Brisingr (The Inheritance Cycle 3) - Page 51

Orik stood consulting with a group of his warriors and several gray-bearded dwarves of Dûrgrimst Ingeitum. As Eragon approached, Orik turned toward him, his face grim. “Good, you did not delay! Hûndfast, you may retire to your quarters now. We must needs speak in private.”

Eragon’s translator bowed and disappeared through an archway to the left, his footsteps echoing on the polished agate floor. Once he was out of hearing, Eragon said, “You don’t trust him?”

Orik shrugged. “I do not know whom to trust at the moment; the fewer people who know what we have discovered, the better. We cannot risk the news escaping to another clan before tomorrow. If it does, it will certainly mean a clan war.” The dwarves behind him muttered among themselves, appearing disconcerted.

“What is your news, though?” asked Eragon, worried.

The warriors gathered behind Orik moved aside as he gestured at them, revealing as they did so three bound and bloodied dwarves stacked on top of one another in the corner. The dwarf on the bottom groaned and kicked his feet in the air but was unable to extricate himself from under his fellow prisoners.

“Who are they?” asked Eragon.

Orik replied, “I had several of our smiths examine the daggers your attackers carried. They identified the craftsmanship as that of one Kiefna Long-nose, a bladesmith of our clan who has achieved great renown among our people.”

“So he can tell us who bought the daggers and thus who our enemies are?”

A brusque laugh shook Orik’s chest. “Hardly, but we were able to track the daggers from Kiefna to an armorer in Dalgon, many leagues from here, who sold them to a knurlaf with—”

“A knurlaf?” Eragon asked.

Orik scowled. “A woman. A woman with seven fingers on each hand bought the daggers two months ago.”

“And did you find her? There can’t be very many women with that number of fingers.”

“Actually, the condition is fairly common among our people,” said Orik. “Be that as it may, after quite a bit of difficulty, we managed to locate the woman in Dalgon. My warriors there questioned her most closely. She is of Dûrgrimst Nagra, but so far as we can determine, she was acting of her own accord, and not under orders from the leaders of her clan. From her, we learned that a dwarf had engaged her to buy the daggers and then to deliver them to a wine merchant who would take them with him from Dalgon. The woman’s employer did not tell her where the daggers were destined, but by asking among the merchants of the city, we discovered that he traveled directly from Dalgon to one of the cities held by Dûrgrimst Az Sweldn rak Anhûin.”

“So it was them!” Eragon exclaimed.

“That or it could have been someone who wished us to think it was them. We needed more evidence before we could establish Az Sweldn rak Anhûin’s guilt for certain.” A twinkle appeared in Orik’s eyes, and he raised a finger. “So, by means of a very, very clever spell, we retraced the path of the assassins back through the tunnels and caves and up to a deserted area on the twelfth level of Tronjheim, off the subadjunct auxiliary hall of the southern spoke in the western quadrant, along the … ah, well, it does not matter. But someday I will have to teach you how the rooms are arranged in Tronjheim, so that if ever you need to find a place within the city by yourself, you can. In any event, the trail led us to an abandoned storeroom where those three”—he gestured toward the bound dwarves—“had been staying. They were not expecting us, and so we were able to capture them alive, although they tried to kill themselves. It was not easy, but we broke the minds of two of them—leaving the third for the other grimstborithn to interrogate at their pleasure—and we took from them everything they knew about this matter.” Orik pointed at the prisoners again. “It was they who equipped the assassins for the attack, gave them the daggers and their black clothes, and fed and sheltered them last night.”

“Who are they?” asked Eragon.

“Bah!” exclaimed Orik, and spat on the floor. “They are Vargrimstn, warriors who have disgraced themselves and are now clanless. No one deals with such filth unless they are engaged in villainy themselves and do not wish others to know of it. And so it was with those three. They took their orders directly from Grimstborith Vermûnd of Az Sweldn rak Anhûin.”

“There is no doubt?”

Orik shook his head. “There is no doubt; it is Az Sweldn rak Anhûin who tried to kill you, Eragon. We will probably never know if any other clans joined them in the attempt, but if we expose Az Sweldn rak Anhûin’s treachery, it will force everyone else who might have been involved in the plot to disparage their former confederates; to abandon, or at least delay, further attacks on Dûrgrimst Ingeitum; and, if this is handled properly, to give me their vote for king.”

