Brisingr (The Inheritance Cycle 3) - Page 47

Eragon hesitated, thinking back to his history lessons in Ellesméra. “I know it was Dûrok who carved it.”

“Aye,” said Skeg, “it was Dûrok Ornthrond—Eagle-eye, as you say in this tongue. It was not he who discovered Isidar Mithrim, but it was he alone who extracted it from the surrounding stone, he who carved it, and he who polished it. Fifty-seven years he spent working on the Star Rose. The gem enthralled him as nothing else. Every night he sat crouched over Isidar Mithrim until the wee hours of the morning, as he was determined that the Star Rose should be not just art but something that would touch the hearts of all who gazed upon it and would earn him a seat of honor at the table of the gods. His devotion was such that, in the thirty-second year of his labors, when his wife told him that either he had to share the burden of the project with his apprentices or she would leave his hall, Dûrok said not a word but turned his shoulder to her and continued grinding the contours of the petal he had begun earlier that year.

“Dûrok worked on Isidar Mithrim until he was pleased with its every line and curve. Then he dropped his polishing cloth, took one step back from the Star Rose, said, ‘Gûntera, protect me; it is done,’ and fell dead on the floor.” Skeg tapped his chest, producing a hollow thump. “His heart gave out, for what else did he have to live for?… That is what we are trying to reconstruct, Argetlam: fifty-seven years of ceaseless concentration by one of the finest artists our race has known. Unless we can put Isidar Mithrim back together exactly the way it was, we shall diminish Dûrok’s accomplishment for all who have yet to see the Star Rose.” Knotting his right hand into a fist, Skeg bounced it off his thigh to emphasize his words.

Eragon leaned against the hip-high railing in front of him and watched as five dwarves on the opposite side of the gem lowered a sixth dwarf, who was bound in a rope harness, until he hung inches above the sharp edges of the fractured sapphire. Reaching inside his tunic, the suspended dwarf removed a sliver of Isidar Mithrim from a leather wallet and, grasping the sliver with a minuscule set of pincers, fit it into a small gap in the gem below.

“If the coronation were held three days from now,” said Eragon, “could you have Isidar Mithrim ready by then?”

Skeg drummed the railing with all ten of his fingers, tapping out a melody Eragon failed to recognize. The dwarf said, “We would not rush so with Isidar Mithrim if not for the offer of your dragon. This haste is foreign to us, Argetlam. It is not our nature, as it is humans’, to rush about like agitated ants. Still, we shall do our best to have Isidar Mithrim ready in time for the coronation. If that should be three days from now … well, I should not be too hopeful of our prospects. But if it were later in the week, I think we might be finished.”

Eragon thanked Skeg for his prediction, then took his leave. With his guards trailing after him, Eragon walked to one of the many common eating halls in the city-mountain, a long, low room with stone tables arranged in rows on one side and dwarves busying themselves about soapstone ovens on the other.

There Eragon dined on sourdough bread, fish with white meat that the dwarves caught in underground lakes, mushrooms, and some sort of mashed tuber that he had eaten before in Tronjheim but whose provenance he had yet to learn. Before he began eating, though, he was careful to test the food for poison, using the spells Oromis had taught him.

As Eragon washed down the last crust of bread with a sip of thin, watered-down breakfast beer, Orik and his contingent of ten warriors entered the hall. The warriors sat at their own tables, positioning themselves where they could watch both entrances, while Orik joined Eragon, lowering himself onto the stone bench opposite him with a weary sigh. He placed his elbows on the table and rubbed his face with his hands.

Eragon cast several spells to prevent anyone from eavesdropping, then asked, “Did we suffer another setback?”

“No, no setback. Only, these deliberations are trying in the extreme.”

“I noticed.”

“And everyone noticed your frustration,” said Orik. “You must control yourself better hereafter, Eragon. Revealing weakness of any sort to our opponents does nothing but further their cause. I—” Orik fell silent as a portly dwarf waddled up and deposited a plate of steaming food in front of him.

Eragon scowled at the edge of the table. “But are you any closer to the throne? Have we gained any ground with all of this long-winded prattle?”

