Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle 1) - Page 27


“Ouch,” agreed Eragon weakly. A blotchy bruise extended down his left side. The red, swollen skin was broken in several places. Murtagh put a hand on the bruise and pressed lightly. Eragon yelled, and Saphira growled a warning.

Murtagh glanced at Saphira as he grabbed a blanket. “I think you have some broken ribs. It’s hard to tell, but at least two, maybe more. You’re lucky you’re not coughing up blood.” He tore the blanket into strips and bound Eragon’s chest.

Eragon slipped the shirt back on. “Yes . . . I’m lucky.” He took a shallow breath, sidled over to Brom, and saw that Murtagh had cut open the side of his robe to bandage the wound. With trembling fingers, he undid the bandage.

“I wouldn’t do that,” warned Murtagh. “He’ll bleed to death without it.”

Eragon ignored him and pulled the cloth away from Brom’s side. The wound was short and thin, belying its depth. Blood streamed out of it. As he had learned when Garrow was injured, a wound inflicted by the Ra’zac was slow to heal.

He peeled off his gloves while furiously searching his mind for the healing words Brom had taught him. Help me, Saphira, he implored. I am too weak to do this alone.

Saphira crouched next to him, fixing her eyes on Brom. I am here, Eragon. As her mind joined his, new strength infused his body. Eragon drew upon their combined power and focused it on the words. His hand trembled as he held it over the wound. “Waíse heill!” he said. His palm glowed, and Brom’s skin flowed together, as if it had never been broken. Murtagh watched the entire process.

It was over quickly. As the light vanished, Eragon sat, feeling sick. We’ve never done that before, he said.

Saphira nodded. Together we can cast spells that are beyond either of us.

Murtagh examined Brom’s side and asked, “Is he completely healed?”

“I can only mend what is on the surface. I don’t know enough to fix whatever’s damaged inside. It’s up to him now. I’ve done all I can.” Eragon closed his eyes for a moment, utterly weary. “My . . . my head seems to be floating in clouds.”

“You probably need to eat,” said Murtagh. “I’ll make soup.”

While Murtagh fixed the meal, Eragon wondered who this stranger was. His sword and bow were of the finest make, as was his horn. Either he was a thief or accustomed to money—and lots of it. Why was he hunting the Ra’zac? What have they done to make him an enemy? I wonder if he works for the Varden?

Murtagh handed him a bowl of broth. Eragon spooned it down and asked, “How long has it been since the Ra’zac fled?”

“A few hours.”

“We have to go before they return with reinforcements.”

“You might be able to travel,” said Murtagh, then gestured at Brom, “but he can’t. You don’t get up and ride away after being stabbed between the ribs.”

If we make a litter, can you carry Brom with your claws like you did with Garrow? Eragon asked Saphira.

Yes, but landing will be awkward.

As long as it can be done. Eragon said to Murtagh, “Saphira can carry him, but we need a litter. Can you make one? I don’t have the strength.”

“Wait here.” Murtagh left the camp, sword drawn. Eragon hobbled to his bags and picked up his bow from where it had been thrown by the Ra’zac. He strung it, found his quiver, then retrieved Zar’roc, which lay hidden in shadow. Last, he got a blanket for the litter.

Murtagh returned with two saplings. He laid them parallel on the ground, then lashed the blanket between the poles. After he carefully tied Brom to the makeshift litter, Saphira grasped the saplings and laboriously took flight. “I never thought I would see a sight like that,” Murtagh said, an odd note in his voice.

As Saphira disappeared into the dark sky, Eragon limped to Cadoc and hoisted himself painfully into the saddle. “Thanks for helping us. You should leave now. Ride as far away from us as you can. You’ll be in danger if the Empire finds you with us. We can’t protect you, and I wouldn’t see harm come to you on our account.”

“A pretty speech,” said Murtagh, grinding out the fire, “but where will you go? Is there a place nearby that you can rest in safety?”

“No,” admitted Eragon.

Murtagh’s eyes glinted as he fingered the hilt of his sword. “In that case, I think I’ll accompany you until you’re out of danger. I’ve no better place to be. Besides, if I stay with you, I might get another shot at the Ra’zac sooner than if I were on my own. Interesting things are bound to happen around a Rider.”

Eragon wavered, unsure if he should accept help from a complete stranger. Yet he was unpleasantly aware that he was too weak to force the issue either way. If Murtagh proves untrustworthy, Saphira can always chase him away. “Join us if you wish.” He shrugged.

