Inheritance (The Inheritance Cycle 4) - Page 51

True to his word, he made no attempt to force himself deeper into her mind, and after a few seconds, he withdrew and she again found herself alone with her thoughts.

Murtagh’s eyes opened fully, and he said, “There now. Will you be able to recognize me if I reach out to you again?”

She nodded.

“Good. Galbatorix can do many things, but even he cannot imitate the feeling of another person’s mind. I’ll try to warn you before he starts to alter your senses, and I’ll contact you when he stops. That way, he won’t be able to confuse you as to what is real and what is not.”

“Thank you,” she said, unable to express the full extent of her gratitude in so short a phrase.

“Fortunately, we have some time. The Varden are only three days hence, and the elves are fast approaching from the north. Galbatorix has gone to oversee the final placement of Urû’baen’s defenses and to discuss strategy with Lord Barst, who has command of the army now that it’s garrisoned here in the city.”

She frowned. That boded ill. She had heard of Lord Barst; he had a fearsome reputation among the nobles of Galbatorix’s court. He was said to be both keen-minded and bloody-handed, and those who were foolish enough to oppose him, he crushed without mercy.

“Not you?” she asked.

“Galbatorix has other plans for me, although he’s yet to share them.”

“How long will he be busy with his preparations?”

“The rest of today and all of tomorrow.”

“Do you think you can free me before he returns?”

“I don’t know. Probably not.” A pause fell between them. Then he said, “Now I have a question for you: why did you kill those men? You knew you wouldn’t make it out of the citadel. Was it just to spite Galbatorix, as he said?”

She sighed and pushed herself off Murtagh’s chest so she was sitting upright. With some reluctance, he released his hold around her shoulders. She sniffed, then looked him square in the eyes. “I couldn’t just lie there and let him do whatever he wanted to me. I had to fight back; I had to show him that he hadn’t broken me, and I wanted to hurt him however I could.”

“So it was spite!”

“In part. What of it?” She expected him to express disgust or condemnation at her actions, but instead he gave her an appraising look and his lips curved in a small, knowing smile.

“Then I say well done,” he replied.

After a moment, she returned his smile.

“Besides,” she said, “there was always a chance I might escape.”

He snorted. “And dragons might start eating grass.”

“Even so, I had to try.”

“I understand. If I could have, I would have done the same when the Twins first brought me here.”

“And now?”

“I still can’t, and even if I could, what purpose would it serve?”

To that, she had no answer. Silence followed, and then she said, “Murtagh, if it’s not possible to free me from here, then I want your promise that you’ll help me escape by … other means. I wouldn’t ask … I wouldn’t place this burden upon you, but your assistance would make the task easier, and I may not have the opportunity to do it myself.” His lips grew thin and hard as she spoke, but he did not interrupt. “Whatever happens, I won’t allow myself to become a plaything for Galbatorix to order about as he will. I’ll do anything, anything at all to avoid that fate. Can you understand that?”

His chin dipped in a short nod.

“Then do I have your word?”

He looked down and clenched his fists, his breathing ragged. “You do.”

Murtagh was taciturn, but eventually she succeeded in drawing him out again, and they passed the time talking about matters of little import. Murtagh told her of the alterations he had made to the saddle Galbatorix had given him for Thorn—changes that Murtagh was justifiably proud of, as they allowed him to mount and dismount faster, as well as to draw his sword with less inconvenience. She told him about the market streets in Aberon, the capital of Surda, and how, as a child, she had often run away from her nurse to explore them. Her favorite of the merchants had been a man of the wandering tribes. His name was Hadamanara-no Dachu Taganna, but he had insisted that she call him by his familiar name, which was Taganna. He sold knives and daggers, and he always seemed to delight in showing her his wares, even though she never bought any.

As she and Murtagh continued to talk, their conversation grew easier and more relaxed. Despite their unpleasant circumstances, she found that she enjoyed speaking with him. He was smart and well educated, and he had a mordant wit that she appreciated, especially given her current predicament.

Murtagh seemed to enjoy their conversation as much as she did. Still, the time came when they both recognized that it would be foolish to keep talking, for fear of being caught. So she returned to the slab, where she lay down and allowed him to strap her to the unforgiving block of stone once again.

As he was about to leave, she said, “Murtagh.”

He paused and turned to regard her.

She hesitated for a moment, then mustered her courage and said, “Why?” She thought he understood her meaning: Why her? Why save her, and now why try to rescue her? She had guessed at the answer, but she wanted to hear him say it.

He stared at her for the longest while, and then, in a low, hard voice, he said, “You know why.”


THE THICK GRAY clouds parted, and from his place on Saphira’s back, Eragon beheld the interior of Vroengard Island.

Before them was a huge bowl-shaped valley, encircled by the steep mountains they had seen poking through the tops of the clouds. A dense forest of spruce, pine, and fir trees blanketed the sides of the mountains as well as the foothills below, like an army of prickly soldiers marching down from the peaks. The trees were tall and mournful, and even from a distance Eragon could see the beards of moss and lichen that hung from their heavy branches. Scraps of white mist clung to the sides of the mountains, and in several places throughout the valley, diffuse curtains of rain drifted from the ceiling of clouds.

