Eragon cast his thoughts out toward where he thought they were. He felt them at once, for their minds were not hidden, but they refused to speak or listen to him.
“Blast it,” muttered Eragon as he ran over to Nasuada. There were tears on her cheeks, and she seemed on the verge of losing her composure.
“Where are they going?!”
“Away.” Her chin trembled. Then she took a breath, released it, and stood taller than before.
Cursing again, Eragon bent and pulled open the saddlebags. Within, he found a number of smallish Eldunarí enclosed in padded cases. “Arya! Blödhgarm!” he shouted, pointing at the saddlebags. The two elves nodded.
Eragon ran over to Saphira. He did not have to explain himself; she understood. She spread her wings as he climbed onto her back, and the moment he was settled in the saddle, she took flight from the courtyard.
Cheers rose from the city as the Varden caught sight of her.
Saphira flapped quickly, following Thorn’s musky scent trail through the air. It led her south, out from under the shadow of the overhang, and then it turned and curved up and around the great stone outcrop, heading north, toward the Ramr River.
For several miles, the trail ran straight and level. When the broad, tree-lined river was almost underneath them, the scent began to angle downward.
Eragon studied the ground ahead and saw a flash of red by the foot of a small hill on the other side of the river. Over there, he said to Saphira, but she had already spotted Thorn.
She spiraled down and landed softly atop the hill, where she had the advantage of height. The air off the water was cool and moist, carrying with it the scent of moss, mud, and sap. Between the hill and the river lay a sea of nettles. The plants grew in such thick profusion, the only way to pass through them would have been to cut a path. Their dark, sawtooth leaves rubbed against each other with a gentle susurration that blended with the sound of the rushing river.
By the edge of the nettles sat Thorn. Murtagh stood next to him, adjusting the girth on his saddle.
Eragon loosened Brisingr in its sheath, then cautiously approached.
Without turning around, Murtagh said, “Have you come to stop us?”
“That depends. Where are you going?”
“I don’t know. North, maybe … somewhere away from other people.”
“You could stay.”
Murtagh uttered a bark of mirthless laughter. “You know better than that. It would only cause Nasuada problems. Besides, the dwarves would never stand for it. Not after I killed Hrothgar.” He glanced over his shoulder at Eragon. “Galbatorix used to call me Kingkiller. You’re Kingkiller as well now.”
“It seems to run in the family.”
“You’d better keep an eye on Roran, then. … And Arya is a dragonkiller. That can’t be easy for her—an elf killing a dragon. You should talk to her and make sure she’s all right.”
Murtagh’s insight surprised Eragon. “I will.”
“There,” said Murtagh, giving the strap a final tug. Then he turned to face Eragon, and Eragon saw that he had been holding Zar’roc close against his body, drawn and ready to use. “So, again: have you come to stop us?”
Murtagh gave a thin smile and sheathed Zar’roc. “Good. I would hate to have to fight you again.”
“How were you able to break free of Galbatorix? It was your true name, wasn’t it?”
Murtagh nodded. “As I said, I’m not … we’re not”—he touched Thorn’s side—“what we once were. It just took a while to realize it.”
Murtagh frowned. Then he turned away and stared out over the sea of nettles. As Eragon joined him, Murtagh said in a low voice, “Do you remember the last time we were at this river?”
“It would be hard to forget. I can still hear the screams of the horses.”
“You, Saphira, Arya, and me, all together and sure that nothing could stop us. …”
In the back of his mind, Eragon could feel Saphira and Thorn talking to each other. Saphira, he knew, would tell him later what had passed between them.
“What will you do?” he asked Murtagh.
“Sit and think. Maybe I’ll build a castle. I have the time.”
“You don’t have to leave. I know it would be … difficult, but you have family here: me and also Roran. He’s your cousin as well as mine, and you’ve never even met him. … You belong as much to Carvahall and Palancar Valley as you do to Urû’baen, maybe more.”