An image flashed in Eragon’s mind of the prismatic blade emerging from the back of Kvîstor’s neck and of the dwarf’s agonized expression as he had fallen to the floor, dying. “How will we punish Az Sweldn rak Anhûin for this crime? Should we kill Vermûnd?”

“Ah, leave that to me,” said Orik, and tapped the side of his nose. “I have a plan. But we must tread carefully, for this is a situation of the utmost delicacy. Such a betrayal has not occurred in many long years. As an outsider, you cannot know how abhorrent we find it that one of our own should attack a guest. You being the only free Rider left to oppose Galbatorix only worsens the offense. Further bloodshed may yet be necessary, but at the moment, it would only bring about another clan war.”

“A clan war might be the only way to deal with Az Sweldn rak Anhûin,” Eragon pointed out.

“I think not, but if I am mistaken and war is unavoidable, we must ensure it is a war between the rest of the clans and Az Sweldn rak Anhûin. That would not be so bad. Together, we could crush them inside of a week. A war with the clans split into two or three factions, however, would destroy our country. It is crucial, then, that before we draw our swords, we convince the other clans of what Az Sweldn rak Anhûin has done. Toward that end, will you allow magicians from different clans to examine your memories of the attack so they may see it happened as we shall say it did and that we did not stage it for our own benefit?”

Eragon hesitated, reluctant to open his mind to strangers, then nodded toward the three dwarves stacked on top of one another. “What about them? Won’t their memories be enough to convince the clans of Az Sweldn rak Anhûin’s guilt?”

Orik grimaced. “They ought to be, but in order to be thorough, the clan chiefs will insist upon verifying their memories against yours, and if you refuse, Az Sweldn rak Anhûin will claim we are hiding something from the clanmeet and that our accusations are nothing more than slanderous fiction.”

“Very well,” said Eragon. “If I must, I must. But if any of the magicians stray where they are not supposed to, even if by accident, I will have no choice but to burn what they have seen out of their minds. There are some things I cannot allow to become common knowledge.”

Nodding, Orik said, “Aye, I can think of at least one three-legged piece of information that would cause us some consternation if it were to be trumpeted throughout the land, eh? I am sure the clan chiefs will accept your conditions—for they all have secrets of their own they would not want bandied about—just as I am sure they will order their magicians to proceed, regardless of the danger. This attack has the potential to incite such turmoil among our race, the grimstborithn will feel compelled to determine the truth about it, though it may cost them their most skilled spellcasters.”

Drawing himself upright then, to the full extent of his limited height, Orik ordered the prisoners removed from the ornate entryway and dismissed all of his vassals, save for Eragon and a contingent of twenty-six of his finest warriors. With a graceful flourish, Orik grasped Eragon’s left elbow and conducted him toward the inner rooms of his chambers. “Tonight you must remain here, with me, where Az Sweldn rak Anhûin will not dare to strike.”

“If you intend to sleep,” said Eragon, “I must warn you, I cannot rest, not tonight. My blood still churns fr

om the tumult of the fight, and my thoughts are likewise uneasy.”

Orik replied, “Rest or not as you will; you shall not disturb my slumber, for I shall pull a thick woolen cap low over my eyes. I urge you to try and calm yourself, however—perhaps with some of the techniques the elves taught you—and recover what strength you may. The new day is already upon us, and but a few hours remain until the clanmeet shall be assembled. We should both be as fresh as possible for what is to come. What we do and say today shall determine the ultimate fate of mine people, mine country, and the rest of Alagaësia…. Ah, do not look so grim about the mouth! Think of this instead: whether success or failure awaits us, and I surely hope we prevail, our names shall be remembered until the end of time for how we comport ourselves at this clanmeet. That at least is an accomplishment to fill your belly with pride! The gods are fickle, and the only immortality we can count on is that which we win through our deeds. Fame or infamy, either one is preferable to being forgotten when you have passed from this realm.”

