“There was no reason to.”
“Wrong,” corrected Brom. “You could have sensed Trevor’s intentions. Even with my limited abilities, I was able to do that. If the villagers had been bent on killing us, I wouldn’t have just sat there. However, I felt there was a reasonable chance of talking our way out of there, which is what I did.”
“How could I know what Trevor was thinking?” asked Eragon. “Am I supposed to be able to see into people’s minds?”
“Come now,” chided Brom, “you should know the answer to that. You could have discovered Trevor’s purpose in the same way that you communicate with Cadoc or Saphira. The minds of men are not so different from a dragon’s or horse’s. It’s a simple thing to do, but it’s a power you must use sparingly and with great caution. A person’s mind is his last sanctuary. You must never violate it unless circumstances force you to. The Riders had very strict rules regarding this. If they were broken without due cause, the punishment was severe.”
“And you can do this even though you aren’t a Rider?” asked Eragon.
“As I said before, with the right instruction anyone can talk with their minds, but with differing amounts of success. Whether it’s magic, though, is hard to tell. Magical abilities will certainly trigger the talent—or becoming linked with a dragon—but I’ve known plenty who learned it on their own. Think about it: you can communicate with any sentient being, though the contact may not be very clear. You could spend the entire day listening to a bird’s thoughts or understanding how an earthworm feels during a rainstorm. But I’ve never found birds very interesting. I suggest starting with a cat; they have unusual personalities.”
Eragon twisted Cadoc’s reins in his hands, considering the implications of what Brom had said. “But if I can get into someone’s head, doesn’t that mean that others can do the same to me? How do I know if someone’s prying in my mind? Is there a way to stop that?” How do I know if Brom can tell what I’m thinking right now?
“Why, yes. Hasn’t Saphira ever blocked you from her mind?”
“Occasionally,” admitted Eragon. “When she took me into the Spine, I couldn’t talk to her at all. It wasn’t that she was ignoring me; I don’t think she could even hear me. There were walls around her mind that I couldn’t get through.”
Brom worked on his bandage for a moment, shifting it higher on his arm. “Only a few people can tell if someone is in their mind, and of those, only a handful could stop you from entering. It’s a matter of training and of how you think. Because of your magical power, you’ll always know if someone is in your mind. Once you do, blocking them is a simple matter of concentrating on one thing to the exclusion of all else. For instance, if you only think about a brick wall, that’s all the enemy will find in your mind. However, it takes a huge amount of energy and discipline to block someone for any length of time. If you’re distracted by even the slightest thing, your wall will waver and your opponent will slip in through the weakness.”
“How can I learn to do this?” asked Eragon.
“There is only one thing for it: practice, practice, and yet more practice. Picture something in your mind and hold it there to the exclusion of all else for as long as you can. It is a very advanced ability; only a handful ever master it,” said Brom.
“I don’t need perfection, just safety.” If I can get into someone’s mind, can I change how he thinks? Every time I learn something new about magic, I grow more wary of it.
When they reached Saphira, she startled them by thrusting her head at them. The horses backstepped nervously. Saphira looked Eragon over carefully and gave a low hiss. Her eyes were flinty. Eragon threw a concerned look at Brom—he had never seen Saphira this angry—then asked, What’s wrong?
You, she growled. You are the problem.
Eragon frowned and got off Cadoc. As soon as his feet touched the ground, Saphira swept his legs out from under him with her tail and pinned him with her talons. “What are you doing?” he yelled, struggling to get up, but she was too strong for him. Brom watched attentively from Snowfire.
Saphira swung her head over Eragon until they were eye to eye. He squirmed under her unwavering glare. You! Every time you leave my sight you get into trouble. You’re like a new hatchling, sticking your nose into everything. And what happens when you stick it into something that bites back? How will you survive then? I cannot help you when I’m miles away. I’ve stayed hidden so that no one would see me, but no longer! Not when it may cost you your life.
I can understand why you’re upset, said Eragon, but I’m much older than you and can take care of myself. If anything, you’re the one who needs to be protected.
