“At first the Riders were intended merely as a means of communication between the elves and dragons. However, as time passed, their worth was recognized and they were given ever more authority. Eventually they took the island Vroengard for their home and built a city on it—Dorú Areaba. Before Galbatorix overthrew them, the Riders held more power than all the kings in Alagaësia. Now I believe I have answered two of your questions.”
“Yes,” said Eragon absently. It seemed like an incredible coincidence that he had been named after the first Rider. For some reason his name did not feel the same anymore. “What does Eragon mean?”
“I don’t know,” said Brom. “It’s very old. I doubt anyone remembers except the elves, and fortune would have to smile greatly before you talked with one. It is a good name to have, though; you should be proud of it. Not everyone has one so honorable.”
Eragon brushed the matter from his mind and focused on what he had learned from Brom; there was something missing. “I don’t understand. Where were we when the Riders were created?”
“We?” asked Brom, raising an eyebrow.
“You know, all of us.” Eragon waved his hands vaguely. “Humans in general.”
Brom laughed. “We are no more native to this land than the elves. It took our ancestors another three centuries to arrive here and join the Riders.”
“That can’t be,” protested Eragon. “We’ve always lived in Palancar Valley.”
“That might be true for a few generations, but beyond that, no. It isn’t even true for you, Eragon,” said Brom gently. “Though you consider yourself part of Garrow’s family, and rightly so, your sire was not from here. Ask around and you’ll find many people who haven’t been here that long. This valley is old and hasn’t always belonged to us.”
Eragon scowled and gulped at the tea. It was still hot enough to burn his throat. This was his home, regardless of who his father was! “What happened to the dwarves after the Riders were destroyed?”
“No one really knows. They fought with the Riders through the first few battles, but when it became clear Galbatorix was going to win, they sealed all the known entrances to their tunnels and disappeared underground. As far as I know, not one has been seen since.”
“And the dragons?” he asked. “What of them? Surely they weren’t all killed.”
Brom answered sorrowfully, “That is the greatest mystery in Alagaësia nowadays: How many dragons survived Galbatorix’s murderous slaughter? He spared those who agreed to serve him, but only the twisted dragons of the Forsworn would assist his madness. If any dragons aside from Shruikan are still alive, they have hidden themselves so they will never be found by the Empire.”
So where did my dragon come from? wondered Eragon. “Were the Urgals here when the elves came to Alagaësia?” he asked.
“No, they followed the elves across the sea, like ticks seeking blood. They were one of the reasons the Riders became valued for their battle prowess and ability to keep the peace. . . . Much can be learned from this history. It’s a pity the king makes it a delicate subject,” reflected Brom.
“Yes, I heard your story the last time I was in town.”
“Story!” roared Brom. Lightning flashed in his eyes. “If it is a story, then the rumors of my death are true and you are speaking with a ghost! Respect the past; you never know how it may affect you.”
Eragon waited until Brom’s face mellowed before he dared ask, “How big were the dragons?”
A dark plume of smoke swirled above Brom like a miniature thunderstorm. “Larger than a house. Even the small ones had wingspans over a hundred feet; they never stopped growing. Some of the ancient ones, before the Empire killed them, could have passed for large hills.”
Dismay swept through Eragon. How can I hide my dragon in the years to come? He raged silently, but kept his voice calm. “When did they mature?”
“Well,” said Brom, scratching his chin, “they couldn’t breathe fire until they were around five to six months old, which was about when they could mate. The older a dragon was, the longer it could breathe fire. Some of them could keep at it for minutes.” Brom blew a smoke ring and watched it float up to the ceiling.
“I heard that their scales shone like gems.”
Brom leaned forward and growled, “You heard right. They came in every color and shade. It was said that a group of them looked like a living rainbow, constantly shifting and shimmering. But who told you that?”
Eragon froze for a second, then lied, “A trader.”
“What was his name?” asked Brom. His tangled eyebrows met in a thick white line; the wrinkles deepened on his forehead. Unnoticed, the pipe smoldered out.
Eragon pretended to think. “I don’t know. He was talking in Morn’s, but I never found out who he was.”
“I wish you had,” muttered Brom.
“He also said a Rider could hear his dragon’s thoughts,” said Eragon quickly, hoping that the fictitious trader would protect him from suspicion.
Brom’s eyes narrowed. Slowly he took out a tinderbox and struck the flint. Smoke rose, and he took a long pull from the pipe, exhaling slowly. In a flat voice he said, “He was wrong. It isn’t in any of the stories, and I know them all. Did he say anything else?”
Eragon shrugged. “No.” Brom was too interested in the trader for him to continue the falsehood. Casually he inquired, “Did dragons live very long?”
Brom did not respond at once. His chin sank to his chest while his fingers tapped the pipe thoughtfully, light reflecting off his ring. “Sorry, my mind was elsewhere. Yes, a dragon will live for quite a while, forever, in fact, as long as it isn’t killed and its Rider doesn’t die.”
“How does anyone know that?” objected Eragon. “If dragons die when their Riders do, they could only live to be sixty or seventy. You said during your . . . narration that Riders lived for hundreds of years, but that’s impossible.” It troubled him to think of outliving his family and friends.
