Eragon rolled a plump blueberry in the palm of his hand. “Do you know of Elva and what happened when I tried to free her of my curse?”
“Yes, even that. You may not have succeeded in removing the whole of the spell from her, but you paid your debt to the child, and that is what a Dragon Rider is supposed to do: fulfill his obligations, no matter how small or difficult they be.”
“She still feels the pain of those around her.”
“But now it is by her own choice,” said Oromis. “No longer does your magic force it upon her…. You did not come here to seek my opinion concerning Elva. What is it that weighs upon your heart, Eragon? Ask what you will, and I promise I shall answer all of your questions to the best of my knowledge.”
“What,” said Eragon, “if I don’t know the right questions to ask?”
A twinkle appeared in Oromis’s gray eyes. “Ah, you begin to think like an elf. You must trust us as your mentors to teach you and Saphira those things of which you are ignorant. And you must also trust us to decide when it is appropriate to broach those subjects, for there are many elements of your training that should not be spoken of out of turn.”
Eragon placed the blueberry in the precise center of the tray, then in a quiet but firm voice said, “It seems as if there is much you have not spoken of.”
For a moment, the only sounds were the rustle of branches and the burble of the stream and the chatter of distant squirrels.
If you have a quarrel with us, Eragon, said Glaedr, then give voice to it and do not gnaw on your anger like a dry old bone.
Saphira shifted her position, and Eragon imagined he heard a growl from her. He glanced at her, and then, fighting to control the emotions coursing through him, he asked, “When I was last here, did you know who my father was?”
Oromis nodded once. “We did.”
“And did you know that Murtagh was my brother?”
Oromis nodded once more. “We did, but—”
“Then why didn’t you tell me!” exclaimed Eragon, and jumped to his feet, knocking over his chair. He pounded a fist against his hip, strode several feet away, and stared at the shadows within the tangled forest. Whirling around, Eragon’s anger swelled as he saw that Oromis appeared as calm as before. “Were you ever going to tell me? Did you keep the truth about my family a secret because you were afraid it would distract me from my training? Or was it that you were afraid I would become like my father?” A worse thought occurred to Eragon. “Or did you not even consider it important enough to mention? And what of Brom? Did he know? Did he choose Carvahall to hide in because of me, because I was the son of his enemy? You can’t expect me to believe it was coincidence he and I happened to be living only a few miles apart and that Arya just happened to send Saphira’s egg to me in the Spine.”
“What Arya did was an accident,” asserted Oromis. “She had no knowledge of you then.”
Eragon gripped the pommel of his dwarf sword, every muscle in his body as hard as iron. “When Brom first saw Saphira, I remember he said something to himself about being unsure whether ‘this’ was a farce or a tragedy. At the time, I thought he was referring to the fact that a common farmer like myself had become the first new Rider in over a hundred years. But that’s not what he meant, was it? He was wondering whether it was a farce or a tragedy that Morzan’s youngest son should be the one to take up the Riders’ mantle!
“Is that why you and Brom trained me, to be nothing more than a weapon against Galbatorix so that I may atone for the villainy of my father? Is that all I am to you, a balancing of the scales?” Before Oromis could respond, Eragon swore and said, “My whole life has been a lie! Since the moment I was born, no one but Saphira has wanted me: not my mother, not Garrow, not Aunt Marian, not even Brom. Brom showed interest in me only because of Morzan and Saphira. I have always been an inconvenience. Whatever you think of me, though, I am not my father, nor my brother, and I refuse to follow in their footsteps.” Placing his hands on the edge of the table, Eragon leaned forward. “I’m not about to betray the elves or the dwarves or the Varden to Galbatorix, if that’s what you are worried about. I will do what I must, but from now on, you have neither my loyalty nor my trust. I will not—”
The ground and the air shook as Glaedr growled, his upper lip pulling back to reveal the full length of his fangs. You have more reason to trust us than anyone else, hatchling, he said, his voice thundering in Eragon’s mind. If not for our efforts, you would be long dead.
