Brisingr (The Inheritance Cycle 3) - Page 49

Pushing her consciousness down toward the disorganized Varden, she searched until she found the music of Arya’s mind, and once the elf acknowledged her and allowed access to her thoughts, Saphira said, Roran shall be here by late afternoon. However, his company is sore diminished. Some great evil befell them this trip.

Thank you, Saphira, said Arya. I shall inform Nasuada.

As Saphira withdrew from Arya’s mind, she felt the questing touch of black-blue-wolf-hair-Blödhgarm. I am not a hatchling, she snapped. You need not check on my health every few minutes.

You have my most humble apologies, Bjartskular, only you have been gone for quite some time now, and if any are watching, they will begin to wonder why you and—

Yes, I know, she growled. Shortening her wingspan, she tilted downward, the sensation of weight leaving her, and gyrated in slow spirals as she dove toward the turgid river. I shall be there shortly.

A thousand feet above the water, she flared her wings and felt the strain in her flight membranes as the wind pressed against them with immense force. She slowed to a near standstill, then spilled air from her wings and accelerated once more, gliding to within a hundred feet of the brown not-good-to-drink-water. With an occasional flap to maintain her altitude, she flew up the Jiet River, alert for the sudden changes of pressure that plagued cool-air-above-flowing-water and that could push her in an unexpected direction or, worse, into sharp-pointy-trees or the break-bone-ground.

She swept high above the Varden gathered next to the river, high enough that her arrival would not unduly frighten the silly horses. Then, drifting downward upon still wings, she landed in a clearing among the tents—a clearing Nasuada had ordered set aside just for her—and crawled through the camp to Eragon’s empty tent, where Blödhgarm and the eleven other elves he commanded were waiting for her. She greeted them with a blink of her eyes and a flick of her tongue and then curled up in front of Eragon’s tent, resigned to dozing and waiting for dark as she would if Eragon were actually in the tent and he and she were flying missions at night. It was dull, tedious work, lying there day after day, but it was necessary in order to maintain the deception that Eragon was still with the Varden, so Saphira did not complain, even if after twelve or more hours spent on the rough-hard-ground dirtying her scales, she felt like fighting a thousand soldiers, or razing a forest with tooth and claw and fire, or leaping up and flying until she could fly no more or until she reached the end of earth, water, and air.

Growling to herself, she kneaded the ground with her claws, softening it, then lay her head across her forelegs and closed her inner eyelids so she could rest and still watch those who walked by. A dragonfly buzzed over her head, and not for the first time she wondered what could have possibly inspired some feebleminded runtling to name the insect after her race. It looks nothing like a dragon, she grumbled, then drifted off into a light sleep.

The big-round-fire-in-the-sky was close to the horizon when Saphira heard the shouts and cries of welcome that meant Roran and his fellow warriors had reached the camp. She roused herself. As he had before, Blödhgarm half sang, half whispered a spell that created an insubstantial likeness of Eragon, which the elf caused to walk out of the tent and climb onto Saphira’s back, where it sat looking around in a perfect imitation of independent life. Visually, the apparition was flawless, but it had no mind of its own, and if any of Galbatorix’s agents tried to eavesdrop upon Eragon’s thoughts, they would discover the deceit forthwith. Therefore, the success of the ploy depended upon Saphira ferrying the apparition through the camp and out of sight as quickly as possible, and upon the hope that Eragon’s reputation was so formidable, it would discourage clandestine observers from attempting to glean information about the Varden from his consciousness, for fear of his vengeance.

Saphira started up and bounded through the camp, the twelve elves running in formation around her. Men leaped out of their path, shouting, “Hail, Shadeslayer!” and “Hail, Saphira!” which kindled a warm glow in her belly.

When she arrived at Nasuada’s folded-wing-red-butterfly-chrysalis-tent, she crouched and stuck her head inside the dark gap along one wall, where Nasuada’s guards had pulled aside a panel of fabric to allow her access. Blödhgarm resumed his soft singing then, and the Eragon-wraith climbed down off Saphira, entered the crimson tent, and, once it was out of sight of the gawking onlookers outside, dissolved into nothingness.

