Frustrated with the lack of information, Oromis and I left Ilirea to discover what we could for ourselves. We brought two younger Riders with us, both elves and accomplished warriors, who had recently returned from scouting the northern reaches of the Spine. It was partly at their urging that we ventured forth on our expedition. Their names you might recognize, for they were Kialandí and Formora.
“Ah,” said Eragon, suddenly understanding.
Yes. After a day and a half of traveling, we stopped at Edur Naroch, a watchtower built of old to stand guard over Silverwood Forest. Unbeknownst to us, Kialandí and Formora had visited the tower beforehand and slain the three elven rangers stationed there. Then they had placed a trap upon the stones that ringed the tower, a trap that caught us the moment my claws touched the grass upon the knoll. It was a clever spell; Galbatorix had taught it to them himself. We had no defense against it, for it caused us no harm, only held us and slowed us, like honey poured over our bodies and minds. While we were thus snared, minutes passed as seconds. Kialandí, Formora, and their dragons flitted around us faster than hummingbirds; they appeared as no more than dark blurs at the edges of our vision.
When they were ready, they released us. They had cast dozens of spells—spells to bind us in place, spells to blind us, and spells to prevent Oromis from speaking, so as to make it more difficult for him to cast spells. Again, their magic did not hurt us, and thus we had no defense against it. … The moment we could, we attacked Kialandí, Formora, and their dragons with our minds, and they us, and for hours thereafter, we strove against them. The experience was … not pleasant. They were weaker and less skilled than Oromis and I, but there were two of them for each of us, and they had with them the heart of hearts of a dragon named Agaravel—whose Rider they had slain—and her strength added to their own. As a result, we were hard-pressed to defend ourselves. Their intent, we discovered, was to force us to help Galbatorix and the Forsworn enter Ilirea unnoticed, so that they might catch the Riders by surprise and capture the Eldunarí who were then living in the city.
“How did you escape?” asked Eragon.
In time, it became clear that we would not be able to defeat them. So, Oromis decided to risk using magic in an attempt to free us, even though he knew it would provoke Kialandí and Formora into attacking us with magic in return. It was a desperate ploy, but it was the only choice we had.
At a certain point, without knowing of Oromis’s plans, I struck back at our attackers, seeking to hurt them. Oromis had been waiting for just such a moment. He had long known the Rider who had instructed Kialandí and Formora in the ways of magic, and he was well familiar with Galbatorix’s twisted reasoning. From that knowledge, he was able to guess at how Kialandí and Formora had worded their spells, and where the flaws in their enchantments were likely to lie.
Oromis had only seconds to act; the moment he began to use magic, Kialandí and Formora realized what he was about, panicked, and began to cast their own spells. It took Oromis three tries to break our bonds. How exactly he did it, I cannot say. I doubt whether he really understood it himself. Most simply, he shifted us a finger’s-breadth away from where we had been standing.
Like how Arya sent my egg from Du Weldenvarden to the Spine? asked Saphira.
Yes, and no, Glaedr replied. Yes, he transported us from one place to another without moving us through the intervening space. But he did not just shift our position, he also shifted the very substance of our flesh, rearranged it so that we were no longer what we once were. Many of the smallest parts of our bodies can be exchanged for one another without ill effect, and so he did with every muscle, bone, and organ.
Eragon frowned. Such a spell was a feat of the highest order, a wonder of magical dexterity that few in history could have hoped to carry out. Still, as impressed as Eragon was, he could not help but ask, “How could that have worked, though? You would still be the same person as before.”
You would, and yet you would not. The difference between who we had been and who we then were was slight, but it was enough to render useless the enchantments Kialandí and Formora had woven about us.
What of the spells they cast once they noticed what Oromis was doing? asked Saphira.