A quiet smile curled Brom’s lips as he said slyly, “What is possible is subjective. Some would say that you cannot travel through the Spine and live, yet you do. It’s a matter of perspective. You must be very wise to know so much at such a young age.” Eragon flushed, and the old man chuckled. “Don’t be angry; you can’t be expected to know such things. You forget that the dragons were magical—they affected everything around them in strange ways. The Riders were closest to them and experienced this the most. The most common side effect was an extended life. Our king has lived long enough to make that apparent, but most people attribute it to his own magical abilities. There were also other, less noticeable changes. All the Riders were stronger of body, keener of mind, and truer of sight than normal men. Along with this, a human Rider would slowly acquire pointed ears, though they were never as prominent as an elf’s.”
Eragon had to stop his hand from reaching up to feel the tips of his ears. How else will this dragon change my life? Not only has it gotten inside my head, but it’s altering my body as well! “Were dragons very smart?”
“Didn’t you pay attention to what I told you earlier!” demanded Brom. “How could the elves form agreements and peace treaties with dumb brutes? They were as intelligent as you or I.”
“But they were animals,” persisted Eragon.
Brom snorted. “They were no more animals than we are. For some reason people praise everything the Riders did, yet ignore the dragons, assuming that they were nothing more than an exotic means to get from one town to another. They weren’t. The Riders’ great deeds were only possible because of the dragons. How many men would draw their swords if they knew a giant fire-breathing lizard—one with more natural cunning and wisdom than even a king could hope for—would soon be there to stop the violence? Hmm?” He blew another smoke ring and watched it waft away.
“Did you ever see one?”
“Nay,” said Brom, “it was long before my time.”
And now for a name. “I’ve been trying to recall the name of a
certain dragon, but it keeps eluding me. I think I heard it when the traders were in Carvahall, but I’m not sure. Could you help me?”
Brom shrugged and quickly listed a stream of names. “There was Jura, Hírador, and Fundor—who fought the giant sea snake. Galzra, Briam, Ohen the Strong, Gretiem, Beroan, Roslarb . . .” He added many others. At the very end, he uttered so softly Eragon almost did not hear, “. . . and Saphira.” Brom quietly emptied his pipe. “Was it any of those?”
“I’m afraid not,” said Eragon. Brom had given him much to think about, and it was getting late. “Well, Roran’s probably finished with Horst. I should get back, though I’d rather not.”
Brom raised an eyebrow. “What, is that it? I expected to be answering your questions until he came looking for you. No queries about dragon battle tactics or requests for descriptions of breathtaking aerial combat? Are we done?”
“For now,” laughed Eragon. “I learned what I wanted to and more.” He stood and Brom followed.
“Very well, then.” He ushered Eragon to the door. “Goodbye. Take care. And don’t forget, if you remember who that trader was, tell me.”
“I will. Thank you.” Eragon stepped into the glaring winter sunlight, squinting. He slowly paced away, pondering what he had heard.
A NAME OF POWER
On the way home Roran said, “There was a stranger from Therinsford at Horst’s today.”
“What’s his name?” asked Eragon. He sidestepped a patch of ice and continued walking at a brisk pace. His cheeks and eyes burned from the cold.
“Dempton. He came here to have Horst forge him some sockets,” said Roran. His stocky legs plowed through a drift, clearing the way for Eragon.
“Doesn’t Therinsford have its own smith?”
“Yes,” replied Roran, “but he isn’t skilled enough.” He glanced at Eragon. With a shrug he added, “Dempton needs the sockets for his mill. He’s expanding it and offered me a job. If I accept, I’ll leave with him when he picks up the sockets.”
Millers worked all year. During winter they ground whatever people brought them, but in harvest season they bought grain and sold it as flour. It was hard, dangerous work; workers often lost fingers or hands to the giant millstones. “Are you going to tell Garrow?” asked Eragon.
“Yes.” A grimly amused smile played across Roran’s face.
“What for? You know what he thinks about us going away. It’ll only cause trouble if you say anything. Forget about it so we can eat tonight’s dinner in peace.”
“I can’t. I’m going to take the job.”
Eragon halted. “Why?” They faced each other, their breath visible in the air. “I know money is hard to come by, but we always manage to survive. You don’t have to leave.”
“No, I don’t. But the money is for myself.” Roran tried to resume walking, but Eragon refused to budge.
“What do you need it for?” he demanded.
Roran’s shoulders straightened slightly. “I want to marry.”
Bewilderment and astonishment overwhelmed Eragon. He remembered seeing Katrina and Roran kissing during the traders’ visit, but marriage? “Katrina?” he asked weakly, just to confirm. Roran nodded. “Have you asked her?”
“Not yet, but come spring, when I can raise a house, I will.”
“There’s too much work on the farm for you to leave now,” protested Eragon. “Wait until we’re ready for planting.”
“No,” said Roran, laughing slightly. “Spring’s the time I’ll be needed the most. The ground will have to be furrowed and sown. The crops must be weeded—not to mention all the other chores. No, this is the best time for me to go, when all we really do is wait for the seasons to change. You and Garrow can make do without me. If all goes well, I’ll soon be back working on the farm, with a wife.”