“Do you think our ruse was discovered?” Nasuada asked from her high-backed chair.

Blödhgarm bowed with an elegant gesture. “Again, Lady Nasuada, I cannot say for sure. We will have to wait and see if the Empire moves to take advantage of Eragon’s absence before we will know the answer to that question.”

“Thank you, Blödhgarm. That will be all.”

With another bow, the elf withdrew from the tent and took up a position several yards behind Saphira, guarding her flank.

Saphira settled down onto her underside and began to lick clean the scales around the third claw on her left forefoot, between which there had accumulated unsightly lines of the dry white clay she remembered standing in when she ate her last kill.

Not a minute later, Martland Redbeard, Roran, and a man-with-round-ears, whom she did not recognize, entered the red tent and bowed to Nasuada. Saphira paused in her cleaning to taste the air with her tongue and discerned the tang of dried blood, the bitter-sour musk of sweat, the scent of horse and leather intermingled, and, faint but unmistakable, the sharp spike of man-fear. She examined the trio again and saw that the red-long-beard-man had lost his right hand, then returned to excavating the clay from around her scales.

She continued licking her foot, restoring every scale to pristine brilliance, while first Martland, then the man-with-round-ears-who-was-Ulhart, then Roran, told a tale of blood and fire and of laughing men who refused to die at their allotted times but insisted upon continuing to fight long past when Angvard had called their names. As was her wont, Saphira held her peace while others—specifically Nasuada and her adviser, long-man-gaunt-face-Jörmundur—questioned the warriors about the details of their illfated mission. Saphira knew it sometimes puzzled Eragon why she did not participate more in conversations. Her reasons for silence were simple: save for Arya or Glaedr, she felt most comfortable communicating only with Eragon, and in her opinion, most conversations were nothing more than pointless dithering. Whether round-ear, pointed-ear, horned, or short, two-legs seemed addicted to dithering. Brom had not dithered, which was something Saphira had liked about him. For her, choices were simple; either there was an action she could take to improve the situation, in which case she took it, or there was not, and everything else said on the subject was so much meaningless noise. In any event, she did not worry herself about the future, except where Eragon was concerned. Him, she always worried about.

When the questions were finished, Nasuada expressed her condolences to Martland for his lost hand, then dismissed Martland and Ulhart, but not Roran, to whom she said, “You have demonstrated your prowess once again, Stronghammer. I am well pleased with your abilities.”

“Thank you, my Lady.”

“Our best healers will attend to him, but Martland will still need time to recover from his injury. Even once he does, he cannot lead raids such as these with only one hand. From now on, he will have to serve the Varden from the back of the army, not the front. I think, perhaps, that I shall promote him and make him one of my battle advisers. Jörmundur, what think you of that idea?”

“I think it an excellent idea, my Lady.”

Nasuada nodded, appearing satisfied. “This means, however, that I must find another captain for you to serve under, Roran.”

Then Roran said, “My Lady, what of my own command? Have I not proven myself to your satisfaction with these two raids, as well as with my past accomplishments?”

“If you continue to distinguish yourself as you have, Stronghammer, you will win your command soon enough. However, you must be patient and abide awhile longe

r. Two missions alone, however impressive, may not reveal the full scope of a man’s character. I am a cautious person when it comes to entrusting my people to others, Stronghammer. In this, you must humor me.”

Roran gripped the head of the hammer stuck through his belt, veins and tendons standing out on his hand, but his tone remained polite. “Of course, Lady Nasuada.”

“Very good. A page will bring you your new assignment later today. Oh, and see to it that you have a large meal once you and Katrina finish celebrating your reunion. That’s an order, Stronghammer. You look as if you’re about to fall over.”

“My Lady.”

As Roran started to leave, Nasuada raised a hand and said, “Roran.” He paused. “Now that you have fought these men who feel no pain, do you believe that having similar protection from the agonies of the flesh would make it easier to defeat them?”

