’s information, and threatened to withdraw his forces from the Varden if Eragon continued to pursue such a foolish, misguided course. It took over an hour of threats, flattery, and coaxing to bring him around, and even then, Eragon feared Orrin might go back on his word.
The visits to Orik, Roran, and Trianna went faster, but Eragon and Arya still had to spend what seemed to Eragon an unreasonable amount of time talking with them. Impatience made him curt and restless; he wanted to be off, and every minute that passed only increased his sense of urgency.
As he and Arya went from person to person, Eragon was also aware, through his link with Saphira, of the elves’ faint, lilting chanting, which underlay everything he heard, like a strip of cunningly woven fabric hidden beneath the surface of the world.
Saphira had remained at his tent, and the elves were ringed about her, their arms outstretched and the tips of their fingers touching while they sang. The purpose of their long, complicated spell was to collect the visual information they would need in order to create an accurate representation of Saphira. It was difficult enough to imitate the shape of an elf or a human; a dragon was harder still, especially given the refractive nature of her scales. Even so, the most complicated part of the illusion, as Blödhgarm had told Eragon, would be reproducing the effects of Saphira’s weight on her surroundings every time her apparition took off or landed.
When at last Eragon and Arya had finished making their rounds, night had already given way to day, and the morning sun hung a handsbreadth above the horizon. By its light, the damage wrought upon the camp during the attack seemed even greater.
Eragon would have been happy to depart with Saphira and Glaedr then, but Jörmundur insisted that he address the Varden at least once, properly, as their new leader.
Therefore, soon afterward, once the army was assembled, Eragon found himself standing in the back of an empty wagon, looking out over a field of upturned faces—some human and some not—and wishing he were anywhere but there.
Eragon had asked Roran for advice beforehand, and Roran had told him, “Remember, they’re not your enemies. You have nothing to fear from them. They want to like you. Speak clearly, speak honestly, and whatever you do, keep your doubts to yourself. That’s the way to win them over. They’re going to be frightened and dismayed once you tell them about Nasuada. Give them the reassurance they need, and they’ll follow you through the very gates of Urû’baen.”
Despite Roran’s encouragement, Eragon still felt apprehensive before his speech. He had rarely spoken to large groups before, and never for more than a few lines. As he gazed at the sun-darkened, battle-worn warriors before him, he decided that he would rather fight a hundred enemies by himself than have to stand up in public and risk the disapproval of others.
Until the moment he opened his mouth, Eragon was not sure what he was going to say. Once he started, the words seemed to pour out of their own accord, but he was so tense, he could not remember much of what he said. The speech passed in a blur; his main impressions were of heat and sweat, the groans of the warriors when they learned of Nasuada’s fate, the ragged cheers when he exhorted them to victory, and the general roar from the crowd when he finished. With relief, he jumped down from the back of the wagon to where Arya and Orik were waiting next to Saphira.
As he did, his guards formed a circle around the four of them, shielding them from the crowd and holding back those who wished to speak with him.
“Well done, Eragon!” said Orik, clapping him on the arm.
“Was it?” Eragon asked, feeling dazed.
“You were most eloquent,” said Arya.
Eragon shrugged, embarrassed. It intimidated him to remember that Arya had known most of the leaders of the Varden, and he could not help but think that Ajihad or his predecessor, Deynor, would have done a better job with the speech.
Orik pulled on his sleeve. Eragon bent toward the dwarf. In a voice barely loud enough to be heard over the crowd, Orik said, “I hope that whatever you find is worth the trip, my friend. Take care you don’t get yourselves killed, eh?”
“I’ll try not to.”
To Eragon’s surprise, Orik grabbed him by the forearm and pulled him into a rough embrace. “May Gûntera watch over you.” As they separated, Orik reached over and slapped the palm of his hand against Saphira’s side. “And you as well, Saphira. Safe journeys to the both of you.”
Saphira responded with a low hum.
Eragon looked over at Arya. He suddenly felt awkward, unable to think of anything but the most obvious t
hings to say. The beauty of her eyes still captivated him; the effect she had on him never seemed to lessen.
Then she took his head in her hands, and she kissed him once, formally, on the brow.
Eragon stared at her, dumbstruck.
“Guliä waíse medh ono, Argetlam.” Luck be with you, Silverhand.
As she released him, he caught her hands in his own. “Nothing bad is going to happen to us. I won’t let it. Not even if Galbatorix is waiting for us. If I have to, I’ll tear apart mountains with my bare hands, but I promise, we’re going to make it back safely.”
Before she could respond, he let go of her hands and climbed onto Saphira’s back. The crowd began to cheer again as they saw him settle into the saddle. He waved to them, and they redoubled their efforts, stamping their feet and pounding their shields with the pommels of their swords.
Eragon saw Blödhgarm and the other elves gathered in a close-knit group, half hidden behind a nearby pavilion. He nodded to them, and they nodded in return. The plan was simple: He and Saphira would set off as if they intended to patrol the skies and scout the land ahead—as they normally did when the army was on the march—but after circling the camp a few times, Saphira would fly into a cloud, and Eragon would cast a spell that would render her invisible to those watching from below. Then the elves would create the hollow wraiths that would take Eragon and Saphira’s place while they continued on with their journey, and it would be the wraiths that onlookers would see emerge from the cloud. Hopefully, none would notice the difference.
With practiced ease, Eragon tightened the straps around his legs and checked that the saddlebags behind him were properly secured. He took special care with the one on his left, for packed within it—well swaddled with clothes and blankets—was the velvet-lined chest that contained Glaedr’s precious heart of hearts, his Eldunarí.
Let us be off, the old dragon said.
To Vroengard! Saphira exclaimed, and the world pitched and plunged around Eragon as she leaped off the ground, and a rush of air buffeted him as she flapped her massive, batlike wings, driving them higher and higher into the sky.