Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle 1) - Page 7


Eragon’s plan to let his family see Saphira was dispelled by Roran’s announcement and Saphira’s own cautionary words. She was reluctant to be seen, and he, partly out of selfishness, agreed. The moment her existence was divulged, he knew that shouts, accusations, and fear would be directed at him . . . so he procrastinated. He told himself to wait for a sign that it was the right time.

The night before Roran was to leave, Eragon went to talk with him. He stalked down the hallway to Roran’s open door. An oil lamp rested on a nightstand, painting the walls with warm flickering light. The bedposts cast elongated shadows on empty shelves that rose to the ceiling. Roran—his eyes shaded and the back of his neck tense—was rolling blankets around his clothes and belongings. He paused, then picked up something from the pillow and bounced it in his hand. It was a polished rock Eragon had given him years ago. Roran started to tuck it into the bundle, then stopped and set it on a shelf. A hard lump formed in Eragon’s throat, and he left.

STRANGERS IN CARVAHALL

Breakfast was cold, but the tea was hot. Ice inside the windows had melted with the morning fire and soaked into the wood floor, staining it with dark puddles. Eragon looked at Garrow and Roran by the kitchen stove and reflected that this would be the last time he saw them together for many months.

Roran sat in a chair, lacing his boots. His full pack rested on the floor next to him. Garrow stood between them with his hands stuck deep into his pockets. His shirt hung loosely; his skin looked drawn. Despite the young men’s cajoling, he refused to go with them. When pressed for a reason, he only said that it was for the best.

“Do you have everything?” Garrow asked Roran.

“Yes.”

He nodded and took a small pouch from his pocket. Coins clinked as he handed it to Roran. “I’ve been saving this for you. It isn’t much, but if you wish to buy some bauble or trinket, it will suffice.”

“Thank you, but I won’t be spending my money on trifles,” said Roran.

“Do what you will; it is yours,” said Garrow. “I’ve nothing else to give you, except a father’s blessing. Take it if you wish, but it is worth little.”

Roran’s voice was thick with emotion. “I would be honored to receive it.”

“Then do, and go in peace,” said Garrow, and kissed him on the forehead. He turned and said in a louder voice, “Do not think that I have forgotten you, Eragon. I have words for both of you. It’s time I said them, as you are entering the world. Heed them and they will serve you well.” He bent his gaze sternly on them. “First, let no one rule your mind or body. Take special care that your thoughts remain unfettered. One may be a free man and yet be bound tighter than a slave. Give men your ear, but not your heart. Show respect for those in power, but don’t follow them blindly. Judge with logic and reason, but comment not.

“Consider none your superior, whatever their rank or station in life. Treat all fairly or they will seek revenge. Be careful with your money. Hold fast to your beliefs and others will listen.” He continued at a slower pace, “Of the affairs of love . . . my only advice is to be honest. That’s your most powerful tool to unlock a heart or gain forgiveness. That is all I have to say.” He seemed slightly self-conscious of his speech.

He hoisted Roran’s pack. “Now you must go. Dawn is approaching, and Dempton will be waiting.”

Roran shouldered the pack and hugged Garrow. “I will return as soon as I can,” he said.

“Good!” replied Garrow. “But now go and don’t worry about us.”

They parted reluctantly. Eragon and Roran went outside, then turned and waved. Garrow raised a bony hand, his eyes grave, and watched as they trudged to the road. After a long moment he shut the door. As the sound carried through the morning air, Roran halted.

Eragon looked back and surveyed the land. His eyes lingered on the lone buildings. They looked pitifully small and fragile. A thin finger of smoke trailing up from the house was the only proof that the snowbound farm was inhabited.

“There is our whole world,” Roran observed somberly.

Eragon shivered impatiently and grumbled, “A good one too.” Roran nodded, then straightened his shoulders and headed into his new future. The house disappeared from view as they descended the hill.

It was still early when they reached Carvahall, but they found the smithy doors already open. The air inside was pleasantly warm. Baldor slowly worked two large bellows attached to the side of a stone forge filled with sparkling coals. Before the forge stood a black anvil and an iron-bound barrel filled with brine. From a line of neck-high poles protruding from the walls hung rows of items: giant tongs, pliers, hammers in every shape and weight, chisels, angles, center punches, files, rasps, lathes, bars of iron and steel waiting to be shaped, vises, shears, picks, and shovels. Horst and Dempton stood next to a long table.