Roran hesitated, then shook his head. “Their strength is their weakness. They do not shield themselves as they would if they feared the bite of a sword or the stab of an arrow, and thus they are careless with their lives. It is true they can continue fighting long past when an ordinary man would have dropped dead, and that is no small advantage in battle, but they also die in greater numbers, because they do not protect their bodies as they ought. In their numb confidence, they will walk into traps and peril we would go to great lengths to avoid. As long as the Varden’s spirits remain high, I believe that with the right tactics we can prevail against these laughing monsters. If we were like them, though, we would hack each other into oblivion, and neither of us would care, since we would have no thought for self-preservation. Those are my thoughts.”

“Thank you, Roran.”

When Roran had gone, Saphira said, Nothing yet from Eragon?

Nasuada shook her head. “No, nothing yet from him, and his silence is beginning to concern me. If he has not contacted us by the day after tomorrow, I will have Arya send a message to one of Orik’s spellcasters demanding a report from him. If Eragon is unable to hasten the end of the dwarves’ clanmeet, then I fear we will no longer be able to count on the dwarves as allies during the battles to come. The only good of such a disastrous outcome would be that Eragon could return to us without further delay.”

When Saphira was ready to leave the red-chrysalis-tent, Blödhgarm again summoned up the apparition of Eragon and placed it on Saphira’s back. Then Saphira withdrew her head from the confines of the tent and, as she had before, bounded through the camp, the lithe elves keeping step with her the entire way.

Once she reached Eragon’s tent and the colored-shadow-Eragon disappeared inside it, Saphira lowered herself to the ground and resigned herself to waiting out the remainder of the day in unrelieved monotony. Before she resumed her reluctant nap, however, she extended her mind toward Roran and Katrina’s tent and pressed against Roran’s mind until he lowered the barriers around his consciousness.

Saphira? he asked.

Do you know another such as me?

Of course not. You just surprised me. I am …ah, somewhat occupied at the moment.

She studied the color of his emotions, as well as those of Katrina, and was amused by her findings. I only wished to welcome you back. I am glad you were not injured.

Roran’s thoughts flashed quick-hot-muddled-cold, and he seemed to have difficulty forming a coherent answer. Eventually, he said, That’s very kind of you, Saphira.

If you can, come visit me tomorrow, when we may speak at greater length. I grow restless sitting here day after day. Perhaps you could tell me more about how Eragon was before I hatched for him.

It … it would be my honor.

Satisfied she had fulfilled the demands of round-ears-two-legs courtesy by welcoming Roran, and heartened by the knowledge that the following day would not be as boring—for it was unthinkable anyone would dare ignore her request for an audience—Saphira made herself as comfortable as she could on the bare earth, wishing as she often did for the soft nest that was hers in Eragon’s wind-rocked-tree-house in Ellesméra. A puff of smoke escaped her as she sighed and fell asleep and dreamed that she flew higher than she ever had before.

She flapped and she flapped until she rose above the unreachable peaks of the Beor Mountains. There she circled for a time, gazing down at the whole of Alagaësia laid out before her. Then an uncontrollable desire entered her to climb even higher and see what she might, and so she began flapping again, and in what seemed like the blink of an eye, she soared past the glaring moon, until only she and the silver stars hung in the black sky. She drifted among the heavens for an indeterminate period, queen of the bright, jewel-like world below, but then disquiet entered her soul, and she cried out with her thoughts:

Eragon, where are you!


Waking, Roran extricated himself from Katrina’s smooth arms and sat bare-chested on the edge of the cot they shared. He yawned and rubbed his eyes, then gazed at the pale strip of firelight that glowed between the two entrance flaps, feeling dull and stupid with accumulated exhaustion. A chill crept over him, but he remained where he was, motionless.

“Roran?” Katrina asked in a sleep-smeared voice. She propped herself up on one arm and reached for him with the other. He did not react as she touched him, sliding her hand across his upper back and rubbing his neck. “Sleep. You need your rest. You’ll be gone again before long.”

