Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle 1) - Page 24


“I didn’t want to kill them,” said Eragon, feeling very small.

“It wasn’t a problem in Yazuac.”

“There was no choice then, and I couldn’t control the magic. This time it just seemed . . . extreme.”

“Extreme!” cried Brom. “It’s not extreme when they wouldn’t show you the same mercy. And why, oh why, did you show yourself to them?”

“You said that they had found Saphira’s footprints. It didn’t make any difference if they saw me,” said Eragon defensively.

Brom stabbed his sword into the dirt and snapped, “I said they had probably found her tracks. We didn’t know for certain. They might have believed they were chasing some stray travelers. But why would they think that now? After all, you landed right in front of them! And since you let them live, they’re scrambling around the countryside with all sorts of fantastic tales! This might even get back to the Empire!” He threw his hands up. “You don’t even deserve to be called a Rider after this, boy.” Brom yanked his sword out of the ground and stomped to the fire. He took a rag from inside his robe and angrily began to clean the blade.

Eragon was stunned. He tried to ask Saphira for advice, but all she would say was, Speak with Brom.

Hesitantly, Eragon made his way to the fire and asked, “Would it help if I said I was sorry?”

Brom sighed and sheathed his sword. “No, it wouldn’t. Your feelings can’t change what happened.” He jabbed his finger at Eragon’s chest. “You made some very bad choices that could have dangerous repercussions. Not the least of which is that you almost died. Died, Eragon! From now on you’re going to have to think. There’s a reason why we’re born with brains in our heads, not rocks.”

Eragon nodded, abashed. “It’s not as bad as you think, though; the Urgals already knew about me. They had orders to capture me.”

Astonishment widened Brom’s eyes. He stuck his unlit pipe in his mouth. “No, it’s not as bad as I thought. It’s worse! Saphira told me you had talked with the Urgals, but she didn’t mention this.” The words tumbled out of Eragon’s mouth as he quickly described the confrontation. “So they have some sort of leader now, eh?” questioned Brom.

Eragon nodded.

“And you just defied his wishes, insulted him, and attacked his men?” Brom shook his head. “I didn’t think it could get any worse. If the Urgals had been killed, your rudeness would have gone unnoticed, but now it’ll be impossible to ignore. Congratulations, you just made enemies with one of the most powerful beings in Alagaësia.”

“All right, I made a mistake,” said Eragon sullenly.

“Yes, you did,” agreed Brom, eyes flashing. “What has me worried, though, is who this Urgal leader is.”

Shivering, Eragon asked softly, “What happens now?”

There was an uncomfortable pause. “Your arm is going to take at least a couple of weeks to heal. That time would be well spent forging some sense into you. I suppose this is partially my fault. I’ve been teaching you how to do things, but not whether you should. It takes discretion, something you obviously lack. All the magic in Alagaësia won’t help you if you don’t know when to use it.”

“But we’re still going to Dras-Leona, right?” asked Eragon.

Brom rolled his eyes. “Yes, we can keep looking for the Ra’zac, but even if we find them, it won’t do any good until you’ve healed.” He began unsaddling Saphira. “Are you well enough to ride?”

“I think so.”

“Good, then we can still cover a few miles today.”

“Where are Cadoc and Snowfire?”

Brom pointed off to the side. “Over there a ways. I picketed them where there was grass.” Eragon prepared to leave, then followed Brom to the horses.

Saphira said pointedly, If you had explained what you were planning to do, none of this would have happened. I would have told you it was a bad idea not to kill the Urgals. I only agreed to do what you asked because I assumed it was halfway reasonable!

I don’t want to talk about it.

As you wish, she sniffed.

As they rode, every bump and dip in the trail made Eragon grit his teeth with discomfort. If he had been alone, he would have stopped. With Brom there, he dared not complain. Also, Brom started drilling him with difficult scenarios involving Urgals, magic, and Saphira. The imagined fights were many and varied. Sometimes a Shade or other dragons were included. Eragon discovered that it was possible to torture his body and mind at the same time. He got most of the questions wrong and became increasingly frustrated.