An image came to Eragon of Glaedr ruffling his wings, as if he were tired of sitting in one position for so long. The first spell, Formora’s, was meant to kill us, but our wards stopped it. The second, which was from Kialandí … that was a different matter. It was a spell Kialandí had learned from Galbatorix, and he from the spirits who possessed Durza. This I know, for I was in contact with Kialandí’s mind even when he wrought his enchantment. It was a clever, fiendish spell, the purpose of which was to prevent Oromis from touching and manipulating the flow of energy around him, and thereby to prevent him from using magic.
“Did Kialandí do the same to you?”
He would have, but he feared it would either kill me or sever my connection with my heart of hearts and thus create two independent versions of me that they would then have to subdue. Even more than elves, dragons depend on magic for our existence; without it, we would soon die.
Eragon could sense Saphira’s curiosity was aroused. Has that ever happened? Has the connection between a dragon and the dragon’s Eldunarí ever been severed while the dragon’s body was still alive?
It has, but that is a tale for another time.
Saphira subsided, but Eragon could tell that she intended to raise the question again at the soonest opportunity.
“But Kialandí’s spell didn’t stop Oromis from being able to use magic, did it?”
Not entirely. It was supposed to, but Kialandí cast the spell even as Oromis shifted us from place to place, and so its effect was somewhat lessened. Still, it kept him from working all but the smallest of magics, and as you know, the spell remained with him for the rest of his life, despite the efforts of our wisest healers.
“Why didn’t his wards protect him?”
Glaedr seemed to sigh. That is a mystery. No one had done such a thing before, Eragon, and of those still living, only Galbatorix now knows the secret of it. The spell was bound to Oromis’s mind, but it may not have affected him directly. Instead, it may have worked upon the energy around him or upon his link to the same. The elves have long studied magic, but even they do not fully understand how the material and immaterial worlds interact. It is a riddle that will likely never be solved. However, it seems reasonable to assume that the spirits know more than we about both the material and the immaterial, considering that they are the embodiment of the second and that they occupy the first when in the form of a Shade.
Whatever the truth may be, the outcome was this: Oromis cast his spell, and he freed us, but the effort was too much for him, and a fit came over him, the first of many. Never again was he able to cast such a powerful spell, and ever after, he suffered a weakness of the flesh that would have killed him if not for his skill with magic. The weakness was already in him when Kialandí and Formora captured us, but when he shifted us and reshuffled the parts of our bodies, he brought it to the fore. Otherwise, the malady might have lain dormant for many more years.
Oromis fell to the ground, as helpless as a hatchling, even as Formora and her dragon, an ugly brown thing, ran at us, the others close behind. I leaped over Oromis, and I attacked. If they had realized he was crippled, they would have taken advantage of his condition to slip into his mind and make it their own. I had to distract them until Oromis recovered. … I have never fought harder than I did that day. There were four of them arrayed against me, five if you include Agaravel in the tally. Both of my kin, the brown and Kialandí’s purple, were smaller than me, but their teeth were sharp and their claws were fast. Still, my rage gave me a strength greater than normal, and I dealt grave wounds to them both. Kialandí was foolish enough to come within my reach, and I grasped him with my talons and threw him at his own dragon. Glaedr made a sound of amusement. His magic did not protect him against that. One of the spikes on the purp
le’s back impaled him, and I might have killed him then and there had not the brown forced me to retreat.
We must have fought for almost five minutes before I heard Oromis shout that we must flee. I kicked up dirt in the faces of my enemies, then returned to Oromis and grasped him in my right forepaw and took flight from Edur Naroch. Kialandí and his dragon could not follow, but Formora and the brown could and did.
They caught us less than a mile from the watchtower. We closed several times, and then the brown flew underneath me, and I saw Formora about to strike at my right leg with her sword. She was trying to force me to drop Oromis, I think, or perhaps she wanted to kill him. I twisted to evade the blow, and instead of my right leg, her sword struck my left, cutting it off.
The memory that passed through Glaedr’s mind was that of a hard, cold, pinching sensation, as if Formora’s blade had been forged of ice, not steel. The feeling made Eragon queasy. He swallowed and tightened his grip on the front of the saddle, grateful that Saphira was safe.
