Perhaps what I have to give you will help. Would you like to see the memory Brom left for you, or would you prefer to wait?
No, no waiting, he said. If we delay, you may never have the opportunity.
Then close your eyes and let me show you what once was.
Eragon did as she directed, and from Saphira, there flowed a stream of sensations: sights, sounds, smells, and more, everything that she had been experiencing at the time of the memory.
Before him, Eragon beheld a glade in the forest somewhere among the foothills piled against the western side of the Spine. The grass was thick and lush, and veils of chartreuse lichen hung from the tall, drooping, moss-covered trees. Due to the rains that swept inland from the ocean, the woods were far greener and wetter than those of Palancar Valley. As seen through Saphira’s eyes, the greens and reds were more subdued than they would have been to Eragon, while every hue of blue shone with additional intensity. The smell of moist soil and punky wood suffused the air.
And in the center of the glade lay a fallen tree, and upon the fallen tree sat Brom.
The hood of the old man’s robe was pulled back to expose his bare head. Across his lap lay his sword. His twisted, rune-carved staff stood propped against the log. The ring Aren glittered on his right hand.
For a long while, Brom did not move, and then he squinted up at the sky, his hooked nose casting a long shadow across his face. His voice rasped, and Eragon swayed, feeling disjointed in time.
Brom said, “Ever the sun traces its path from horizon to horizon, and ever the moon follows, and ever the days roll past without care for the lives they grind away, one by one.” Lowering his eyes, Brom gazed straight at Saphira and, through her, Eragon. “Try though they might, no being escapes death forever, not even the elves or the spirits. To all, there is an end. If you are watching me, Eragon, then my end has come and I am dead and you know that I am your father.”
From the leather pouch by his side, Brom drew forth his pipe, filled it with cardus weed, then lit it with a soft muttering of “Brisingr.” He puffed on the pipe several times to set the fire before he resumed talking. “If you do see this, Eragon, I hope that you are safe and happy and that Galbatorix is dead. However, I realize that’s unlikely, if for no other reason than you are a Dragon Rider, and a Dragon Rider may never rest while there is injustice in the land.”
A chuckle escaped Brom and he shook his head, his beard rippling like water. “Ah, I have not the time to say even half of what I would like; I would be twice my current age before I finished. In the pursuit of brevity, I shall assume that Saphira has already told you how your mother and I met, how Selena died, and how I came to be in Carvahall. I wish that you and I could have this talk face to face, Eragon, and perhaps we still shall and Saphira will have no need to share this memory with you, but I doubt it. The sorrows of my years press on me, Eragon, and I feel a cold creeping into my limbs the likes of which has never troubled me before. I think it is because I know it is now your turn to take up the standard. There is much I still hope to accomplish, but none of it is for myself, only for you, and you shall eclipse everything I have done. Of that, I am sure. Before my grave closes over me, though, I wanted to be able, at least this once, to call you my son…. My son…. Your whole life, Eragon, I have longed to reveal to you who I was. It has been a pleasure like no other for me to watch you growing up, but also a torture like no other because of the secret I held in my heart.”
Brom laughed then, a harsh, barking sound. “Well, I didn’t exactly manage to keep you safe from the Empire, now did I? If you are still wondering who was responsible for Garrow’s death, you need look no further, for here he sits. It was my own foolishness. I should never have returned to Carvahall. And now look: Garrow dead, and you a Dragon Rider. I warn you, Eragon, beware of whom you fall in love with, for fate seems to have a morbid interest in our family.”
Wrapping his lips around the stem of his pipe, Brom drew on the smoldering cardus weed several times, blowing the chalk-white smoke off to one side. The pungent smell was heavy in Saphira’s nostrils. Brom said, “I have my share of regrets, but you are not one of them, Eragon. You may occasionally behave like a moon-addled fool, such as letting these blasted Urgals escape, but you are no more of an idiot than I was at your age.” He nodded. “Less of an idiot, in fact. I am proud to have you as my son, Eragon, prouder than you will ever know. I never thought that you would become a Rider as I was, nor wished that future upon you, but seeing you with Saphira, ah, it makes me feel like crowing at the sun like a rooster.”