She snarled and snapped her teeth by his ear. Do you really believe that? she asked. Tomorrow you will ride me—not that pitiful deer-animal you call a horse—or else I will carry you in my claws. Are you a Dragon Rider or not? Don’t you care for me?
The question burned in Eragon, and he dropped his gaze. He knew she was right, but he was scared of riding her. Their flights had been the most painful ordeal he had ever endured.
“Well?” demanded Brom.
“She wants me to ride her tomorrow,” said Eragon lamely.
Brom considered it with twinkling eyes. “Well, you have the saddle. I suppose that if the two of you stay out of sight, it won’t be a problem.” Saphira switched her gaze to him, then returned it to Eragon.
“But what if you’re attacked or there’s an accident? I won’t be able to get there in time and—”
Saphira pressed harder on his chest, stopping his words. Exactly my point, little one.
Brom seemed to hide a smile. “It’s worth the risk. You need to learn how to ride her anyway. Think about it this way: with you flying ahead and looking at the ground, you’ll be able to spot any traps, ambushes, or other unwelcome surprises.”
Eragon looked back at Saphira and said, Okay, I’ll do it. But let me up.
Give me your word.
Is that really necessary? he demanded. She blinked. Very well. I give you my word that I will fly with you tomorrow. Satisfied?
I am content.
Saphira let him up and, with a push of her legs, took off. A small shiver ran through Eragon as he watched her twist through the air. Grumbling, he returned to Cadoc and followed Brom.
It was nearly sundown when they made camp. As usual, Eragon dueled with Brom before dinner. In the midst of the fight, Eragon delivered such a powerful blow that he snapped both of their sticks like twigs. The pieces whistled into the darkness in a cloud of splintered fragments. Brom tossed what remained of his stick into the fire and said, “We’re done with these; throw yours in as well. You have learned well, but we’ve gone as far as we can with branches. There is nothing more you can gain from them. It is time for you to use the blade.” He removed Zar’roc from Eragon’s bag and gave it to him.
“We’ll cut each other to ribbons,” protested Eragon.
“Not so. Again you forget magic,” said Brom. He held up his sword and turned it so that firelight glinted off the edge. He put a finger on either side of the blade and focused intensely, deepening the lines on his forehead. For a moment nothing happened, then he uttered, “Gëuloth du knífr!” and a small red spark jumped between his fingers. As it flickered back and forth, he ran his fingers down the length of the sword. Then he twirled it and did the same thing on the other side. The spark vanished the moment his fingers left the metal.
Brom held his hand out, palm up, and slashed it with the sword. Eragon jumped forward but was too slow to stop him. He was astonished when Brom raised his unharmed hand with a smile. “What did you do?” asked Eragon.
“Feel the edge,” said Brom. Eragon touched it and felt an invisible surface under his fingers. The barrier was about a quarter inch wide and very slippery. “Now do the same on Zar’roc,” instructed Brom. “Your block will be a bit different than mine, but it should accomplish the same thing.”
He told Eragon how to pronounce the words and
coached him through the process. It took Eragon a few tries, but he soon had Zar’roc’s edge protected. Confident, he took his fighting stance. Before they started, Brom admonished, “These swords won’t cut us, but they can still break bones. I would prefer to avoid that, so don’t flail around like you normally do. A blow to the neck could prove fatal.”
Eragon nodded, then struck without warning. Sparks flew off his blade, and the clash of metal filled their campsite as Brom parried. The sword felt slow and heavy to Eragon after fighting with sticks for so long. Unable to move Zar’roc fast enough, he received a sharp rap on his knee.
They both had large welts when they stopped, Eragon more so than Brom. He marveled that Zar’roc had not been scratched or dented by the vigorous pounding it had received.
The next morning Eragon woke with stiff limbs and purple bruises. He saw Brom carry the saddle to Saphira and tried to quell his uneasiness. By the time breakfast was ready, Brom had strapped the saddle onto Saphira and hung Eragon’s bags from it.