Then, to Eragon’s surprise, Saphira said to Oromis and Glaedr, Tell him, and it alarmed him to feel the distress in her thoughts.
Saphira? he asked, puzzled. Tell me what?
She ignored him. This arguing is without cause. Do not prolong Eragon’s discomfort anymore.
One of Oromis’s slanted eyebrows rose. “You know?”
“You know what?” Eragon bellowed, on the verge of tearing his sword from its sheath and threatening all of them until they explained themselves.
With one slim finger, Oromis pointed toward the fallen chair. “Sit.” When Eragon remained standing, too angry and full of resentment to obey, Oromis sighed. “I understand this is difficult for you, Eragon, but if you insist upon asking questions and then refuse to listen to the answers, frustration will be your only reward. Now, please sit, so we can talk about this in a civilized manner.”
Glaring, Eragon righted the chair and dropped into it. “Why?” he asked. “Why didn’t you tell me that my father was Morzan, the first of the Forsworn?”
“In the first place,” said Oromis, “we shall be fortunate if you are anything like your father, which, indeed, I believe you are. And, as I was about to say before you interrupted me, Murtagh is not your brother, but rather your half brother.”
The world seemed to tilt around Eragon; the sensation of vertigo was so intense, he had to grab the edge of the table to steady himself. “My half brother … But then, who …?”
Oromis plucked a blackberry from a bowl, contemplated it for a moment, and then ate it. “Glaedr and I did not wish to keep this a secret from you, but we had no choice. We both promised, with the most binding of oaths, that we would never reveal to you the identity of your father or of your half brother, nor discuss your lineage, unless you had discovered the truth on your own or unless the identity of your relatives had placed you in danger. What transpired between you and Murtagh during the Battle of the Burning Plains satisfies enough of those requirements that we can now speak freely on this topic.”
Trembling with barely restrained emotion, Eragon said, “Oromiselda, if Murtagh is my half brother, then who is my father?”
Look into your heart, Eragon, said Glaedr. You already know who he is, and you have known for a long time.
Eragon shook his head. “I don’t know! I don’t know! Please …”
A gout of smoke and flame jetted from Glaedr’s nostrils as he snorted. Is it not obvious? Your father is Brom.
TWO LOVERS DOOMED
Eragon gaped at the gold dragon.
“But how?” he exclaimed. Before either Glaedr or Oromis could respond, Eragon whirled toward Saphira and, with both his mind and his voice, he said, “You knew? You knew, and yet you let me believe Morzan was my father this whole time, even though it … even though I—I …” His chest heaving, Eragon stuttered and trailed off, unable to speak coherently. Unbidden, memories of Brom flooded through him, washing away his other thoughts. He reconsidered the meaning of Brom’s every word and expression, and in that instant, a sense of rightness settled over Eragon. He still wanted explanations, but he did not need them in order to determine the veracity of Glaedr’s claim, for in his bones, Eragon felt the truth of what Glaedr had said.
Eragon started as Oromis touched him on the shoulder. “Eragon, you need to calm yourself,” said the elf in a soothing tone. “Remember the techniques I taught you for meditating. Control your breathing, and concentrate upon letting the tension drain out of your limbs into the grou
nd beneath you…. Yes, like that. Now again, and breathe deeply.”
Eragon’s hands grew still and his heartbeat slowed as he followed Oromis’s instructions. Once his thoughts had cleared, he looked at Saphira again and in a soft voice said, “You knew?”
Saphira lifted her head from the ground. Oh, Eragon, I wanted to tell you. It pained me to see how Murtagh’s words tormented you and yet to be unable to help you. I tried to help—I tried so many times—but like Oromis and Glaedr, I too swore in the ancient language to keep Brom’s identity a secret from you, and I could not break my oath.
“Wh-when did he tell you?” Eragon asked, so agitated that he continued speaking out loud.
The day after the Urgals attacked us outside of Teirm, while you were still unconscious.
“Was that also when he told you how to contact the Varden in Gil’ead?”