Brom drew on the pipe again. “I realize you may be angry at me for keeping this from you. I can’t say I would have been happy to discover the name of my own father this way. Whether you like it or not, though, we are family, you and I. Since I could not give you the care I owed you as your father, I will give you the one thing I can instead, and that is advice. Hate me if you wish, Eragon, but heed what I have to say, for I know whereof I speak.”
With his free hand, Brom grasped the sheath of his sword, the veins prominent on the back of his hand. He fixed the pipe in one corner of his mouth. “Right. Now, my advice is twofold. Whatever you do, protect those you care for. Without them, life is more miserable than you can imagine. An obvious statement, I know, but no less true because of it. There, that is the first part of my advice. As for the rest … If you are so fortunate as to have already killed Galbatorix—or if anyone has succeeded in slitting that traitor’s throat—then congratulations. If not, then you must realize that Galbatorix is your greatest and most dangerous enemy. Until he is dead, neither you nor Saphira will ever find peace. You may run to the farthest corners of the earth, but unless you join the Empire, one day you will have to confront Galbatorix. I am sorry, Eragon, but that is the truth of it. I have fought many magicians, and several of the Forsworn, and so far, I have always defeated my opponents.” The lines on Brom’s forehead deepened. “Well, all but once, but that was because I was not yet fully grown. Anyway, the reason I have always emerged triumphant is that I use my brain, unlike most. I am not a strong spellcaster, nor are you, compared with Galbatorix, but when it comes to a wizards’ duel, intelligence is even more important than strength. The way to defeat another magician is not by battering blindly against his mind. No! In order to ensure victory, you have to figure out how your enemy interprets information and reacts to the world. Then you will know his weaknesses, and there you strike. The trick isn’t inventing a spell no one else has ever thought of before; the trick is finding a spell your enemy has overlooked and using it against him. The trick isn’t plowing your way through the barriers in someone’s mind; the trick is slipping underneath or around the barriers. No one is omniscient, Eragon. Remember that. Galbatorix may have immense power, but he cannot anticipate every possibility. Whatever you do, you must remain nimble in your thinking. Do not become so attached to any one belief that you cannot see past it to another possibility. Galbatorix is mad and therefore unpredictable, but he also has gaps in his reasoning that an ordinary person would not. If you can find those, Eragon, then perhaps you and Saphira can defeat him.”
Brom lowered his pipe, his face grave. “I hope you do. My greatest desire, Eragon, is that you and Saphira will live long and fruitful lives, free from fear of Galbatorix and the Empire. I wish that I could protect you from all of the dangers that threaten you, but alas, that is not within my ability. All I can do is give you my advice and teach you what I can now while I am still here…. My son. What ever happens to you, know that I love you, and so did your mother. May the stars watch over you, Eragon Bromsson.”
As Brom’s final words echoed in Eragon’s mind, the memory faded away, leaving behind empty darkness. Eragon opened his eyes and was embarrassed to find tears running down his cheeks. He uttered a choked laugh and wiped his eyes on the edge of his tunic. Brom really was afraid that I would hate him, he said, and sniffed.
Are you going to be all right? Saphira asked.
said Eragon, and lifted his head. I think I will, actually. I don’t like some of the things Brom did, but I am proud to call him my father and to carry his name. He was a great man…. It bothers me, though, that I never had the opportunity to talk to either of my parents as my parents.
At least you were able to spend time with Brom. I am not so fortunate; both my sire and my mother died long before I hatched. The closest I can come to meeting them are a few hazy memories from Glaedr.
Eragon put a hand on her neck, and they comforted each other as best they could while they stood upon the edge of the Crags of Tel’naeír and gazed out over the forest of the elves.
Not long afterward, Oromis emerged from his hut, carrying two bowls of soup, and Eragon and Saphira turned away from the crags and slowly walked back to the small table in front of Glaedr’s immense bulk.