High above the valley floor, Eragon could see a number of stone structures among the trees: tumbled, overgrown entrances to caves; the husks of burnt-out towers; grand halls with collapsed roofs; and a few smaller buildings that looked as if they might still be habitable.

A dozen or more rivers flowed out of the mountains and wandered across the verdant ground until they poured into a large, still lake near the center of the valley. Around the lake lay the remnants of the Riders’ city, Doru Araeba. The buildings were immense—great empty halls of such enormous proportions that many could have encompassed the whole of Carvahall. Every door was like the mouth to a vast, unexplored cavern. Every window was as tall and wide as a castle gate, and every wall was a sheer cliff.

Thick mats of ivy strangled the blocks of stone, and where there was no ivy there was moss, which meant that the buildings blended into the landscape and looked as if they had grown out of the earth itself. What little of the stone was bare tended to be a pale ocher, although patches of red, brown, and dusky blue were also visible.

As with all elf-made structures, the buildings were graceful and flowing and more attenuated than those of dwarves or humans. But they also possessed a solidity and authority that the treehouses of Ellesméra lacked; in some of them, Eragon descried similarities to houses in Palancar Valley, and he remembered that the earliest human Riders had come from that very part of Alagaësia. The result was a unique style of architecture, neither entirely elvish nor entirely human.

Almost all the buildings were damaged, some more severely than others. The damage seemed to radiate outward from a single point near the southern edge of the city, where a wide crater sank more than thirty feet into the ground. A copse of birch trees had taken root in the depression, and their silvery leaves shook in the gusts of the directionless breeze.

The open areas within the city were overgrown with weeds a

nd brush, while a fringe of grass surrounded each of the flagstones that formed the streets. Where the buildings had sheltered the Riders’ gardens from the blast that had ravaged the city, dull-colored flowers still grew in artful designs, their shapes no doubt governed by the dictates of some long-forgotten spell.

Altogether, the circular valley presented a dismal picture.

Behold the ruins of our pride and glory, said Glaedr. Then: Eragon, you must cast another spell. The wording of it goes thus—And he uttered several lines in the ancient language. It was an odd spell; the phrasing was obscure and convoluted, and Eragon was unable to determine what it was supposed to accomplish.

When he asked Glaedr, the old dragon said, There is an invisible poison here, in the air you breathe, in the ground you walk upon, and in the food you may eat and the water you may drink. The spell will protect us against it.

What … poison? asked Saphira, her thoughts as slow as the beats of her wings.

Eragon saw from Glaedr an image of the crater by the city, and the dragon said, During the battle with the Forsworn, one of our own, an elf by the name of Thuviel, killed himself with magic. Whether by design or by accident has never been clear, but the result is what you see and what you cannot see, for the resulting explosion rendered the area unfit to live in. Those who remained here soon developed lesions upon their skin and lost their hair, and many died thereafter.

Concerned, Eragon cast the spell—which required little energy—before he said, How could any one person, elf or not, cause so much damage? Even if Thuviel’s dragon helped him, I can’t think how it would be possible, not unless his dragon was the size of a mountain.

His dragon did not help him, said Glaedr. His dragon was dead. No, Thuviel wrought this destruction by himself.

But how?

The only way he could have: he converted his flesh into energy.

He made himself into a spirit?

No. The energy was without thought or structure, and once unbound, it raced outward until it dispersed.

I had not realized that a single body contained so much force.

It is not well known, but even the smallest speck of matter is equal to a great amount of energy. Matter, it seems, is merely frozen energy. Melt it, and you release a flood few can withstand. … It was said that the explosion here was heard as far away as Teirm and that the cloud of smoke that followed rose as high as the Beor Mountains.

Was it the blast that killed Glaerun? Eragon asked, referring to the one member of the Forsworn who he knew had died on Vroengard.

It was. Galbatorix and the rest of the Forsworn had a moment of warning, and so were able to shield themselves, but many of our own were not as fortunate and thus perished.

As Saphira glided downward from the underside of the low-slung clouds, Glaedr instructed her where to fly, so she altered her course, turning toward the northwestern part of the valley. Glaedr named each of the mountains that she flew past: Ilthiaros, Fellsverd, and Nammenmast, along with Huildrim and Tírnadrim. He also named many of the holds and fallen towers below, and he gave something of their history to Eragon and Saphira, although only Eragon paid heed to the old dragon’s narration.

Within Glaedr’s consciousness, Eragon felt an ancient sorrow reawaken. The sorrow was not so much for the destruction of Doru Araeba as for the deaths of the Riders, the near extinction of the dragons, and the loss of thousands of years of knowledge and wisdom. The memory of what had been—of the companionship he had once shared with the other members of his order—exacerbated Glaedr’s loneliness. That, along with his sorrow, created a mood of such desolation, Eragon began to feel saddened as well.

