This scene takes place in the chapter “Over Hill and Mountain,” when Eragon and Garzhvog are sitting around the fire one evening during their journey from the Varden to Bregan Hold on Mount Thardûr. It provides further insight into Urgal culture.
Eragon watched the glowing rim of the crescent moon appear above the eastern horizon, the moon as large as a mountain, so close to the ground. “Tell me another story,” he said.
His heavy eyes pensive, Garzhvog worked his makeshift toothpick around one of his fangs and then said, “Long ago, when the world was not so old, in the season of snow, Ahno the Trickster was sore hungry, even more hungry than we were just now. So, he took his bow and his arrows, and he set out to kill a deer. For three days and three nights, he tracked a herd through the forest of the Spine, but the deer were quick and clever, and Ahno could not catch them. He grew so weak, he thought, ‘Surely now I will die.’ Having lost the strength to continue, he stopped where he was and watched as the deer ate the bark on the trees and the grass under the snow. And he thought, ‘If I were a deer, I could eat what they eat, and then I would not be so hungry.’ The thought pleased him, so he changed his skin for that of a deer, and he joined the herd, and he ate what they ate. At first he thought, ‘Once my strength returns, I will change back into my own form, and I will shoot the buck who leads this herd and hang his horns over my hearth.’ But then he would find another patch of grass to eat, and soon he began to act like a deer, and he forgot about his clothes and his weapons, and he followed the herd as it migrated through the mountains toward its spring fields. When fall came, his blood burned with the madness of rut, and he fought the other bucks, and he mated with the finest does, and they bore him many children. And for three years, he led his own herd through the Spine, and he lived as an animal and not as an Urgralgra.
“Ahno’s father, Svarvok, had been busy that whole while forging the iron rungs so he could climb Yngla Mountain and steal back the magic spear the dragon Ënurfala had taken from him. Having finished that task, Svarvok wondered where his son was and sent his eagles to look for him. When the eagles found Ahno, they told him his father wished to see him, but Ahno did not remember the speech of Urgralgra. Then Svarvok went to his son in the Spine, and he said, ‘What have you done, Ahno? Why do you wear the skin of a deer and live the life of an animal?’ And some of his memories returned to Ahno, and he said, ‘Father, I enjoy being a deer. I think I will stay like this.’ Svarvok grew angry with Ahno then, and he called a pack of wolves from the forest, and he told them to chase his son as far as they could. This they did, and Ahno yelped and cried as the wolves nipped at his legs and his tail and scratched his flanks with their claws. At last, tired of running, Ahno changed back into his true form, and he beat the wolves with a thick branch until they fled from him. Sore and bleeding, Ahno returned to his father, and Svarvok asked him, ‘What have you learned from this, Ahno?’ And Ahno laughed and answered, ‘That it is better to be a wolf than a deer!’ And he changed into a wolf and ran howling after the wolves he had beaten, and he joined their pack. And how Svarvok dealt with his son then is another story entirely.”
Eragon chuckled and said, “A good story.”
“A good story,” agreed Garzhvog.
Dwarves employ three different modes of writing. The oldest is a rune alphabet called both the Hruthmundvik—after the dwarf Hruthmund, to whom the goddess Sindri is said to have given knowledge of writing—and the Gnostvik, after the first five letters of the dwarves’ alphabet. The second method is the Thrangvik, which is a version of the Hruthmundvik adapted for “soft” instruments such as quills and brushes, rather than chisels or burins. The final system, the Kiahlvikn, contains the secret letters of Dûrgrimst Quan, with which dwarves write their most holy texts. They have never allowed one of another race to learn this script, but it is reputed to be nigh on a separate language, on account of its many unique words and characters.
(Vik means scratch, and thus Hruthmundvik translates as the scratch of Hruthmund, or, conversely, Hruthmund’s scratch. Thrang has no discernible origin, although it may be a corruption of trangnarn, a species of hawk that frequents the Beor Mountains and whose tail feathers are prized by dwarves for their pens. As for mahl, it is an ancient word that one cannot directly translate into English, but may be rendered as cave lore, a euphemism for hidden and/or powerful knowledge.)
Of these modes, the Thrangvik is now perhaps the most common, with the Hruthmundvik reserved for inscriptions on stone and wood and documents of importance. The curvilinear forms of the Thrangvik were inspired by the Hruthmundvik, but, over the centuries, they have affected the Hruthmundvik in return. For example, instead of assigning a unique symbol to each of their many vowel sounds—as in the primeval Hruthmundvik— dwarf scholars writing with the Thrangvik found it more expedient to use only one character for each of their major vowels and then modify said characters with diacritical marks in order to achieve the broader range of expression required. This practice was eventually applied to the Hruthmundvik, which accounts for the accent marks seen among the dwarf runes of Eragon’s day, and in the version of the Hruthmundvik presented here.
Of the runes themselves, one should note that they make no use of uppercase letters, and that when one writes Dwarvish—proceeding from left to right in a horizontal line—a space is often placed between words, but when one carves them, words are allowed to run together.
Also, Dwarvish possesses two distinct runes, nos. 8 and 9, for k. The pronunciation of these runes is indistinguishable to humans (both a hard c), and even some dwarves have difficulty telling them apart. By tradition, 8 is translated as k, and 9 as c, but in either case, their phonetic value is nearly the same, and the Dwarvish c does not behave as our c; its pronunciation remains unaltered by e or other vowels. (A separate rune, no. 18, is used for ch.)
Because of the similarity in appearance between the runes for c and s, humans originally, and incorrectly, translated the name of the dwarves’ temple in Tarnag as Celbedeil and not Selbedeil. At first I intended to correct this mistake. However, upon reflection, I decided that it was better to use Celbedeil rather than to risk distracting readers of Eragon’s saga with a spelling that was both unfamiliar and unnecessary, especially since it makes no practical difference as to how the name is said, at least not in English.
Rune no. 32 is usually written half the size of other runes. It acts like either a comma, an apostrophe, a quotation mark, or a pair of quotation marks, depending on context.
Rune no. 33, which is transliterated as a circumflex, is a small bar that is placed crosswise through the lower half of a vowel’s upright stem.
Rune no. 34, which is transliterated as an acute accent mark, is placed directly over, though not touching, a vowel’s upright stem.
The runes that appear on the map of Alagaësia in this volume were borrowed from the alphabet humans based upon the Hruthmundvik, but should not be confused with the Hruthmundvik, as the letters are used differently. Nor can they be read as n, s, e, and w, as people would now, for Eragon’s speech is not our own and is a matter for examination elsewhere and elsewhen.
THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.