SOULS OF STONE
As Eragon pushed away his empty bowl, Oromis said, “Would you like to see a fairth of your mother, Eragon?”
Eragon froze for a moment, astonished. “Yes, please.”
From within the folds of his white tunic, Oromis withdrew a shingle of thin gray slate, which he passed to Eragon.
The stone was cool and smooth between Eragon’s fingers. On the other side of it, he knew he would find a perfect likeness of his mother, painted by means of a spell with pigments an elf had set within the slate many years ago. A flutter of uneasiness ran through Eragon. He had always wanted to see his mother, but now that the opportunity was before him, he was afraid that the reality might disappoint him.
With an effort, he turned the slate over and beheld an image—clear as a vision seen through a window—of a garden of red and white roses lit by the pale rays of dawn. A gravel path ran through the beds of roses. And in the middle of the path was a woman, kneeling, cupping a white rose between her hands and smelling the flower, her eyes closed and a faint smile upon her lips. She was very beautiful, Eragon thought. Her expression was soft and tender, yet she wore clothes of padded leather, with blackened bracers upon her forearms and greaves upon her shins and a sword and dagger hanging from her waist. In the shape of her face, Eragon could detect a hint of his own features, as well as a certain resemblance to Garrow, her brother.
The image fascinated Eragon. He pressed his hand against the surface of the fairth, wishing that he could reach into it and touch her on the arm.
Oromis said, “Brom gave me the fairth for safekeeping before he left for Carvahall, and now I give it to you.”
Without looking up, Eragon asked, “Would you keep it safe for me as well? It might get broken during our traveling and fighting.”
The pause that followed caught Eragon’s attention. He wrenched his gaze away from his mother to see that Oromis appeared melancholy and preoccupied. “No, Eragon, I cannot. You will have to make other arrangements for the preservation of the fairth.”
Why? Eragon wanted to ask, but the sorrow in Oromis’s eyes dissuaded him.
Then Oromis said, “Your time here is limited, and we still have many matters to discuss. Shall I guess which subject you would like to address next, or will you tell me?”
With great reluctance, Eragon placed the fairth on the table and rotated it so that the image was upside down. “The two times we have fought Murtagh and Thorn, Murtagh has been more powerful than any human ought to be. On the Burning Plains, he defeated Saphira and me because we did not realize how strong he was. If not for his change of heart, we would be prisoners in Urû’baen right now. You once mentioned that you know how Galbatorix has become so powerful. Will you tell us now, Master? For our own safety, we need to know.”
“It is not my place to tell you this,” said Oromis.
“Then whose is it?” demanded Eragon. “You can’t—”
Behind Oromis, Glaedr opened one of his molten eyes, which was as large as a round shield, and said, It is mine…. The source of Galbatorix's power lies in the hearts of dragons. From us, he steals his strength. Without our aid, Galbatorix would have fallen to the elves and the Varden long ago.
Eragon frowned. “I don’t understand. Why would you help Galbatorix? And how could you? There are only four dragons and an egg left in Alagaësia … aren’t there?”
Many of the dragons whose bodies Galbatorix and the Forsworn slew are still alive today.
“Still alive …?” Bewildered, Eragon glanced at Oromis, but the elf remained quiet, his face inscrutable. Even more disconcerting was that Saphira did not seem to share Eragon’s confusion.
The gold dragon turned his head on his paws to better look at Eragon, his scales scraping against one another. Unlike with most creatures, he said, a dragon’s consciousness does not reside solely within our skulls. There is in our chests a hard, gemlike object, similar in composition to our scales, called the Eldunarí, which means “the heart of hearts.” When a dragon hatches, their Eldunarí is clear and lusterless. Usually it remains so all through a dragon’s life and dissolves along with the dragon’s corpse when they die. However, if we wish, we can transfer our consciousness into the Eldunarí. Then it will acquire the same color as our scales and begin to glow like a coal. If a dragon has done this, the Eldunarí will outlast the decay of their flesh, and a dragon’s essence may live on indefinitely. Also, a dragon can disgorge their Eldunarí while they are still alive. By this means, a dragon’s body and a dragon’s consciousness can exist separately and yet still be linked, which can be most useful in certain circumstances. But to do this exposes us to great danger, for whosoever holds our Eldunarí holds our very soul in their hands. With it, they could force us to do their bidding, no matter how vile.