Murtagh shook his head and continued to stare over the nettles. “It wouldn’t work. Thorn and I need time alone; we need time to heal. If we stay, we’d be too busy to figure things out for ourselves.”
“Good company and staying busy are often the best cure for a sickness of the soul.”
“Not for what Galbatorix did to us. … Besides, it would be painful to be around Nasuada right now, for both her and me. No, we have to leave.”
“How long do you think you’ll be gone?”
“Until the world no longer seems quite so hateful and we no longer feel like tearing down mountains and filling the sea with blood.”
To that, Eragon had no response. They stood looking at the river, where it lay behind a line of low willow trees. The rustling of the nettles grew louder, stirred by the westward wind.
Then Eragon said, “When you no longer wish to be alone, come find us. You’ll always be welcome at our hearth, wherever that may be.”
“We will. I promise.” To Eragon’s surprise, he saw a gleam appear in Murtagh’s eyes. It vanished a second later. “You know,” Murtagh said, “I never thought you could do it … but I’m glad you did.”
“I was lucky. And it wouldn’t have been possible without your help.”
“Even so. … You found the Eldunarí in the saddlebags?”
Should we tell them? Eragon asked Saphira, hoping that she would agree.
She thought for a moment. Yes, but do not say where. You tell him, and I will tell Thorn.
As you wish. To Murtagh, Eragon said, “There’s something you should know.”
Murtagh gave him a sideways glance.
“The egg that Galbatorix had—it isn’t the only one in Alagaësia. There are more, hidden in the same place where we found the Eldunarí we brought with us.”
Murtagh turned toward him, disbelief evident on his face. At the same time, Thorn arched his neck and uttered a joyful trumpet that scared a flight of swallows from the branches of a nearby tree.
“How many more?”
For a moment, Murtagh seemed unable to speak. Then: “What will you do with them?”
“Me? I think Saphira and the Eldunarí will have some say in the matter, but probably find somewhere safe for the eggs to hatch, and start to rebuild the Riders.”
“Will you and Saphira train them?”
Eragon shrugged. “I’m sure the elves will help. You could as well, if you join us.”
Murtagh tilted his head back and released a long breath. “The dragons are going to return, and the Riders as well.” He laughed softly. “The world is about to change.”
“It has already changed.”
“Aye. So you and Saphira will become the new leaders of the Riders, while Thorn and I will live in the wilderness.” Eragon tried to say something, to comfort him, but Murtagh stopped him with a look. “No, it is as it should be. You and Saphira will make better teachers than we would.”
“I’m not so sure of that.”
“Mmh … Promise me one thing, though.”
“When you teach them—teach them not to fear. Fear is good in small amounts, but when it is a constant, pounding companion, it cuts away at who you are and makes it hard to do what you know is right.”
Then Eragon noticed that Saphira and Thorn were no longer speaking. The red dragon shifted
and moved around her until he was able to peer down at Eragon. With a mental voice that was surprisingly musical, Thorn said, Thank you for not killing my Rider, Eragon-Murtagh’s-brother.
“Yes, thank you,” Murtagh said dryly.
“I’m glad I didn’t have to,” Eragon said, looking Thorn in one glittering, blood-red eye.
The dragon snorted, then bent and touched Eragon on the top of his head, tapping his scales against Eragon’s helm. May the wind and the sun always be at your back.
“And at yours.”
A sense of great anger, grief, and ambivalence pressed heavily against Eragon as Glaedr’s consciousness enveloped his mind and, it seemed, those of Murtagh and Thorn, for they tensed, as if in anticipation of battle. Eragon had forgotten that Glaedr, along with the other Eldunarí—hidden within their invisible pocket of space—were present and listening.
Would that I could thank you for the same, said Glaedr, his words as bitter as an oak gall. You killed my body and you killed my Rider. The statement was flat and simple and all the more terrible because of it.
Murtagh said something with his thoughts, but Eragon did not know what it was, for it was directed to Glaedr alone, and Eragon was privy only to Glaedr’s reaction.