It hurt less than you might imagine, but I knew that I could not continue to fight, so I turned and raced toward Ilirea as fast as my wings could carry me. In a way, Formora’s victory worked against her, for without the burden of my leg, I was able to outdistance the brown and thus escape.
Oromis was able to stop the bleeding, but no more, and he was too weak to contact Vrael or the other elder Riders and warn them of Galbatorix’s plans. Once Kialandí and Formora reported to him, we knew that Galbatorix would attack Ilirea soon thereafter. If he waited, it would only give us time to fortify, and strong as he was, surprise was still Galbatorix’s greatest weapon in those days.
When we arrived at Ilirea, we were dismayed to find that few of our order were still there; in our absence, more had left to search for Galbatorix or to consult with Vrael in person on Vroengard. We convinced those who remained of the danger, and we had them warn Vrael and the other elder dragons and Riders. They were loath to believe that Galbatorix had the forces needed to attack Ilirea—or that he would dare do such a thing—but in the end, we were able to make them see the truth of the matter. As a result, they decided that all of the Eldunarí in Alagaësia should be taken to Vroengard for safekeeping.
It seemed a prudent measure, but we should have sent them to Ellesméra instead. If nothing else, we should have left the Eldunarí that were already in Du Weldenvarden where they were. At least then some of them would have remained free of Galbatorix. Alas, none of us thought that they would be safer among the elves than on Vroengard, at the very center of our order.
Vrael ordered every dragon and Rider who was within a few days journey of Ilirea to hurry to the aid of the city, but Oromis and I feared they would be too late. Nor were we in any state to help defend Ilirea. So we gathered what supplies we needed, and with our two remaining students—Brom and the dragon who is your namesake, Saphira—we left the city that very night. You have seen, I think, the fairth Oromis made as we departed.
Eragon nodded absently as he remembered the image of the beautiful, tower-filled city clustered about the base of an escarpment and lit by a rising harvest moon.
And that is how it came to be that we were not in Ilirea when Galbatorix and the Forsworn attacked a few hours later. And it is also why we were not at Vroengard when the oath-breakers defeated the combined might of all our forces and sacked Doru Araeba. From Ilirea, we went to Du Weldenvarden in the hope that the elven healers might be able to cure Oromis’s ailment and restore his ability to use magic. When they could not, we decided to remain where we were, for it seemed safer than flying all the way to Vroengard when both of us were hampered by our injuries and we might be ambushed at any point along the journey.
Brom and Saphira did not stay with us, though. Despite our advice to the contrary, they went to join the fight, and it was in that fighting that your namesake died, Saphira. … And now you know how the Forsworn captured us and how we escaped.
After a moment, Saphira said, Thank you for the story, Ebrithil.
You are welcome, Bjartskular, but never ask it of me again.
When the moon was nearing its zenith, Eragon saw a nest of dim orange lights floating in the darkness. It took him a moment to realize they were the torches and lanterns of Teirm, many miles away. And, high above the other lights, a bright yellow spot appeared for a second, like a great eye glaring at him; then it vanished and reappeared, flashing on and off in a never-changing cycle, as if the eye were blinking.
The lighthouse at Teirm is lit, he said to both Saphira and Glaedr.
Then a storm is brewing, said Glaedr.
Saphira’s flapping ceased, and Eragon felt her tip forward and begin a long, slow glide toward the ground.
A half hour elapsed before she landed. By then, Teirm was a faint glow to the south, and the beam from the lighthouse was no brighter than a star.
Saphira alit on an empty beach strewn with twisted driftwood. By the light of the moon, the hard, flat strand appeared almost white, while the waves that crashed into it were gray and black and seemed angry, as if the ocean were trying to devour the land with each breaker it sent forth.
Eragon unbuckled the straps around his legs, then slid off Saphira, grateful for the opportunity to stretch his muscles. He noted the smell of brine as he sprinted down the strand toward a large chunk of driftwood, his cloak flapping behind him. At the piece of wood, he spun around and sprinted back to Saphira.