When they stopped for the night, Brom grumbled shortly, “It was a start.” Eragon knew that he was disappointed.

MASTER OF

THE BLADE

The next day was easier on both of them. Eragon felt better and was able to answer more of Brom’s questions correctly. After an especially difficult exercise, Eragon mentioned his scrying of the woman. Brom pulled on his beard. “You say she was imprisoned?”

“Yes.”

“Did you see her face?” asked Brom intently.

“Not very clearly. The lighting was bad, yet I could tell that she was beautiful. It’s strange; I didn’t have any problem seeing her eyes. And she did look at me.”

Brom shook his head. “As far as I know, it’s impossible for anyone to know if they’re being scryed upon.”

“Do you know who she might be?” asked Eragon, surprised by the eagerness in his own voice.

“Not really,” admitted Brom. “If pressed, I suppose I could come up with a few guesses, but none of them would be very likely. This dream of yours is peculiar. Somehow you managed to scry in your sleep something that you’d never seen before—without saying the words of power. Dreams do occasionally touch the spirit realm, but this is different.”

“Perhaps to understand this we should search every prison and dungeon until we find the woman,” bantered Eragon. He actually thought it would be a good idea. Brom laughed and rode on.

Brom’s strict training filled nearly every hour as the days slowly blended into weeks. Because of his splint, Eragon was forced to use his left hand whenever they sparred. Before long he could duel as well with his left hand as he had with his right.

By the time they crossed the Spine and came to the plains, spring had crept over Alagaësia, summoning a multitude of flowers. The bare deciduous trees were russet with buds, while new blades of grass began to push up between last year’s dead stalks. Birds returned from their winter absence to mate and build nests.

The travelers followed the Toark River southeast, along the edge of the Spine. It grew steadily as tributaries flowed into it from every side, feeding its bulging girth. When the river was over a league wide, Brom pointed at the silt islands that dotted the water. “We’re close to Leona Lake now,” he said. “It’s only about two leagues away.”

“Do you think we can get there before nightfall?” asked Eragon.

“We can try.”

Dusk soon made the trail hard to follow, but the sound of the river at their side guided them. When the moon rose, the bright disk provided enough light to see what lay ahead.

Leona Lake looked like a thin sheet of silver beaten over the land. The water was so calm and smooth it did not even seem to be liquid. Aside from a bright strip of moonlight reflecting off the surface, it was indistinguishable from the ground. Saphira was on the rocky shore, fanning her wings to dry them. Eragon greeted her and she said, The water is lovely—deep, cool, and clear.

Maybe I’ll go swimming tomorrow, he responded. They set up camp under a stand of trees and were soon asleep.

At dawn, Eragon eagerly rushed out to see the lake in daylight. A whitecapped expanse of water rippled with fan-shaped patterns where wind brushed it. The pure size of it delighted him. He whooped and ran to the water. Saphira, where are you? Let’s have some fun!

The moment Eragon climbed onto her, she jumped out over the water. They soared upward, circling over the lake, but even at that height the opposing

shore was not visible. Would you like to take a bath? Eragon casually asked Saphira.

She grinned wolfishly. Hold on! She locked her wings and sank to the waves, clipping the crests with her claws. The water sparkled in the sunlight as they sailed over it. Eragon whooped again. Then Saphira folded her wings and dived into the lake, her head and neck entering it like a lance.

The water hit Eragon like an icy wall, knocking out his breath and almost tearing him off Saphira. He held on tightly as she swam to the surface. With three strokes of her feet, she breached it and sent a burst of shimmering water toward the sky. Eragon gasped and shook his hair as Saphira slithered across the lake, using her tail as a rudder.

Ready?

Eragon nodded and took a deep breath, tightening his arms. This time they slid gently under the water. They could see for yards through the unclouded liquid. Saphira twisted and turned in fantastic shapes, slipping through the water like an eel. Eragon felt as if he were riding a sea serpent of legend.

Just as his lungs started to cry for air, Saphira arched her back and pointed her head upward. An explosion of droplets haloed them as she leapt into the air, wings snapping open. With two powerful flaps she gained altitude.