No, I cannot, said the gold dragon. However, I understand that it was Galbatorix who drove you to it and that it was he who swung your arm, Murtagh. … I cannot forgive, but Galbatorix is dead and with him my desire for vengeance. Yours has always been a hard path, since each of you hatched. But today you showed that your misfortunes have not broken you. You turned against Galbatorix when it might have gained you only pain, and by it you allowed Eragon to kill him. Today you and Thorn proved yourselves worthy of being considered Shur’tugal in full, though you never had the proper instruction or guidance. That is … admirable.
Murtagh bowed his head slightly, and Thorn said, Thank you, Ebrithil, which Eragon heard. Thorn’s use of the honorific ebrithil seemed to startle Murtagh, for Murtagh looked back at the dragon and opened his mouth as if he was going to say something.
Then Umaroth spoke. We know much of the difficulties you have faced, Thorn and Murtagh, for we have watched you from afar, even as we have watched Eragon and Saphira. There are many things we would teach you once you are ready, but until then, we will tell you this: in your wanderings, avoid the barrows of Anghelm, where the one and only Urgal king, Kulkarvek, lies in state. Avoid too the ruins of Vroengard and of El-harím. Beware the deeps, and tread not where the ground grows black and brittle and the air smells of brimstone, for in those places evil lurks. Do this and, unless you are greatly unfortunate, you shall not encounter danger beyond your ability to master.
Murtagh and Thorn thanked Umaroth, and then Murtagh cast a glance in the direction of Urû’baen and said, “We should be off.” He looked at Eragon again. “Can you remember the name of the ancient language now, or is Galbatorix’s magic still clouding your mind?”
“I can almost remember it, but …” Eragon shook his head with frustration.
Then Murtagh spoke the name of names twice: first to remove the spell of forgetfulness Galbatorix had placed on Eragon, and then again so that Eragon and Saphira might learn the name for themselves. “I wouldn’t share it with anyone else,” he said. “If every magician knew the name of the ancient language, the language would be worse than useless.”
Eragon nodded, agreeing.
Then Murtagh held out his hand and Eragon grasped him by the forearm. They stood like that for a moment, gazing at each other.
“Be careful,” Eragon said.
“You too … Brother.”
Eragon hesitated, then nodded again. “Brother.”
Murtagh checked the straps on Thorn’s harness once more before he climbed up into the saddle. As Thorn spread his wings and started to move away, Murtagh called out, “See to it that Nasuada is well protected. Galbatorix had many servants, more than he ever told me about, and not all of them were bound to him by magic alone. They will seek revenge for the death of their master. Be on your guard at all times. There are those among them who are even more dangerous than the Ra’zac!”
Then Murtagh raised a hand in farewell. Eragon did likewise, and Thorn took three loping steps away from the sea of nettles and leaped into the sky, leaving tracklike gouges in the soft earth below.
The sparkling red dragon circled over them once, twice, three times and then he turned and set off to the north, flapping with a slow, steady beat.
Eragon joined Saphira on the crest of the low hill, and together they watched as Thorn and Murtagh dwindled to a single starlike speck close to the horizon.
With a sense of sadness upon them both, Eragon took his place on Saphira’s back, and they departed from the knoll and returned thence to Urû’baen.
HEIR TO THE EMPIRE
ERAGON SLOWLY CLIMBED the worn steps of the green tower. It was close to sunset, and through the windows that pierced the curving wall to his right, he could see the shadow-streaked buildings of Urû’baen, as well as the hazy fields outside the city and, as he spiraled around, the dark mass of the stone hill that rose up behind it.
The tower was tall, and Eragon was tired. He wished he could have flown with Saphira to the top. It had been a long day, and right then, he wanted nothing more than to sit with Saphira and drink a cup of hot tea while watching the light fade from the sky. But, as always, there was still work to be done.