She sat where he had left her, staring out to sea. He paused, wondering if she was going to speak—for he could feel a great strain within her—but when she remained silent, he turned on his heel and again sprinted to the driftwood. She would talk when she was ready.
Back and forth Eragon ran, until he was warm all over and his legs felt wobbly.
And yet the whole time Saphira kept her gaze fixed on some point in the distance.
As Eragon threw himself down on a patch of sedge next to her, Glaedr said, It would be foolish to try.
Eragon cocked his head, unsure to whom the dragon was speaking.
I know I can do it, said Saphira.
You have never before been to Vroengard, said Glaedr. And if there is a storm, it might drive you far out to sea, or worse. More than one dragon has perished because of overweening confidence. The wind is not your friend, Saphira. It can help you, but it can also destroy you.
I am not a hatchling to be instructed about the wind!
No, but you are still young, and I do not think you are ready for this.
The other way would take too long!
Perhaps, but better to get there safely than not at all.
“What are you talking about?” Eragon asked.
The sand under Saphira’s front feet made a gritty, rustling sound as she flexed her claws, sinking them deep into the earth.
We have a choice to make, said Glaedr. From here, Saphira can either fly straight to Vroengard or follow the coastline north until she reaches the point on the mainland closest to the island and then—only then—turn west and cross the sea.
Which path would be faster? Eragon asked, although he had already guessed the answer.
Flying straight there, said Saphira.
But if she does, then she would be over the water the whole time.
Saphira bristled. It’s no farther than it was from the Varden to here. Or am I wrong?
You’re more tired now, and if there is a storm—
Then I’ll fly around it! she said, and huffed, releasing a spike of blue and yellow flame from her nostrils.
The flame branded itself into Eragon’s vision, leaving behind a flashing afterimage. “Ah! Now I can’t see.” He rubbed his eyes as he tried to help the afterimage fade away. Would flying straight there really be all that dangerous?
It could be, rumbled Glaedr.
How much longer would it take to go along the coastline?
Half a day, maybe a bit more.
Eragon scratched the stubble on his chin as he stared at the forbidding mass of
water. Then he looked up at Saphira and, in a low voice, said, “Are you sure you can do this?”
She twisted her neck and returned his gaze with one huge eye. Her pupil had expanded until it was nearly circular; it was so large and black, Eragon felt as if he could crawl into it and disappear altogether.
As sure as I can be, she said.
He nodded and ran his hands through his hair as he accustomed himself to the idea. Then we have to chance it. … Glaedr, if need be, you can guide her? You can help her?
The old dragon was quiet for a while; then he surprised Eragon by humming in his mind, even as Saphira hummed when she was pleased or amused. Very well. If we are to tempt fate, then let us not be cowards about it. Across the sea it is.
The matter settled, Eragon climbed back onto Saphira, and with a single bound, she left behind the safety of solid land and took flight over the trackless waves.
THE SOUND OF HIS VOICE, THE TOUCH OF HIS HAND
“Will you swear your fealty to me in the ancient language?”
His question and her answer had become a ritual between them, a call-and-response such as children might use in a game, except that in this game she lost even when she won.
Rituals were all that allowed Nasuada to maintain her sanity. By them, she ordered her world—by them, she was able to endure from one moment to the next, for they gave her something to hold on to when all else had been stripped from her. Rituals of thought, rituals of action, rituals of pain and relief: these had become the framework upon which her life depended. Without them, she would have been lost, a sheep without a shepherd, a devotee bereft of faith … a Rider separated from her dragon.
Unfortunately, this particular ritual always ended in the same way: with another touch of the iron.
She screamed and bit her tongue, and blood filled her mouth. She coughed, trying to clear her throat, but there was too much blood and she began to choke. Her lungs burned from a lack of air, and the lines on the ceiling wavered and grew dim, and then her memory ceased and there was nothing, not even darkness.