He shook his head, not looking at her.

“What is it?” she asked. Sitting upright, she pulled a blanket over his shoulders, then leaned against him, her cheek warm against his arm. “Are you worried about your new captain or where Nasuada may send you next?”


She was silent for a while. “Every time you leave, I feel as if less of you returns to me. You have become so grim and quiet …. If you want to tell me about what is troubling you, you can, you know, no matter how terrible it is. I am the daughter of a butcher, and I have seen my share of men fall in battle.”

“Want!” Roran exclaimed, choking on the word. “I don’t ever want to think about it again.” He clenched his fists, his breathing uncertain. “A true warrior would not feel as I do.”

“A true warrior,” she said, “does not fight because he wishes to but because he has to. A man who yearns for war, a man who enjoys his killing, he is a brute and a monster. No matter how much glory he wins on the battlefield, that cannot erase the fact that he is no better than a rabid wolf who will turn on his friends and family as soon as his foes.” She brushed his hair away from his brow and stroked the top of his head, light and slow. “You once told me that ‘The Song of Gerand’ was your favorite of Brom’s stories, that it was why you fight with a hammer instead of a blade. Remember how Gerand disliked killing and how reluctant he was to take up arms again?”


“And yet he was considered the greatest warrior of his age.” She cupped his cheek in her hand and turned his face toward her so that he was forced to gaze into her solemn eyes. “And you are the greatest warrior I know of, Roran, here or anywhere.”

With a dry mouth, he said, “What of Eragon or—”

“They are not half so valorous as you. Eragon, Murtagh, Galbatorix, the elves … all of them march into battle with spells upon their lips and might that far exceeds ours. But you”—she kissed him on the nose—“you are no more than a man. You face your foes on your own two feet. You are not a magician, and yet you slew the Twins. You are only as fast and as strong as a human may be, and yet you did not shirk from attacking the Ra’zac in their lair and freeing me from their dungeon.”

He swallowed. “I had wards from Eragon to protect me.”

“But no longer. Besides, you did not have any wards in Carvahall either, and did you flee from the Ra’zac then?” When he was unresponsive, she said, “You are no more than a man, but you have done things not even Eragon or Murtagh could have. To me, that makes you the greatest warrior in Alagaësia …. I cannot think of anyone else in Carvahall who woul

d have gone to the lengths you did to rescue me.”

“Your father would have,” he said.

He felt her shiver against him. “Yes, he would have,” she whispered. “But he never would have been able to convince others to follow him, as you did.” She tightened her arm around him. “Whatever you have seen or done, you will always have me.”

“That is all I will ever need,” he said, and clasped her in his arms and held her for a span. Then he sighed. “Still, I wish this war were at an end. I wish I could till a field again and sow my crops and harvest them when they ripened. Farming is backbreaking work, but at least it is honest labor. This killing isn’t honest. It is thievery … the thievery of men’s lives, and no right-minded person should aspire to it.”

“As I said.”

“As you said.” Difficult as it was, he made himself smile. “I have forgotten myself. Here I am burdening you with my troubles when you have worries enough of your own.” And he placed a hand over her rounding womb.

“Your troubles shall always be my troubles, so long as we are married,” she murmured, and nuzzled his arm.

“Some troubles,” he said, “no one else should have to endure, especially not those you love.”

She withdrew an inch or two from him, and he saw her eyes become bleak and listless, as they did whenever she fell to brooding over the time she had spent imprisoned in Helgrind. “No,” she whispered, “some troubles no one else should have to endure.”

“Ah, do not be sad.” He pulled her closer and rocked back and forth with her and wished with all his might that Eragon had not found Saphira’s egg in the Spine. After a while, when Katrina had grown soft in his arms again, and even he no longer felt quite so tense, he caressed the curve of her neck. “Come, kiss me sweet, and then let us return to bed, for I am tired, and I would sleep.”

Tags: Christopher Paolini The Inheritance Cycle Fantasy
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