Yes. Before I knew what Brom wished to say, he had me swear to never speak of this with you unless you found out on your own. To my regret, I agreed.
“Is there anything else he told you?” demanded Eragon, his anger rising again. “Any other secrets I ought to know, like that Murtagh isn’t my only sibling, or perhaps how to defeat Galbatorix?”
During the two days Brom and I spent hunting the Urgals, Brom recounted the details of his life to me so that if he died, and if ever you learned of your relation to him, his son could know what kind of a man he was and why he had acted as he did. Also, Brom gave me a gift for you.
A memory of him speaking to you as your father and not as Brom the storyteller.
“Before Saphira shares this memory with you, however,” said Oromis, and Eragon realized she had allowed the elf to hear her words, “it would be best, I think, if you knew how this came to pass. Will you listen to me for a while, Eragon?”
Eragon hesitated, unsure of what he wanted, then nodded.
Lifting his crystal goblet, Oromis drank of his wine, then returned the goblet to the table and said: “As you know, both Brom and Morzan were my apprentices. Brom, who was the younger by three years, held Morzan in such high esteem, he allowed Morzan to belittle him, order him about, and otherwise treat him most shamefully.”
In a raspy voice, Eragon said, “It’s hard to imagine Brom letting anyone order him about.”
Oromis inclined his head in a quick, birdlike dip. “And yet, so it was. Brom loved Morzan as a brother, despite his behavior. It was only once Morzan betrayed the Riders to Galbatorix and the Forsworn killed Saphira, Brom’s dragon, that Brom realized the true nature of Morzan’s character. As strong as Brom’s affection for Morzan had been, it was like a candle before an inferno compared with the hatred that replaced it. Brom swore to thwart Morzan however and wherever he could, to undo his accomplishments and reduce his ambitions to bitter regrets. I cautioned Brom against a path so full of hate and violence, but he was mad with grief from the death of Saphira, and he would not listen to me.
“In the decades that followed, Brom’s hatred never weakened, nor did he falter in his efforts to depose Galbatorix, kill the Forsworn, and, above all else, to repay Morzan the hurts he had suffered. Brom was persistence embodied, his name a nightmare for the Forsworn and a beacon of hope for those who still had the spirit to resist the Empire.” Oromis looked toward the white line of the horizon and took another draught of his wine. “I am rather proud of what he achieved on his own and without the aid of his dragon. It is always heartening for a teacher to see one of his students excel, however it might be…. But I digress. It so happened, then, that some twenty years ago, the Varden began to receive reports from their spies within the Empire about the activities of a mysterious woman known only as the Black Hand.”
“My mother,” said Eragon.
“Your mother and Murtagh’s,” said Oromis. “At first the Varden knew nothing about her, save that she was extremely dangerous and that she was loyal to the Empire. In time, and after a great deal of bloodshed, it became apparent that she served Morzan, and Morzan alone, and that he had come to depend upon her to carry out his will throughout the Empire. Upon learning of this, Brom set out to kill the Black Hand and so to strike at Morzan. Since the Varden could not predict where your mother might appear next, Brom traveled to Morzan’s castle and spied upon it until he was able to devise a means of infiltrating the hold.”
“Where was Morzan’s castle?”
“Is, not was; the castle still stands. Galbatorix uses it for himself now. It is situated among the foothills of the Spine, near the northwestern shore of Leona Lake, hidden well away from the rest of the land.”
Eragon said, “Jeod told me that Brom snuck into the castle by pretending to be one of the servants.”
“He did, and it was no easy task. Morzan had impregnated his fortress with hundreds of spells designed to protect him from his enemies. He also forced everyone who served him to swear oaths of fealty, and often with their true names. However, after much experimentation, Brom managed to find a flaw in Morzan’s wards that allowed him to procure a position as a gardener on his estate, and it was in that guise he first met your mother.”
Glancing down at his hands, Eragon said, “And then he seduced her to hurt Morzan, I suppose.”