Later that night, in the dead hours before morning, Eragon’s thoughts wandered as he sat slumped within the embrace of the padded arms of a dwarf couch, and the frame of his consciousness dissolved into the disordered fantasy of his waking dreams. Yet conscious of the mosaic of colored stones mounted upon the wall opposite him, he also beheld, as if a glowing scrim draped over the mosaic, scenes of his life in Palancar Valley before momentous and bloody fate had intervened in his existence. The scenes diverged from established fact, however, and immersed him in imaginary situations constructed piecemeal from fragments of what had actually been. In the last few moments before he roused himself from his stupor, his vision flickered and the images acquired a sense of heightened reality.

He was standing in Horst’s workshop, the doors of which hung open, loose upon their hinges, like an idiot’s slackjaw grin. Outside was a starless night, and the all-consuming darkness seemed to press against the edges of the dull red light cast by the coals, as if eager to devour everything within the scope of that ruddy sphere. Next to the forge, Horst loomed like a giant, the shifting shadows upon his face and beard fearsome to behold. His burly arm rose and fell, and a bell-like clang shivered the air as the hammer he wielded struck the end of a yellow-glowing bar of steel. A burst of sparks extinguished itself on the ground. Four more times the smith smote the metal; then he lifted the bar from his anvil and plunged it into a barrel of oil. Wraithlike flames, blue and gossamer, flickered across the surface of the oil and then vanished with small shrieks of fury. Removing the bar from the barrel, Horst turned toward Eragon and frowned at him. He said, “Why have you come here, Eragon?”

“I need a Dragon Rider’s sword.”

“Begone with you. I have no time to forge you a Rider’s sword. Cannot you see I am working on a pothook for Elain? She must have it for the battle. Are you alone?”

“I do not know.”

“Where is your father? Where is your mother?”

“I do not know.”

Then a new voice sounded, a well-polished voice of strength and power, and it said, “Good smith, he is not alone. He came with me.”

“And who might you be?” demanded Horst.

“I am his father.”

Between the gaping doors, a huge figure rimmed with pale light emerged from the clotted darkness and stood upon the threshold of the workshop. A red cape billowed from shoulders wider than a Kull’s. In the man’s left hand gleamed Zar’roc, sharp as pain. Through the slits of his brightly polished helm, his blue eyes bored into Eragon, pinning him into place, like an arrow through a rabbit. He lifted his free hand and held it out toward Eragon. “My son, come with me. Together, we can destroy the Varden, kill Galbatorix, and conquer all of Alagaësia. But give me your heart, and we shall be invincible.

“Give me your heart, my son.”

With a strangled exclamation, Eragon leaped out of the couch and stood staring at the floor, his fists clenched, his chest heaving. Orik’s guards gave him inquisitive glances, but he ignored them, too upset to explain his outburst.

The hour was still early, so after a time, Eragon settled back onto the couch, but thereafter, he remained alert and did not allow himself to sink into the land of dreams, for fear of what manifestations might torment him.

Eragon stood with his back to the wall, his hand on the pommel of his dwarf sword, as he watched the various clan chiefs file into the round conference room buried beneath Tronjheim. He kept an especially close eye on Vermûnd, the grimstborith of Az Sweldn rak Anhûin, but if the purple-veiled dwarf was surprised to see Eragon alive and well, he did not show it.

Eragon felt Orik’s boot nudge his own. Without looking away from Vermûnd, Eragon leaned over toward Orik and heard him whisper, “Remember, to the left and three doorways down,” referring to the place where Orik had stationed a hundred of his warriors without the other clan chiefs knowing.

Whispering as well, Eragon said, “If blood is shed, should I seize the opportunity to kill that snake, Vermûnd?”

“Unless he is attempting the same with you or me, please do not.” A low chuckle emanated from Orik. “It would hardly endear you to the other grimstborithn…. Ah, I must go now. Pray to Sindri for luck, would you? We are about to venture into a lava field none have dared cross before.”

And Eragon prayed.

When all of the clan chiefs were seated around the table in the center of the room, those watching from the perimeter, including Eragon, took their own seats from among the ring of chairs set against the curving wall. Eragon did not relax into his, however, as many of the dwarves did, but sat upon the edge, ready to fight at the slightest hint of danger.