Murtagh nodded and mounted his gray war-horse. Eragon grabbed Snowfire’s reins and rode away from the camp, into the wilderness. An oxbow moon provided wan light, but he knew that it would only make it easier for the Ra’zac to track them.

Though Eragon wanted to question Murtagh further, he kept silent, conserving his energy for riding. Near dawn Saphira said, I must stop. My wings are tired and Brom needs attention. I discovered a good place to stay, about two miles ahead of where you are.

They found her sitting at the base of a broad sandstone formation that curved out of the ground like a great hill. Its sides were pocked with caves of varying sizes. Similar domes were scattered across the land. Saphira looked pleased with herself. I found a cave that can’t be seen from the ground. It’s large enough for all of us, including the horses. Follow me. She turned and climbed up the sandstone, her sharp claws digging into the rock. The horses had difficulty, as their shod hooves could not grip the sandstone. Eragon and Murtagh had to pull and shove the animals for almost an hour before they managed to reach the cave.

The cavern was a good hundred feet long and more than twenty feet wide, yet it had a small opening that would protect them from bad weather and prying eyes. Darkness swallowed the far end, clinging to the walls like mats of soft black wool.

“Impressive,” said Murtagh. “I’ll gather wood for a fire.” Eragon hurried to Brom. Saphira had set him on a small rock ledge at the rear of the cave. Eragon clasped Brom’s limp hand and anxiously watched his craggy face. After a few minutes, he sighed and went to the fire Murtagh had built.

They ate quietly, then tried to give Brom water, but the old man would not drink. Stymied, they spread out their bedrolls and slept.

LEGACY OF A RIDER

Wake up, Eragon. He stirred and groaned.

I need your help. Something is wrong! Eragon tried to ignore the voice and return to sleep.

Arise!

Go away, he grumbled.

Eragon! A bellow rang in the cave. He bolted upright, fumbling for his bow. Saphira was crouched over Brom, who had rolled off the ledge and was thrashing on the cave floor. His face was contorted in a grimace; his fists were clenched. Eragon rushed over, fearing the worst.

“Help me hold him down. He’s going to hurt himself!” he cried to Murtagh, clasping Brom’s arms. His side burned sharply as the old man spasmed. Together they restrained Brom until his convulsions ceased. Then they carefully returned him to the ledge.

Eragon touched Brom’s forehead. The skin was so hot that the heat could be felt an inch away. “Get me water and a cloth,” he said worriedly. Murtagh brought them, and Eragon gently bathed Brom’s face, trying to cool him down. With the cave quiet again, he noticed the sun shining outside. How long did we sleep? he asked Saphira.

A good while. I’ve been watching Brom for most of that time. He was fine until a minute ago when he started thrashing. I woke you once he fell to the floor.

He stretched, wincing as his ribs twinged painfully. A hand suddenly gripped his shoulder. Brom’s eyes snapped opened and fixed a glassy stare on Eragon. “You!” he gasped. “Bring me the wineskin!”

“Brom?” exclaimed Eragon, pleased to hear him talk. “You shouldn’t drink wine; it’ll only m

ake you worse.”

“Bring it, boy—just bring it . . . ,” sighed Brom. His hand slipped off Eragon’s shoulder.

“I’ll be right back—hold on.” Eragon dashed to the saddlebags and rummaged through them frantically. “I can’t find it!” he cried, looking around desperately.

“Here, take mine,” said Murtagh, holding out a leather skin.

Eragon grabbed it and returned to Brom. “I have the wine,” he said, kneeling. Murtagh retreated to the cave’s mouth so they could have privacy.

Brom’s next words were faint and indistinct. “Good . . .” He moved his arm weakly. “Now . . . wash my right hand with it.”

“What—” Eragon started to ask.

“No questions! I haven’t time.” Mystified, Eragon unstoppered the wineskin and poured the liquid onto Brom’s palm. He rubbed it into the old man’s skin, spreading it around the fingers and over the back of the hand. “More,” croaked Brom. Eragon splashed wine onto his hand again. He scrubbed vigorously as a brown dye floated off Brom’s palm, then stopped, his mouth agape with amazement. There on Brom’s palm was the gedwëy ignasia.

“You’re a Rider?” he asked incredulously.

A painful smile flickered on Brom’s face. “Once upon a time that was true . . . but no more. When I was young . . . younger than you are now, I was chosen . . . chosen by the Riders to join their ranks. While they trained me, I became friends with another apprentice . . . Morzan, before he was a Forsworn.” Eragon gasped—that had been over a hundred years ago. “But then he betrayed us to Galbatorix . . . and in the fighting at Dorú Areaba—Vroengard’s city—my young dragon was killed. Her name . . . was Saphira.”