Dempton approached with a smile beneath his flamboyant red mustache. “Roran! I’m glad you came. There’s going to be more work than I can handle with my new grindstones. Are you ready to go?”

Roran hefted his pack. “Yes. Do we leave soon?”

“I’ve a few things to take care of first, but we’ll be off within the hour.” Eragon shifted his feet as Dempton turned to him, tugging at the corner of his mustache. “You must be Eragon. I would offer you a job too, but Roran got the only one. Maybe in a year or two, eh?”

Eragon smiled uneasily and shook his hand. The man was friendly. Under other circumstances Eragon would have liked him, but right then, he sourly wished that the miller had never come to Carvahall. Dempton huffed. “Good, very good.” He returned his attention to Roran and started to explain how a mill worked.

“They’re ready to go,” interrupted Horst, gesturing at the table where several bundles rested. “You can take them whenever you want to.” They shook hands, then Horst left the smithy, beckoning to Eragon on the way out.

Interested, Eragon followed. He found the smith standing in the street with his arms crossed. Eragon thrust his thumb back toward the miller and asked, “What do you think of him?”

Horst rumbled, “A good man. He’ll do fine with Roran.” He absently brushed metal filings off his apron, then put a massive hand on Eragon’s shoulder. “Lad, do you remember the fight you had with Sloan?”

“If you’re asking about payment for the meat, I haven’t forgotten.”

“No, I trust you, lad. What I wanted to know is if you still have that blue stone.”

Eragon’s heart fluttered. Why does he want to know? Maybe someone saw Saphira! Struggling not to panic, he said, “I do, but why do you ask?”

“As soon as you return home, get rid of it.” Horst overrode Eragon’s exclamation. “Two men arrived here yesterday. Strange fellows dressed in black and carrying swords. It made my skin crawl just to look at them. Last evening they started asking people if a stone like yours had been found. They’re at it again today.” Eragon blanched. “No one with any sense said anything. They know trouble when they see it, but I could name a few people who will talk.”

Dread filled Eragon’s heart. Whoever had sent the stone into the Spine had finally tracked it down. Or perhaps the Empire had learned of Saphira. He did not know which would be worse. Think! Think! The egg is gone. It’s impossible for them to find it now. But if they know what it was, it’ll be obvious what happened. . . . Saphira might be in danger! It took all of his self-control to retain a casual air. “Thanks for telling me. Do you know where they are?” He was proud that his voice barely trembled.

“I didn’t warn you because I thought you needed to meet those men! Leave Carvahall. Go home.”

“All right,” said Eragon to placate the smith, “if you think I should.”

“I do.” Horst’s face softened. “I may be overreacting, but these strangers give me a bad feeling. It would be better if you stay home until they leave. I’ll try to keep them away from your farm, though it may not do any good.”

Eragon looked at him gratefully. He wished he could tell him ab

out Saphira. “I’ll leave now,” he said, and hurried back to Roran. Eragon clasped his cousin’s arm and bade him farewell.

“Aren’t you going to stay awhile?” Roran asked with surprise.

Eragon almost laughed. For some reason, the question struck him as funny. “There’s nothing for me to do, and I’m not going to stand around until you go.”

“Well,” said Roran doubtfully, “I guess this is the last time we’ll see each other for a few months.”

“I’m sure it won’t seem that long,” said Eragon hastily. “Take care and come back soon.” He hugged Roran, then left. Horst was still in the street. Aware that the smith was watching, Eragon headed to the outskirts of Carvahall. Once the smithy was out of sight, he ducked behind a house and sneaked back through the village.

Eragon kept to the shadows as he searched each street, listening for the slightest noise. His thoughts flashed to his room, where his bow hung; he wished that it was in his hand. He prowled across Carvahall, avoiding everyone until he heard a sibilant voice from around a house. Although his ears were keen, he had to strain to hear what was being said.

“When did this happen?” The words were smooth, like oiled glass, and seemed to worm their way through the air. Underlying the speech was a strange hiss that made his scalp prickle.

“About three months ago,” someone else answered. Eragon identified him as Sloan.

Shade’s blood, he’s telling them. . . . He resolved to punch Sloan the next time they met.