As Gannel, the black-eyed warrior-priest of Dûrgrimst Quan, rose from the table and began to speak in Dwarvish, Hûndfast sidled closer to Eragon’s right side and murmured a continuous translation. The dwarf said, “Greetings again, mine fellow clan chiefs. But whether ’tis well met or not, I am undecided, for certain disturbing rumors—rumors of rumors, if truth be told—have reached mine ears. I have no information beyond these vague and worrisome mutterings, nor proof upon which to found an accusation of misdeeds. However, as today is mine day to preside over this, our congregation, I propose that we delay our most serious debates for the moment, and if you are agreeable, allow me to pose a few questions to the meet.”

The clan chiefs muttered among themselves, and then Íorûnn, bright, dimpling Íorûnn, said, “I have no objection, Grimstborith Gannel. You have aroused mine curiosity with these cryptic insinuations. Let us hear what questions you have.”

“Aye, let us hear them,” said Nado.

“Let us hear them,” agreed Manndrâth and all the rest of the clan chiefs, including Vermûnd.

Having received the permission he sought, Gannel rested his knuckles upon the table and was silent for a span, garnering the attention of everyone in the room. Then he spoke. “Yesterday, while we were lunching in our chosen places of repast, knurlan throughout the tunnels underneath the southern quadrant of Tronjheim heard a noise. Reports of its loudness differ, but that so many noticed it over so large an area proves that it was no small disturbance. Like you, I received the usual warnings of a possible cave-in. What you may not be aware of, however, is that just two hours past—”

Hûndfast hesitated, and quickly whispered, “The word is difficult to render in this tongue. Runners-of-the-tunnels, I think.” And then he resumed translating as before:

“—runners-of-the-tunnels discovered evidence of a mighty fight within one of the ancient tunnels that our famed forefather, Korgan Longbeard, excavated. The floor was painted with blood, the walls were dark with soot from a lantern a warrior of careless blade did breach, cracks split the surrounding stone, and sprawled throughout were seven charred and mangled bodies, with signs that others may have been removed. Nor were these the remnants of some obscure skirmish from the Battle of Farthen Dûr. No! For the blood had yet to dry, the soot was soft, the cracks were most obviou

sly freshly broken, and, I am told, the residue of powerful magics could still be detected within the area. Even now, several of our most accomplished spellcasters are attempting to reconstruct a pictorial facsimile of what occurred, but they have little hope of success, as those involved were wrapped about with such devious enchantments. So my first question for the meet is this: do any of you possess further knowledge of this mysterious action?”

As Gannel concluded his speech, Eragon tensed his legs, ready to spring up if the purple-veiled dwarves of Az Sweldn rak Anhûin should reach for their blades.

Orik cleared his throat and said, “I believe that I can satisfy some of your curiosity upon that point, Gannel. However, since my answer must of necessity be a lengthy one, I suggest you ask your other questions before I begin.”

A frown darkened Gannel’s brow. Rapping his knuckles against the table, he said, “Very well…. In what is undoubtedly related to the clash of arms in Korgan’s tunnels, I have had reports of numerous knurlan moving through Tronjheim and, with furtive intent, gathering here and there into large bands of armed men. My agents were unable to ascertain the clan of the warriors, but that any of this council should attempt to surreptitiously marshal their forces whilst we are engaged in a meet to decide who should succeed King Hrothgar suggests motives of the darkest kind. So my second question for the meet is this: who is responsible for this ill-thought-of maneuvering? And if none are willing to admit their misconduct, I move most strongly that we order all warriors, regardless of their clan, expelled from Tronjheim for the duration of the meet and that we immediately appoint a reader-of-law to investigate these doings and determine whom we should censure.”

Gannel’s revelation, question, and subsequent proposal aroused a flurry of heated conversation among the clan chiefs, with the dwarves hurling accusations, denials, and counteraccusations at each other with increasing vitriol, until, at last, when an infuriated Thordris was shouting at a red-faced Gáldhiem, Orik cleared his throat again, causing everyone to stop and stare at him.

Tags: Christopher Paolini The Inheritance Cycle Fantasy
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