Eragon reluctantly conceded that Roran made sense. He shook his head, but whether with amazement or anger, he knew not. “I guess I can only wish you the best of luck. But Garrow may take this with ill humor.”
“We will see.”
They resumed walking, the silence a barrier between them. Eragon’s heart was disturbed. It would take time before he could look upon this development with favor. When they arrived home, Roran did not tell Garrow of his plans, but Eragon was sure that he soon would.
Eragon went to see the dragon for the first time since it had spoken to him. He approached apprehensively, aware now that it was an equal.
“Is that all you can say?” he snapped.
His eyes widened at the unexpected reply, and he sat down roughly. Now it has a sense of humor. What next? Impulsively, he broke a dead branch with his foot. Roran’s announcement had put him in a foul mood. A questioning thought came from the dragon, so he told it what had happened. As he talked his voice grew steadily louder until he was yelling pointlessly into the air. He ranted until his emotions were spent, then ineffectually punched the ground.
“I don’t want him to go, that’s all,” he said helplessly. The dragon watched impassively, listening and learning. Eragon mumbled a few choice curses and rubbed his eyes. He looked at the dragon thoughtfully. “You need a name. I heard some interesting ones today; perhaps you’ll like one.” He mentally ran through the list Brom had given him until he found two names that struck him as heroic, noble, and pleasing to the ear. “What do you think of Vanilor or his successor, Eridor? Both were great dragons.”
No, said the dragon. It sounded amused with his efforts. Eragon.
“That’s my name; you can’t have it,” he said, rubbing his chin. “Well, if you don’t like those, there are others.” He continued through the list, but the dragon rejected every one he proposed. It seemed to be laughing at something Eragon did not understand, but he ignored it and kept suggesting names. “There was Ingothold, he slew the . . .” A revelation stopped him. That’s the problem! I’ve been choosing male names. You are a she!
Yes. The dragon folded her wings smugly.
Now that he knew what to look for, he came up with half a dozen names. He toyed with Miremel, but that did not fit—after all, it was the name of a brown dragon. Opheila and Lenora were also discarded. He was about to give up when he remembered the last name Brom had muttered. Eragon liked it, but would the dragon?
“Are you Saphira?” She looked at him with intelligent eyes. Deep in his mind he felt her satisfaction.
Yes. Something clicked in his head and her voice echoed, as if from a great distance. He grinned in response. Saphira started humming.
The sun had set by the time dinner was served. A blustery wind howled outside, shaking the house. Eragon eyed Roran closely and waited for the inevitable. Finally: “I was offered a job at Therinsford’s mill . . . which I plan to take.”
Garrow finished his mouthful of food with deliberate slowness and laid down his fork. He leaned back in his chair, then interlaced his fingers behind his head and uttered one dry word, “Why?”
Roran explained while Eragon absently picked at his food.
“I see,” was Garrow’s only comment. He fell silent and stared at the ceiling. No one moved as they awaited his response. “Well, when do you leave?”
“What?” asked Roran.
Garrow leaned forward with a twinkle in his eye. “Did you think I would stop you? I’d hoped you would marry soon. It will be good to see this family growing again. Katrina will be lucky to have you.” Astonishment raced over Roran’s face, then he settled into a relieved grin. “So when do you leave?” Garrow asked.
Roran regained his voice. “When Dempton returns to get the sockets for the mill.”
Garrow nodded. “And that will be in . . . ?”
“Good. That will give us time to prepare. It’ll be different to have the house to ourselves. But if nothing goes amiss, it shouldn’t be for too long.” He looked over the table and asked, “Eragon, did you know of
He shrugged ruefully. “Not until today. . . . It’s madness.”
Garrow ran a hand over his face. “It’s life’s natural course.” He pushed himself up from the chair. “All will be fine; time will settle everything. For now, though, let’s clean the dishes.” Eragon and Roran helped him in silence.
The next few days were trying. Eragon’s temper was frayed. Except for curtly answering direct questions, he spoke with no one. There were small reminders everywhere that Roran was leaving: Garrow making him a pack, things missing from the walls, and a strange emptiness that filled the house. It was almost a week before he realized that distance had grown between Roran and him. When they spoke, the words did not come easily and their conversations were uncomfortable.
Saphira was a balm for Eragon’s frustration. He could talk freely with her; his emotions were completely open to her mind, and she understood him better than anyone else. During the weeks before Roran’s departure, she went through another growth spurt. She gained twelve inches at the shoulder, which was now higher than Eragon’s. He found that the small hollow where her neck joined her shoulders was a perfect place to sit. He often rested there in the evenings and scratched her neck while he explained the meanings of different words. Soon she understood everything he said and frequently commented on it.
For Eragon, this part of his life was delightful. Saphira was as real and complex as any person. Her personality was eclectic and at times completely alien, yet they understood each other on a profound level. Her actions and thoughts constantly revealed new aspects of her character. Once she caught an eagle and, instead of eating it, released it, saying, No hunter of the sky should end his days as prey. Better to die on the wing than pinned to the ground.