Wow! That was fantastic, exclaimed Eragon.

Yes, said Saphira happily. Though it’s a pity you can’t hold your breath longer.

Nothing I can do about that, he said, pressing water out of his hair. His clothes were drenched, and the wind from Saphira’s wings chilled him. He pulled at his splint—his wrist itched.

Once Eragon was dry, he and Brom saddled the horses and started around Leona Lake in high spirits while Saphira playfully dived in and out of the water.

Before dinner, Eragon blocked Zar’roc’s edge in preparation for their usual sparring. Neither he nor Brom moved as they waited for the other to strike first. Eragon inspected their surroundings for anything that might give him an advantage. A stick near the fire caught his attention.

Eragon swooped down, grabbed the stick, and hurled it at Brom. The splint got in his way, though, and Brom easily sidestepped the piece of wood. The old man rushed forward, swinging his sword. Eragon ducked just as the blade whistled over his head. He growled and tackled Brom ferociously.

They pitched to the ground, each struggling to stay on top. Eragon rolled to the side and swept Zar’roc over the ground at Brom’s shins. Brom parried the blow with the hilt of his sword, then jumped to his feet. Twisting as he stood, Eragon attacked again, guiding Zar’roc through a complex pattern. Sparks danced from their blades as they struck again and again. Brom blocked each blow, his face tight with concentration. But Eragon could tell that he was tiring. The relentless hammering continued as each sought an opening in the other’s defenses.

Then Eragon felt the battle change. Blow by blow he gained advantage; Brom’s parries slowed and he lost ground. Eragon easily blocked a stab from Brom. Veins pulsed on the old man’s forehead and cords bulged in his neck from the effort.

Suddenly confident, Eragon swung Zar’roc faster than ever, weaving a web of steel around Brom’s sword. With a burst of speed, he smashed the flat of his blade against Brom’s guard and knocked the sword to the ground. Before Brom could react, Eragon flicked Zar’roc up to his throat.

They stood panting, the red sword tip resting on Brom’s collarbone. Eragon slowly lowered his arm and backed away. It was the first time he had bested Brom without resorting to trickery. Brom picked up his sword and sheathed it. Still breathing hard, he said, “We’re done for today.”

“But we just started,” said Eragon, startled.

Brom shook his head. “I can teach you nothing more of the sword. Of all the fighters I’ve met, only three of them could have defeated me like that, and I doubt any of them could have done it with their left hand.” He smiled ruefully. “I may not be as young as I used to be, but I can tell that you’re a talented and rare swordsman.”

“Does this mean we’re not going to spar every night?” asked Eragon.

“Oh, you’re not getting out of it,” laughed Brom. “But we’ll go easier now. It’s not as important if we miss a night here or there.” He wiped his brow. “Just remember, if you ever have the misfortune to fight an elf—trained or not, female or male—expect to lose. They, along with dragons and other creatures of magic, are many times stronger than nature intended. Even the weakest elf could easily overpower you. The same goes for the Ra’zac—they are not human and tire much more slowly than we do.”

“Is there any way to become their equal?” asked Eragon. He sat cross-legged by Saphira.

You fought well, she said. He smiled.

Brom seated himself with a shrug. “There are a few, but none are available to you now. Magic will let you defeat all but the strongest enemies. For those you’ll need Saphira’s help, plus a great deal of luck. Remember, when creatures of magic actually use magic, they can accomplish things that could kill a human, because of their enhanced abilities.”

“How do you fight with magic?” asked Eragon.

“What do you mean?”

“Well,” he said, leaning on an elbow. “Suppose I was attacked by a Shade. How could I block his magic? Most spells take place instantaneously, which makes it impossible to react in time. And even if I could, how would I nullify an enemy’s magic? It seems I would have to know my opponent’s intention before he acted.” He paused. “I just don’t see how it can be done. Whoever attacked first would win.”

Brom sighed. “What you are talking about—a ‘wizards’ duel,’ if you will—is extremely dangerous. Haven’t you ever wondered how Galbatorix was able to defeat all of the Riders with the help of only a dozen or so traitors?”