He had seen Saphira only twice since they landed back at the citadel after parting with Murtagh and Thorn. She had spent most of the afternoon helping the Varden kill or capture the remainder of the soldiers and, later, gather into camps the families who had fled their homes and scattered across the countryside while they waited to see if the overhang would break and fall.
That it had not, the elves told Eragon, was because of spells they had embedded within the stone in ages past—when Urû’baen was yet known as Ilirea—and also because of the overhang’s sheer size, which had allowed it to weather the force of the blast without significant damage.
The hill itself had helped contain the harmful residue from the explosion, although a large amount had still escaped through the entrance to the citadel, and most everyone who had been in or around Urû’baen needed healing with magic, else they would soon sicken and die. Already many had fallen ill. Along with the elves, Eragon had worked to save as many as possible; the strength of the Eldunarí had allowed him to cure a large portion of the Varden, as well as many inhabitants of the city.
At that very moment, the elves and the dwarves were walling up the front of the citadel to prevent any further contamination from seeping out. This after having searched the building for survivors, of whom there had been many: soldiers, servants, and hundreds of prisoners from the dungeons below. The great store of treasures that lay within the citadel, including the contents of Galbatorix’s vast library, would have to be retrieved at a later date. It would be no easy task. The walls of many rooms had collapsed; countless others, though still standing, were so damaged that they posed a danger to any who ventured near. Moreover, magic would be required to fend off the poison that had permeated the air, the stone, and all of the objects within the sprawling warren of the fortress. And more magic would be required to cleanse whatever items they chose to bring out.
Once the citadel was closed off, the elves would purge the city and the land thereabouts of the harmful residue that had settled upon it so that the area would again be safe to live in. Eragon knew that he would have to help with that too.
Before he had joined in the effort to heal and place wards of protection around everyone in and around Urû’baen, he had spent over an hour using the name of the ancient language to find and dismantle the many spells Galbatorix had bound to the buildings and the people of the city. Some of the enchantments seemed benign, even helpful—such as one spell whose only apparent purpose was to keep the hinges of a door from creaking, and which drew its power from an egg-sized piece of crystal set within the
face of the door—but Eragon dared not leave any of the king’s spells intact, no matter how harmless they appeared. Especially not those that lay upon the men and women of Galbatorix’s command. Among them, oaths of fealty were the most common, but there were also wards, enchantments to grant skills beyond the ordinary, and other, more mysterious spells.
As Eragon had released nobles and commoners alike from their bondage, he occasionally felt a cry of anguish, as if he had taken something precious from them.
There had been a moment of crisis when he stripped Galbatorix’s strictures from the Eldunarí the king had enslaved. The dragons immediately began to lash out and assail the minds of the people within the city, attacking without regard for who was friend or who was foe. In those moments, a great pall of dread spread over Urû’baen, causing everyone, even the elves, to crouch and turn white with fear.
Then Blödhgarm and his ten remaining spellcasters had tied the convoy of metal boxes that contained the Eldunarí to a pair of horses and ridden out of Urû’baen, where the dragons’ thoughts no longer had such a strong effect. Glaedr insisted upon accompanying the maddened dragons, as did several of the Eldunarí from Vroengard. That had been the second time Eragon had seen Saphira since their return, when he amended the spell that hid Umaroth and those with him so that five of the Eldunarí could be portioned out and given over to Blödhgarm’s safekeeping. Glaedr and the five were of the opinion that they could calm and communicate with the dragons that Galbatorix had for so long tormented. Eragon was less sure, but he hoped they were right.
As the elves and Eldunarí were on their way out of the city, Arya had contacted him, casting a questioning thought from outside the ruined gate, where she was in conference with the captains of her mother’s army. In that brief time when their minds touched, he felt her desolation at Islanzadí’s death, as well as the regret and anger that eddied beneath her grief, and he saw how her emotions threatened to overwhelm her reason and how she struggled to restrain them. He sent her what comfort he could, but it seemed paltry when compared to her loss.