Orik raised a finger while he chewed on a mouthful of bread. “We have gained a great deal. Do not be so gloomy! After you left, Havard agreed to lower the tax on the salt Dûrgrimst Fanghur sells to the Ingeitum, in exchange for summer access to our tunnel to Nalsvridmérna, so they may hunt the red deer that gather around the lake during the warm months of the year. You should have seen how Nado gritted his teeth when Havard accepted my offer!”

“Bah,” spat Eragon. “Taxes, deer—what does any of it have to do with who succeeds Hrothgar as ruler? Be honest with me, Orik. What is your position compared with the other clan chiefs? And how much longer is this likely to drag on? With every day that passes, it becomes more likely that the Empire will discover our ruse and Galbatorix will strike at the Varden when I am not there to fend off Murtagh and Thorn.”

Orik wiped his mouth on the corner of the tablecloth. “My position is sound enough. None of the grimstborithn have the support to call a vote, but Nado and I command the greatest followings. If either of us can win over, say, another two or three clans, the balance will quickly tip in that person’s favor. Havard is already wavering. It won’t take too much more encouragement, I think, to convince him to defect to our camp. Tonight we will break bread with him, and I will see what I can do toward providing that encouragement.” Orik devoured a piece of roast mushroom, then said, “As for when the clanmeet will end, maybe after another week if we are lucky, and maybe two if we’re not.”

Eragon cursed in an undertone. He was so tense, his stomach churned and rumbled and threatened to reject the meal he had just eaten.

Reaching across the table, Orik caught Eragon by the wrist. “There is nothing you or I can do to further hasten the clanmeet’s decision, so do not let it upset you overmuch. Worry about what you can change, and leave the rest to sort itself out, eh?” He released Eragon.

Eragon slowly exhaled and leaned on his forearms against the table. “I know. It’s only that we have so little time, and if we fail …”

“What will be will be,” said Orik. He smiled, but his eyes were sad and hollow. “No one can escape fate’s design.”

“Couldn’t you seize the throne by force? I know you don’t have that many troops in Tronjheim, but with my support, who could stand against you?”

Orik paused with his knife halfway between his plate and his mouth, then shook his head and resumed eating. Between mouthfuls, he said, “Such a ploy would prove disastrous.”


“Must I explain? Our entire race would turn against us, and instead of seizing control of our nation, I would inherit an empty title. If that came to pass, I would not bet a broken sword we would live to see out the year.”


Orik said nothing more until the food on his plate was gone. Then he downed a mouthful of beer, belched, and resumed the conversation: “We are balanced upon a windy mountain path with a mile-high drop on either side. So many of my race hate and fear Dragon Riders because of the crimes Galbatorix, the Forsworn, and now Murtagh have committed against us. And so many of them fear the world beyond the mountains and the tunnels and caverns wherein we hide.” He turned his mug around on the table. “Nado and Az Sweldn rak Anhûin are only worsening the situation. They play upon people’s fears and poison their minds against you, the Varden, and King Orrin …. Az Sweldn rak Anhûin is the epitome of what we must overcome if I am to be king. Somehow we must needs find a way to allay their concerns and the concerns of those like them, for even if I am king, I will have to give them a fair hearing if I am to retain the support of the clans. A dwarf king or queen is always at

the mercy of the clans, no matter how strong a ruler they may be, just as the grimstborithn are at the mercy of the families of their clan.” Tilting back his head, Orik drained the last of the beer from his mug, then set it down with a sharp clack.

“Is there anything I could do, any custom or ceremony of yours I could perform, that would appease Vermûnd and his followers?” asked Eragon, naming the current grimstborith of Az Sweldn rak Anhûin. “There must be something I can do to put their suspicions to rest and bring this feud to an end.”

Orik laughed and stood from the table. “You could die.”

Early the next morning, Eragon sat with his back against the curved wall of the round room set deep below the center of Tronjheim, along with a select group of warriors, advisers, servants, and family members of the clan chiefs who were privileged enough to attend the clanmeet. The clan chiefs themselves were seated in heavy, carved chairs arranged around the edge of a circular table, which like most objects of note in the lower levels of the city-mountain bore the crest of Korgan and the Ingeitum.