“I never thought about it,” acknowledged Eragon.

“There are several ways. Some you’ll learn about later, but the main one is that Galbatorix was, and still is, a master of breaking into people’s minds. You see, in a wizards’ duel there are strict rules that each side must observe or else both contestants will die. To begin with, no one uses magic until one of the participants gains access to the other’s mind.”

Saphira curled her tail comfortably around Eragon and asked, Why wait? By the time an enemy realizes that you’ve attacked, it will be too late for him to act. Eragon repeated the question out loud.

Brom shook his head. “No, it won’t. If I were to suddenly use my power against you, Eragon, you would surely die, but in the brief moment before you were destroyed, there would be time for a counterattack. Therefore, unless one combatant has a death wish, neither side attacks until one of them has breached the other’s defenses.”

“Then what happens?” Eragon inquired.

Brom shrugged and said, “Once you’re inside your enemy’s mind, it’s easy enough to anticipate what he will do and prevent it. Even with that advantage, it’s still possible to lose if you don’t know how to counteract spells.”

He filled and lit his pipe. “And that requires extraordinarily quick thinking. Before you can defend yourself, you have to understand the exact nature of the forces directed at you. If you’re being attacked with heat, you have to know whether it is being conveyed to you through air, fire, light, or some other medium. Only once that’s known can you combat the magic by, for instance, chilling the heated material.”

“It sounds difficult.”

“Extremely,” confirmed Brom. A plume of smoke rose from his pipe. “Seldom can people survive such a duel for more than a few seconds. The enormous amount of effort and skill required condemns anyone without the proper training to a quick death. Once you’ve progressed, I’ll start teaching you the necessary methods. In the meantime, if you ever find yourself facing a wizards’ duel, I suggest you run away as fast as you can.”

THE MIRE OF

DRAS-LEONA

They lunched at Fasaloft, a bustling lakeside village. It was a charming place set on a rise overlooking the lake. As they ate in the hostel’s common room, Eragon listened intently to the gossip and was

relieved to hear no rumors of him and Saphira.

The trail, now a road, had grown steadily worse over the past two days. Wagon wheels and iron-shod hooves had conspired to tear up the ground, making many sections impassable. An increase in travelers forced Saphira to hide during the day and then catch up with Brom and Eragon at night.

For days they continued south along Leona Lake’s vast shore. Eragon began to wonder if they would ever get around it, so he was heartened when they met men who said that Dras-Leona was an easy day’s ride ahead of them.

Eragon rose early the following morning. His fingers twitched with anticipation at the thought of finally finding the Ra’zac. The two of you must be careful, said Saphira. The Ra’zac could have spies watching for travelers that fit your description.

We’ll do our best to remain inconspicuous, he assured her.

She lowered her head until their eyes met. Perhaps, but realize that I won’t be able to protect you as I did with the Urgals. I will be too far away to come to your aid, nor would I survive long in the narrow streets your kind favor. Follow Brom’s lead in this hunt; he is sensible.

I know, he said somberly.

Will you go with Brom to the Varden? Once the Ra’zac are killed, he will want to take you to them. And since Galbatorix will be enraged by the Ra’zac’s death, that may be the safest thing for us to do.

Eragon rubbed his arms. I don’t want to fight the Empire all the time like the Varden do. Life is more than constant war. There’ll be time to consider it once the Ra’zac are gone.

Don’t be too sure, she warned, then went to hide herself until night.

The road was clogged with farmers taking their goods to market in Dras-Leona. Brom and Eragon were forced to slow their horses and wait for wagons that blocked the way.

Although they saw smoke in the distance before noon, it was another league before the city was clearly visible. Unlike Teirm, a planned city, Dras-Leona was a tangled mess that sprawled next to Leona Lake. Ramshackle buildings sat on crooked streets, and the heart of the city was surrounded by a dirty, pale yellow wall of daubed mud.



Tags: Christopher Paolini The Inheritance Cycle Fantasy
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