When his bowl was empty, Eragon silently picked up his bow and went to Saphira. Brom said, “Now remember, grip with your knees, guide her with your thoughts, and stay as flat as you can on her back. Nothing will go wrong if you don’t panic.” Eragon nodded, sliding his unstrung bow into its leather tube, and Brom boosted him into the saddle.
Saphira waited impatiently while Eragon tightened the bands around his legs. Are you ready? she asked.
He sucked in the fresh morning air. No, but let’s do it! She agreed enthusiastically. He braced himself as she crouched. Her powerful legs surged and the air whipped past him, snatching his breath away. With three smooth strokes of her wings, she was in the sky, climbing rapidly.
The last time Eragon had ridden Saphira, every flap of her wings had been strained. Now she flew steadily and effortlessly. He clenched his arms around her neck as she turned on edge, banking. The river shrank to a wispy gray line beneath them. Clouds floated around them.
When they leveled off high above the plains, the trees below were no more than specks. The air was thin, chilly, and perfectly clear. “This is wonderfu—” His words were lost as Saphira tilted and rolled completely around. The ground spun in a dizzying circle, and vertigo clutched Eragon. “Don’t do that!” he cried. “I feel like I’m going to fall off.”
You must become accustomed to it. If I’m attacked in the air, that’s one of the simplest maneuvers I will do, she replied. He could think of no rebuttal, so he concentrated on controlling his stomach. Saphira angled into a shallow dive and slowly approached the ground.
Although Eragon’s stomach lurched with every wobble, he began to enjoy himself. He relaxed his arms a bit and stretched his neck back, taking in the scenery. Saphira let him enjoy the sights awhile, then said, Let me show you what flying is really like.
How? he asked.
Relax and do not be afraid, she said.
Her mind tugged at his, pulling him away from his body. Eragon fought for a moment, then surrendered control. His vision blurred, and he found himself looking through Saphira’s eyes. Everything was distorted: colors had weird, exotic tints; blues were more prominent now, while greens and reds were subdued. Eragon tried to turn his head and body but could not. He felt like a ghost who had slipped out of the ether.
Pure joy radiated from Saphira as she climbed into the sky. She loved this freedom to go anywhere. When they were high above the ground, she looked back at Eragon. He saw himself as she did, hanging on to her with a blank look. He could feel her body strain against the air, using updrafts to rise. All her muscles were like his own. He felt her tail swinging through the air like a giant rudder to correct her course. It surprised him how much she depended on it.
Their connection grew stronger until there was no distinction between their identities. They clasped their wings together and dived straight down, like a spear thrown from on high. No terror of falling touched Eragon, engulfed as he was in Saphira’s exhilaration. The air rushed past their face. Their tail whipped in the air, and their joined minds reveled in the experience.
Even as they plummeted toward the ground, there was no fear of collision. They snapped open their wings at just the right moment, pulling out of the dive with their combined strength. Slanting toward the sky, they shot up and continued back over into a giant loop.
As they leveled out, their minds began to diverge, becoming distinct personalities again. For a split second, Eragon felt both his body and Saphira’s. Then his vision blurred and he again sat on her back. He gasped and collapsed on the saddle. It was minutes before his heart stopped hammering and his breathing calmed. Once he had recovered, he exclaimed, That was incredible! How can you bear to land when you enjoy flying so much?
I must eat, she said with some amusement. But I am glad that you took pleasure in it.
Those are spare words for such an experience. I’m sorry I haven’t flown with you more; I never thought it could be like that. Do you always see so much blue?
It is the way I am. We will fly together more often now?
Yes! Every chance we get.
Good, she replied in a contented tone.
They exchanged many thoughts as she flew, talking as they had not for weeks. Saphira showed Eragon how she used hills and trees to hide and how she could conceal herself in the shadow of a cloud. They scouted the trail for Brom, which proved to be more arduous than Eragon expected. They could not see the path unless Saphira flew very close to it, in which case she risked being detected.