At the moment, Gáldhiem, grimstborith of Dûrgrimst Feldûnost, was speaking. He was short, even for a dwarf—hardly more than two feet in height—and wore patterned robes of gold, russet, and midnight blue. Unlike the dwarves of the Ingeitum, he did not trim or braid his beard, and it tumbled across his chest like a tangled bramble. Standing on the seat of his chair, he pounded the polished table with his gloved fist and roared, “… Eta! Narho Ûdim etal os isû vond! Narho Ûdim etal os formvn mendûnost brakn, az Varden, hrestvog dûr grimstnzhadn! Az Jurgenvren qathrid né dômar oen etal—”

“… No,” Eragon’s translator, a dwarf named Hûndfast, whispered in his ear. “I will not let that happen. I will not let these beardless fools, the Varden, destroy our country. The Dragon War left us weak and not—”

Eragon stifled a yawn, bored. He allowed his gaze to drift around the granite table, from Gáldhiem to Nado, a round-faced dwarf with flaxen hair who was nodding with approval at Gáldhiem’s thundering speech; to Havard, who was using a dagger to clean under the fingernails of the two remaining fingers on his right hand; to Vermûnd, heavy-browed but otherwise inscrutable behind his purple veil; to Gannel and Ûndin, who sat leaning toward each other, whispering, while Hadfala, an elderly dwarf woman who was the clan chief of Dûrgrimst Ebardac and the third member of Gannel’s alliance, frowned at the sheaf of rune-covered parchment she brought with her to every meeting; and then to the chief of Dûrgrimst Ledwonnû, Manndrâth, who sat in profile to Eragon, displaying his long, drooping nose to good effect; to Thordris, grimstborith of Dûrgrimst Nagra, of whom he could see little but her wavy auburn hair, which fell past her shoulders and lay coiled on the floor in a braid twice as long as she was tall; to the back of Orik’s head as he slouched to one side in his chair; to Freowin, grimstborith of Dûrgrimst Gedthrall, an immensely corpulent dwarf who kept his eyes fixed upon the block of wood he was busy carving into the likeness of a hunched raven; and then to Hreidamar, grimstborith of Dûrgrimst Urzhad, who, in contrast with Freowin, was fit and compact, with corded forearms, and who wore a mail hauberk and helm to every gathering; and finally to Íorûnn, she of the nut-brown skin marred only by a thin, crescent-shaped scar high upon her left cheekbone, she of the satin-bright hair bound underneath a silver helm wrought in the shape of a snarling wolf’s head, she of the vermilion dress and the necklace of flashing emeralds set in squares of gold carved with lines of arcane runes.

Íorûnn noticed Eragon looking at her. A lazy smile appeared on her lips. With voluptuous ease, she winked at Eragon, obscuring one of her almond-shaped eyes for a pair of heartbeats.

Eragon’s cheeks stung as blood suffused them, and the tips of his ears burned. He shifted his gaze and returned it to Gáldhiem, who was still busy pontificating, his chest puffed out like that of a strutting pigeon.

As Orik had asked, Eragon remained impassive throughout the meeting, concealing his reactions from those who were watching. When the clanmeet broke for their midday meal, he hastened over to Orik and, bending so that no one else could hear, said, “Do not look for me at your table. I have had my fill of sitting and talking. I am going to explore the tunnels for a bit.”

Orik nodded, appearing distracted, and murmured in reply, “Do as you wish, only be sure you are here when we resume; it would not be meet for you to play truant, no matter how tedious these talks be.”

“As you say.”

Eragon edged out of the conference room, along with the press of dwarves eager to have their lunches, and rejoined his four guards in the hallway outside, where they had been playing dice with idle warriors from other clans. With his guards in tow, Eragon struck out in a random direction, allowing his feet to carry him where they would while he pondered methods of welding the dwarves’ contentious factions into a whole united against Galbatorix. To his exasperation, the only methods he could envision were so far-fetched, it was absurd to imagine they might succeed.