A third person spoke. The voice was deep and moist. It conjured up images of creeping decay, mold, and other things best left untouched. “Are you sure? We would hate to think you had made a mistake. If that were so, it would be most . . . unpleasant.” Eragon could imagine only too well what they might do. Would anyone but the Empire dare threaten people like that? Probably not, but whoever sent the egg might be powerful enough to use force with impunity.

“Yeah, I’m sure. He had it then. I’m not lying. Plenty of people know about it. Go ask them.” Sloan sounded shaken. He said something else that Eragon did not catch.

“They have been . . . rather uncooperative.” The words were derisive. There was a pause. “Your information has been helpful. We will not forget you.” Eragon believed him.

Sloan muttered something, then Eragon heard someone hurrying away. He peered around the corner to see what was happening. Two tall men stood in the street. Both were dressed in long black cloaks that were lifted by sheaths poking past their legs. On their shirts were insignias intricately wrought with silver thread. Hoods shaded their faces, and their hands were covered by gloves. Their backs were oddly humped, as though their clothes were stuffed with padding.

Eragon shifted slightly to get a better view. One of the strangers stiffened and grunted peculiarly to his companion. They both swiveled around and sank into crouches. Eragon’s breath caught. Mortal fear clenched him. His eyes locked onto their hidden faces, and a stifling power fell over his mind, keeping him in place. He struggled against it and screamed to himself, Move! His legs swayed, but to no avail. The strangers stalked toward him with a smooth, noiseless gait. He knew they could see his face now. They were almost to the corner, hands grasping at swords. . . .

“Eragon!” He jerked as his name was called. The strangers froze in place and hissed. Brom hurried toward him from the side, head bare and staff in hand. The strangers were blocked from the old man’s view. Eragon tried to warn him, but his tongue and arms would not stir. “Eragon!” cried Brom again. The strangers gave Eragon one last look, then slipped away between the houses.

Eragon collapsed to the ground, shivering. Sweat beaded on his forehead and made his palms sticky. The old man offered Eragon a hand and pulled him up with a strong arm. “You look sick; is all well?”

Eragon gulped and nodded mutely. His eyes flickered around, searching for anything unusual. “I just got dizzy all of a sudden . . . it’s passed. It was very odd—I don’t know why it happened.”

“You’ll recover,” said Brom, “but perhaps it would be better if you went home.”

Yes, I have to get home! Have to get there before they do. “I think you’re right. Maybe I’m getting ill.”

“Then home is the best place for you. It’s a long walk, but I’m sure you will feel better by the time you arrive. Let me escort you to the road.” Eragon did not protest as Brom took his arm and led him away at a quick pace. Brom’s staff crunched in the snow as they passed the houses.

“Why were you looking for me?”

Brom shrugged. “Simple curiosity. I learned you were in town and wondered if you had remembered the name of that trader.”

Trader? What’s he talking about? Eragon stared blankly; his confusion caught the attention of Brom’s probing eyes. “No,” he said, and then amended himself, “I’m afraid I still don’t remember.”

Brom sighed gruffly, as if something had been confirmed, and rubbed his eagle nose. “Well, then . . . if you do, come tell me. I am most interested in this trader who pretends to know so much about dragons.” Eragon nodded with a distracted air. They walked in silence to the road, then Brom said, “Hasten home. I don’t think it would be a good idea to tarry on the way.” He offered a gnarled hand.

Eragon shook it, but as he let go something in Brom’s hand caught on his mitt and pulled it off. It fell to the ground. The old man picked it up. “Clumsy of me,” he apologized, and handed it back. As Eragon took the mitt, Brom’s strong fingers wrapped around his wrist and twisted sharply. His palm briefly faced upward, revealing the silvery mark. Brom’s eyes glinted, but he let Eragon yank his hand back and jam it into the mitt.

“Goodbye,” Eragon forced out, perturbed, and hurried down the road. Behind him he heard Brom whistling a merry tune.

FLIGHT OF DESTINY

Eragon’s mind churned as he sped on his way. He ran as fast as he could, refusing to stop even when his breath came in great gasps. As he pounded down the cold road, he cast out with his mind for Saphira, but she was too far away for him to contact. He thought about what to say to Garrow. There was no choice now; he would have to reveal Saphira.