He withdrew slightly from Glaedr, but still the valley seemed gloomy and melancholy, as if the land itself were mourning the fall of the Riders.

The lower Saphira flew, the larger the buildings appeared. As their true size became evident, Eragon realized that what he had read in Domia abr Wyrda was no exaggeration: the grandest of them were so enormous, Saphira would be able to fly within them.

Near the edge of the abandoned city, he began to notice piles of giant white bones upon the ground: the skeletons of dragons. The sight filled him with revulsion, and yet he could not bring himself to look elsewhere. What struck him most was their size. A few of the dragons had been smaller than Saphira, but most had been far larger. The biggest he saw was a skeleton with ribs that he guessed were at least eighty feet long and perhaps fifteen wide at their thickest. The skull alone—a huge, fierce thing covered with blotches of lichen, like a rough crag of stone—was longer and taller than the main part of Saphira’s body. Even Glaedr, when he was still clothed in flesh, would have appeared diminutive next to the slain dragon.

There lies Belgabad, greatest of us all, said Glaedr as he noticed the object of Eragon’s attention.

Eragon vaguely remembered the name from one of the histories he had read in Ellesméra; the author had written only that Belgabad had been present at the battle and that he perished in the fighting, as so many had.

Who was his Rider? he asked.

He had no Rider. He was a wild dragon. For centuries, he lived alone in the icy reaches of the north, but when Galbatorix and the Forsworn began to slaughter our kind, he flew to our aid.

Was he the largest dragon ever?

Ever? No. But at the time, yes.

How did he find enough to eat?

At that age and at that size, dragons spend most of their time in a sleep-like trance, dreaming of whatever happens to capture their fancy, be it the turning of the stars, or the rise and fall of the mountains over the eons, or even something as small as the motion of a butterfly’s wings. Already I feel the lure of such repose, but awake I am needed and awake I shall stay.

Did … you … know … Belgabad? asked Saphira, forcing the words through her fatigue.

I met him, but I did not know him. Wild dragons did not, as a rule, consort with those of us who were bonded with Riders. They looked down on us for being too tame and too compliant, while we looked down on them for being too driven by their instincts, although sometimes we admired them for the same. Also, you must remember, they had no language of their own, and that created a greater difference between us than you might think. Language alters your mind in ways that are hard to explain. Wild dragons could communicate as effectively as any dwarf or elf, of course, but they did so by sharing memories, images, and sensations, not words. Only the more cunning of them chose to learn this or any other tongue.

Glaedr paused, and then he added, If I recall correctly, Belgabad was a distant ancestor of Raugmar the Black, and Raugmar, as I’m sure you remember, Saphira, was the great-great-great-grandsire of your mother, Vervada.

In her exhaustion, Saphira was slow to react, but at last she twisted her neck to again look at the vast skeleton. He must have been a good hunter to grow so big.

He was the very best, said Glaedr.

Then … I am glad to be of his blood.

The number of bones scattered across the ground staggered Eragon. Until then, he had fully comprehended neither the extent of the battle nor how many dragons there had once been. The sight renewed his hate for Galbatorix, and once again Eragon swore that he would see the king dead.

Saphira sank through a band of mist, the white haze rolling off the tips of her wings like tiny whirlpools set within the sky. Then a field of tangled grass rushed up at her and she landed with a heavy jolt. Her right foreleg gave way beneath her, and she lurched to the side and fell onto her chest and shoulder, plowing into the ground with such force that Eragon would have impaled himself on the neck spike in front of him, had it not been for his wards.

Once her forward slide ceased, Saphira lay motionless, stunned by the impact. Then she slowly rolled onto her feet, folded her wings, and settled into a low crouch. The straps on the saddle creaked as she moved, the sound unnaturally loud in the hushed atmosphere that pervaded the interior of the island.

Eragon pulled loose the bands around

his legs, then jumped all the way to the ground. It was wet and soft, and he dropped to one knee as his boots sank into the damp earth.

“We made it,” he said, amazed. He walked forward to Saphira’s head, and when she lowered her neck so that she could look him in the eye, he placed his hands on either side of her long head and pressed his forehead against her snout.

Thank you, he said.

He heard the snick as her eyelids closed, and then her head began to vibrate as she hummed deep in her chest.

After a moment, Eragon released her and turned to look at their surroundings. The field Saphira had landed in was on the northern outskirts of the city. Pieces of cracked masonry—some as large as Saphira herself—lay scattered throughout the grass; Eragon was relieved she had avoided striking any.

The field sloped upward, away from the city, to the base of the nearest foothill, which was covered with forest. Where field and hill met, a large paved square had been cut flat into the ground, and at the far side of the square sat a massive pile of dressed stone that stretched to the north for over half a mile. Intact, the building would have been one of the largest on the island, and certainly one of the most ornate, for among the square blocks of stone that had formed the walls, Eragon spotted dozens of fluted pillars, as well as carved panels depicting vines and flowers, and a whole host of statues, most of which were missing some combination of body parts, as if they too had participated in the battle.

Tags: Christopher Paolini The Inheritance Cycle Fantasy
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