Eragon paid little attention to the dwarves he met in the tunnels—aside from mumbled greetings that courtesy occasionally demanded—nor even to his exact surroundings, trusting that Kvîstor could guide him back to the conference room. Although Eragon did not study his surroundings in any great detail visually, he kept track of the minds of every living creature he was able to sense within a radius of several hundred feet, even down to the smallest spider crouched behind its web in the corner of a room, for Eragon had no desire to be surprised by anyone who might have cause to seek him out.

When at last he stopped, he was surprised to find himself in the same dusty room he had discovered during his wanderings the previous day. There to his left were the same five black arches that led to caverns unknown, while there to his right was the same bas-relief carving of the head and shoulders of a snarling bear. Bemused by the coincidence, Eragon sauntered over to the bronze sculpture and gazed up at the bear’s gleaming fangs, wondering what had drawn him back.

After a moment, he went to the middle of the five archways and gazed through it. The narrow hallway beyond was devoid of lanterns and soon faded into the soft oblivion of shadow. Reaching out with his consciousness, Eragon probed the length of the tunnel and several of the abandoned chambers it opened to. A half-dozen spiders and a sparse collection of moths, millipedes, and blind crickets were the only inhabitants. “Hello!” called Eragon, and listened as the hall returned his voice to him with ever-decreasing volume. “Kvîstor,” said Eragon, looking at him, “does no one at all live in these ancient parts?”

The fresh-faced dwarf answered, “Some do. A few strange knurlan, those to whom empty solitude is more pleasing than the touch of their wife’s hand or the sound of their friends’ voices. It was one such knurlag who warned us of the approach of the Urgal army, if you remember, Argetlam. Also, although we do not speak of it often, there are those who have broken the laws of our land and whom their clan chiefs have banished on pain of death for a term of years or, if the offense is severe, for the remainder of their lives. All such are as the walking dead to us; we shun them if we meet them outside of our lands and hang them if we catch them within our borders.”

When Kvîstor had finished speaking, Eragon indicated that he was ready to leave. Kvîstor took the lead, and Eragon followed him out the doorway through which they had entered, the three other dwarves close behind. They had gone no more than twenty feet when Eragon heard a faint scuffing from the rear, so faint Kvîstor did not seem to notice.

Eragon glanced back. By the amber light cast by the flameless lanterns mounted on either side of the passageway, he saw seven dwarves garbed entirely in black, their faces masked with dark cloth and their feet muffled with rags, running toward his group with a speed that Eragon had assumed was the sole province of elves, Shades, and other creatures whose blood hummed with magic. In their right hands, the dwarves held long, sharp daggers with pale blades that flickered with prismatic colors, while in their left, each carried a metal buckler with a sharpened spike pr

otruding from the boss. Their minds, like those of the Ra’zac, were hidden from Eragon.

Saphira! was Eragon’s first thought. Then he remembered he was alone.

Twisting to face the black-garbed dwarves, Eragon reached for the hilt of his falchion while opening his mouth to shout a warning.

He was too late.

As the first word rang in his throat, three of the strange dwarves grabbed the hindmost of Eragon’s guards and lifted their glimmering daggers to stab him. Faster than speech or conscious thought, Eragon plunged his whole being into the flow of magic and, without relying upon the ancient language to structure his spell, rewove the fabric of the world into a pattern more pleasing to him. The three guards who stood between him and the attackers flew toward him, as if yanked by invisible strings, and landed upon their feet beside him, unharmed but disoriented.

Eragon winced at the sudden decrease in his strength.

Two of the black-garbed dwarves rushed him, stabbing at his belly with their blood-hungry daggers. Sword in hand, Eragon parried both blows, stunned by the dwarves’ speed and ferocity. One of his guards leaped forward, shouting and swinging his ax at the would-be assassins. Before Eragon could grab the dwarf’s hauberk and yank him back to safety, a white blade, writhing as with spectral flame, pierced the dwarf’s corded neck. As the dwarf fell, Eragon glimpsed his contorted face and was shocked to see Kvîstor—and that his throat was glowing molten red as it disintegrated around the dagger.

Tags: Christopher Paolini The Inheritance Cycle Fantasy
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