“Not at all,” replied Oromis. “That may have been his intention to begin with, but then something happened neither he nor your mother anticipated: they fell in love. Whatever affection your mother once had for Morzan had vanished by then, expunged by his cruel treatment of her and their newborn child, Murtagh. I do not know the exact sequence of events, but at some point Brom revealed his true identity to your mother. Instead of betraying him, she began to supply the Varden with information about Galbatorix, Morzan, and the rest of the Empire.”
“But,” said Eragon, “didn’t Morzan have her swear oaths of fealty to him in the ancient language? How could she turn against him?”
A smile appeared on Oromis’s thin lips. “She could because Morzan allowed her somewhat more freedom than his other servants so that she could use her own ingenuity and initiative while carrying out his orders. In his arrogance, Morzan believed that her love for him would ensure her loyalty better than any oath. Also, she was not the same woman who had bound herself to Morzan; becoming a mother and meeting Brom altered her character to such a degree that her true name changed, which released her from her previous commitments. If Morzan had been more careful—if, for example, he had cast a spell that would alert him if ever she failed to abide by her promises—he would have known the moment he lost control over her. But that was always a shortcoming of Morzan’s; he would devise a cunning spell, but then it would fail because, in his impatience, he overlooked some crucial detail.”
Eragon frowned. “Why didn’t my mother leave Morzan once she had the chance?”
“After all she had done in Morzan’s name, she felt it was her duty to help the Varden. But more importantly, she could not bring herself to abandon Murtagh to his father.”
“Couldn’t she have taken him with her?”
“If it had been within her power, I am sure she would have. Morzan realized that the child gave him a vast amount of control over your mother. He forced her to surrender Murtagh to a wet nurse and only allowed her to visit him at infrequent intervals. What Morzan did not know is that, during those intervals, she also visited Brom.”
Oromis turned to watch a pair of swallows cavorting in the blue sky. In profile, his delicate, slanted features reminded Eragon of a hawk or a sleek cat. Still gazing at the swallows, Oromis said, “Not even your mother could anticipate where Morzan would send her next, nor when she could return to his castle. Therefore, Brom had to remain on Morzan’s estate for extended lengths of time if he wished to see her. For nigh on three years, Brom served as one of Morzan’s gardeners. Now and then, he would slip away to send a message to the Varden or to communicate with his spies throughout the Empire, but other than that, he did not leave the castle grounds.”
“Three years! Wasn’t he afraid that
Morzan might see him and recognize him?”
Oromis lowered his gaze from the heavens, returning it to Eragon. “Brom was most adept at disguising himself, and it had been many years since he and Morzan had last stood face to face.”
“Ah.” Eragon twisted his goblet between his fingers, studying how the light refracted through the crystal. “Then what happened?”
“Then,” said Oromis, “one of Brom’s agents in Teirm made contact with a young scholar by the name of Jeod who wished to join the Varden and who claimed to have discovered evidence of a hitherto-secret tunnel that led into the elf-built portion of the castle in Urû’baen. Brom rightly felt that Jeod’s discovery was too important to ignore, so he packed his bags, made his excuses to his fellow servants, and then departed for Teirm with all possible haste.”
“What of my mother?”
“She had left a month before on another of Morzan’s missions.”
Struggling to weld a cohesive whole out of the fragmented accounts he had heard from various people, Eragon said, “So then … Brom met with Jeod, and once he was convinced the tunnel was real, he arranged for one of the Varden to attempt to steal the three dragon eggs Galbatorix was holding in Urû’baen.”
Oromis’s face darkened. “Unfortunately, for reasons that have never become entirely clear, the man they selected for the task, a certain Hefring of Furnost, succeeded in filching only one egg—Saphira’s—from Galbatorix’s treasury, and once he had possession of it, he fled from both the Varden and Galbatorix’s servants. Be cause of his betrayal, Brom had to spend the next seven months chasing Hefring back and forth across the land in a desperate attempt to recapture Saphira.”
“And during that time, my mother traveled in secret to Carvahall, where she gave birth to me five months later?”