He arrived home, panting for air and heart pounding. Garrow stood by the barn with the horses. Eragon hesitated. Should I talk to him now? He won’t believe me unless Saphira is here—I’d better find her first. He slipped around the farm and into the forest. Saphira! he shouted with his thoughts.

I come, was the dim reply. Through the words he sensed her alarm. He waited impatiently, though it was not long before the sound of her wings filled the air. She landed amid a gout of smoke. What happened? she queried.

He touched her shoulder and closed his eyes. Calming his mind, he quickly told her what had occurred. When he mentioned the strangers, Saphira recoiled. She reared and roared deafeningly, then whipped her tail over his head. He scrambled back in surprise, ducking as her tail hit a snowdrift. Bloodlust and fear emanated from her in great sickening waves. Fire! Enemies! Death! Murderers!

What’s wrong? He put all of his strength into the words, but an iron wall surrounded her mind, shielding her thoughts. She let out another roar and gouged the earth with her claws, tearing the frozen ground. Stop it! Garrow will hear!

Oaths betrayed, souls killed, eggs shattered! Blood everywhere. Murderers!

Frantic, he blocked out Saphira’s emotions and watched her tail. When it flicked past him, he dashed to her side and grabbed a spike on her back. Clutching it, he pulled himself into the small hollow at the base of her neck and held on tightly as she reared again. “Enough, Saphira!” he bellowed. Her stream of thoughts ceased abruptly. He ran a hand over her scales. “Everything’s going to be all right.” She crouched and her wings rushed upward. They hung there for an instant, then drove down as she flung herself into the sky.

Eragon yelled as the ground dropped away and they rose above the trees. Turbulence buffeted him, snatching the breath out of his mouth. Saphira ignored his terror and banked toward the Spine. Undern

eath, he glimpsed the farm and the Anora River. His stomach convulsed. He tightened his arms around Saphira’s neck and concentrated on the scales in front of his nose, trying not to vomit as she continued to climb. When she leveled off, he gained the courage to glance around.

The air was so cold that frost accumulated on his eyelashes. They had reached the mountains faster than he thought possible. From the air, the peaks looked like giant razor-sharp teeth waiting to slash them to ribbons. Saphira wobbled unexpectedly, and Eragon heaved over her side. He wiped his lips, tasting bile, and buried his head against her neck.

We have to go back, he pleaded. The strangers are coming to the farm. Garrow has to be warned. Turn around! There was no answer. He reached for her mind, but was blocked by a barrier of roiling fear and anger. Determined to make her turn around, he grimly wormed into her mental armor. He pushed at its weak places, undermined the stronger sections, and fought to make her listen, but to no avail.

Soon mountains surrounded them, forming tremendous white walls broken by granite cliffs. Blue glaciers sat between the summits like frozen rivers. Long valleys and ravines opened beneath them. He heard the dismayed screech of birds far below as Saphira soared into view. He saw a herd of woolly goats bounding from ledge to ledge on a rocky bluff.

Eragon was battered by swirling gusts from Saphira’s wings, and whenever she moved her neck, he was tossed from side to side. She seemed tireless. He was afraid she was going to fly through the night. Finally, as darkness fell, she tilted into a shallow dive.

He looked ahead and saw that they were headed for a small clearing in a valley. Saphira spiraled down, leisurely drifting over the treetops. She pulled back as the ground neared, filled her wings with air, and landed on her rear legs. Her powerful muscles rippled as they absorbed the shock of impact. She dropped to all fours and skipped a step to keep her balance. Eragon slid off without waiting for her to fold her wings.

As he struck the ground, his knees buckled, and his cheek slammed against the snow. He gasped as excruciating pain seared through his legs, sending tears to his eyes. His muscles, cramped from clenching for so long, shook violently. He rolled onto his back, shivering, and stretched his limbs as best he could. Then he forced himself to look down. Two large blots darkened his wool pants on the insides of his thighs. He touched the fabric. It was wet. Alarmed, he peeled off the pants and grimaced. The insides of his legs were raw and bloody. The skin was gone, rubbed off by Saphira’s hard scales. He gingerly felt the abrasions and winced. Cold bit into him as he pulled the pants back on, and he cried out as they scraped against the sensitive wounds. He tried to stand, but his legs would not support him.



Tags: Christopher Paolini The Inheritance Cycle Fantasy
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