The implications of what Glaedr had said astounded Eragon. Shifting his gaze to Saphira, he asked, Did you already know about this?
The scales on her neck rippled as she made an odd, serpentine motion with her head. I have always been aware of my heart of hearts. Always I have been able to feel it inside of me, but I never thought to mention it to you.
How could you not when it’s of such significance?
Would you think it worthy of mention that you have a stomach, Eragon? Or a heart or a liver or any other organ? My Eldunarí is an integral part of who I am. I never considered its existence worthy of note…. At least not until we last came to Ellesméra.
So you did know!
Only a little. Glaedr hinted that my heart of hearts was more important than I had originally believed, and he warned me to protect it, lest I inadvertently deliver myself into the hands of our enemies. More than that he did not explain, but since then, I inferred much of what he just said.
Yet you still did not think this was worth mentioning? demanded Eragon.
I wanted to, she growled, but as with Brom, I gave my word to Glaedr that I would speak of this to no one, not even to you.
And you agreed?
I trust Glaedr, and I trust Oromis. Do you not?
Eragon scowled and turned back to the elf and the golden dragon. “Why didn’t you tell us of this sooner?”
Unstoppering the decanter, Oromis refilled his goblet with wine and said, “In order to protect Saphira.”
“Protect her? From what?”
From you, Glaedr said. Eragon was so surprised and outraged, he failed to regain his composure well enough to protest before Glaedr resumed speaking. In the wild, a dragon would learn about his Eldunarí from one of his elders when he was old enough to understand the use of it. That way, a dragon would not transfer themself into their heart of hearts without knowing the full import of their actions. Among the Riders, a different custom arose. The first few years of partnership between a dragon and a Rider are crucial to establishing a healthy relationship between the two, and the Riders discovered that it was better to wait until newly joined Riders and dragons were well familiar with each other before informing them of the Eldunarí. Otherwise, in the reckless folly of youth, a dragon might decide to disgorge his heart of hearts merely to appease or impress his Rider. When we giv
e up our Eldunarí, we are giving up a physical embodiment of our entire being. And we cannot return it to its original place within our bodies once it is gone. A dragon should not undertake the separation of their consciousness lightly, for it will change how they live the rest of their lives, even if they should endure for another thousand years.
“Do you still have your heart of hearts within you?” Eragon asked.
The grass around the table bent under the blast of hot air that erupted from Glaedr’s nostrils. That is not a meet question to ask any dragon but Saphira. Do not presume to put it to me again, hatchling.
Although Glaedr’s rebuke made Eragon’s cheeks sting, he still had the wherewithal to respond as he should, with a seated bow and the words “No, Master.” Then he asked, “What … what happens if your Eldunarí breaks?”
If a dragon has already transferred their consciousness to their heart of hearts, then they will die a true death. With an audible click, Glaedr blinked, his inner and outer eyelids flashing across the rayed orb of his iris. Before we formed our pact with the elves, we kept our hearts in Du Fells Nángoröth, the mountains in the center of the Hadarac Desert. Later, after the Riders established themselves on the island of Vroengard and therein built a repository for the Eldunarí, wild dragons and paired dragons both entrusted their hearts to the Riders for safekeeping.
“So then,” said Eragon, “Galbatorix captured the Eldunarí?”
Contrary to Eragon’s expectations, it was Oromis who replied. “He did, but not all at once. It had been so long since anyone had truly threatened the Riders, many of our order had become careless about protecting the Eldunarí. At the time Galbatorix turned against us, it was not uncommon for a Rider’s dragon to disgorge their Eldunarí merely for the sake of convenience.”