Near midday, an annoying buzz filled Eragon’s ears, and he became aware of a strange pressure on his mind. He shook his head, trying to get rid of it, but the tension only grew stronger. Brom’s words about how people could break into others’ minds flashed through Eragon’s head, and he frantically tried to clear his thoughts. He concentrated on one of Saphira’s scales and forced himself to ignore everything else. The pressure faded for a moment and then returned, greater than ever. A sudden gust rocked Saphira, and Eragon’s concentration slipped. Before he could marshal any defenses, the force broke through. But instead of the invasive presence of another mind, there were only the words, What do you think you’re doing? Get down here. I found something important.
Brom? queried Eragon.
Yes, the old man said irritably. Now get that oversized lizard of yours to land. I’m here. . . . He sent a picture of his location. Eragon quickly told Saphira where to go, and she banked toward the river below. Meanwhile, he strung his bow and drew several arrows.
If there’s trouble, I’ll be ready for it.
As will I, said Saphira.
When they reached Brom, Eragon saw him standing in a clearing, waving his arms. Saphira landed, and Eragon jumped off her and looked for danger. The horses were tied to a tree on the edge of the clearing, but otherwise Brom was alone. Eragon trotted over and asked, “What’s wrong?”
Brom scratched his chin and muttered a string of curses. “Don’t ever block me out like that again. It’s hard enough for me to reach you without having to fight to make myself heard.”
He snorted. “I was farther down the river when I noticed that the Ra’zac’s tracks had ceased. I backtracked until I found where they had disappeared. Look at the ground and tell me what you see.”
Eragon knelt and examined the dirt and found a confusion of impressions that were difficult to decipher. Numerous Ra’zac footprints overlapped each other. Eragon guessed that the tracks were only a few days old. Superimposed over them were long, thick gouges torn into the ground. They looked familiar, but Eragon could not say why.
He stood, shaking his head. “I don’t have any idea what . . .” Then his eyes fell on Saphira and he realized what had made the gouges. Every time she took off, her back claws dug into the ground and ripped it in the same manner. “This doesn’t make any sense, but the only thing I can think of is that the Ra’zac flew off on dragons. Or e
lse they got onto giant birds and disappeared into the heavens. Tell me you have a better explanation.”
Brom shrugged. “I’ve heard reports of the Ra’zac moving from place to place with incredible speed, but this is the first evidence I’ve had of it. It will be almost impossible to find them if they have flying steeds. They aren’t dragons—I know that much. A dragon would never consent to bear a Ra’zac.”
“What do we do? Saphira can’t track them through the sky. Even if she could, we would leave you far behind.”
“There’s no easy solution to this riddle,” said Brom. “Let’s have lunch while we think on it. Perhaps inspiration will strike us while we eat.” Eragon glumly went to his bags for food. They ate in silence, staring at the empty sky.
Once again Eragon thought of home and wondered what Roran was doing. A vision of the burnt farm appeared before him and grief threatened to overwhelm him. What will I do if we can’t find the Ra’zac? What is my purpose then? I could return to Carvahall—he plucked a twig from the ground and snapped it between two fingers—or just travel with Brom and continue my training. Eragon stared out at the plains, hoping to quiet his thoughts.
When Brom finished eating, he stood and threw back his hood. “I have considered every trick I know, every word of power within my grasp, and all the skills we have, but I still don’t see how we can find the Ra’zac.” Eragon slumped against Saphira in despair. “Saphira could show herself at some town. That would draw the Ra’zac like flies to honey. But it would be an extremely risky thing to attempt. The Ra’zac would bring soldiers with them, and the king might be interested enough to come himself, which would spell certain death for you and me.”
“So what now?” asked Eragon, throwing his hands up. Do you have any ideas, Saphira?
“That’s up to you,” said Brom. “This is your crusade.”
Eragon ground his teeth angrily and stalked away from Brom and Saphira. Just as he was about to enter the trees, his foot struck something hard. Lying on the ground was a metal flask with a leather strap just long enough to hang off someone’s shoulder. A silver insignia Eragon recognized as the Ra’zac’s symbol was wrought into it.