“Why didn’t you tell me this before?” asked Eragon softly.

Brom laughed. “Because . . . there was no need to.” He stopped. His breathing was labored; his hands were clenched. “I am old, Eragon . . . so old. Though my dragon was killed, my life has been longer than most. You don’t know what it is to reach my age, look back, and realize that you don’t remember much of it; then to look forward and know that many years still lie ahead of you. . . . After all this time I still grieve for my Saphira . . . and hate Galbatorix for what he tore from me.” His feverish eyes drilled into Eragon as he said fiercely, “Don’t let that happen to you. Don’t! Guard Saphira with your life, for without her it’s hardly worth living.”

“You shouldn’t talk like this. Nothing’s going to happen to her,” said Eragon, worried.

Brom turned his head to the side. “Perhaps I am rambling.” His gaze passed blindly over Murtagh, then he focused on Eragon. Brom’s voice grew stronger. “Eragon! I cannot last much longer. This . . . this is a grievous wound; it saps my strength. I have not the energy to fight it. . . . Before I go, will you take my blessing?”

“Everything will be all right,” said Eragon, tears in his eyes. “You don’t have to do this.”

“It is the way of things . . . I must. Will you take my blessing?” Eragon bowed his head and nodded, overcome. Brom placed a trembling hand on his brow. “Then I give it to you. May the coming years bring you great happiness.” He motioned for Eragon to bend closer. Very quietly, he whispered seven words from the ancient language, then even more softly told him what they meant. “That is all I can give you. . . . Use them only in great need.”

Brom blindly turned his eyes to the ceiling. “And now,” he murmured, “for the greatest adventure of all. . . .”

Weeping, Eragon held his hand, comforting him as best he could. His vigil was unwavering and steadfast, unbroken by food or drink. As the long hours passed, a gray pallor crept over Brom, and his eyes slowly dimmed. His hands grew icy; the air around him took on an evil humor. Powerless to help, Eragon could only watch as the Ra’zac’s wound took its toll.

The evening hours were young and the shadows long when Brom suddenly stiffened. Eragon called his name and cried for Murtagh’s help, but they could do nothing. As a barren silence dampened the air, Brom locked his eyes with Eragon’s. Then contentment spread across the old man’s face, and a whisper of breath escaped his lips. And so it was that Brom the storyteller died.

With shaking fingers, Eragon closed Brom’s eyes and stood. Saphira raised her head behind him and roared mournfully at the sky, keening her lamentation. Tears rolled down Eragon’s cheeks as a sense of horrible loss bled through him. Haltingly, he said, “We have to bury him.”

“We might be seen,” warned Murtagh.

“I don’t care!”

Murtagh hesitated, then bore Brom’s body out of the cave, along with his sword and staff. Saphira followed them. “To the top,” Eragon said thickly, indicating the crown of the sandstone hill.

“We can’t dig a grave out of stone,” objected Murtagh.

“I can do it.”

Eragon climbed onto the smooth hilltop, struggling because of his ribs. There, Murtagh lay Brom on the stone.

Eragon wiped his eyes and fixed his gaze on the sandstone. Gesturing with his hand, he said, “Moi stenr!” The stone rippled. It flowed like water, forming a body-length depression in the hilltop. Molding the sandstone like wet clay, he raised waist-high walls around it.

They laid Brom inside the unfinished sandstone vault with his staff and sword. Stepping back, Eragon again shaped the stone with magic. It joined over Brom’s motionless face and flowed upward into a tall faceted spire. As a final tribute, Eragon set runes into the stone:

HERE LIES BROM

Who was a Dragon Rider

And like a father

To me.

May his name live on in glory.

Then he bowed his head and mourned freely. He stood like a living statue until evening, when light faded from the land.

That night he dreamed of the imprisoned woman again.

He could tell that something was wrong with her. Her breathing was irregular, and she shook—whether from cold or pain, he did not know. In the semidarkness of the cell, the only thing clearly illuminated was her hand, which hung over the edge of the cot. A dark liquid dripped from the tips of her fingers. Eragon knew it was blood.

DIAMOND TOMB

When Eragon woke, his eyes were gritty, his body stiff. The cave was empty except for the horses. The litter was gone; no sign of Brom remained. He walked to the entrance and sat on the pitted sandstone. So the witch Angela was correct—there was a death in my future, he thought, staring bleakly at the land. The topaz sun brought a desert heat to the early morning.

A tear slid down his listless face and evaporated in the sunlight, leaving a salty crust on his skin. He closed his eyes and absorbed the warmth, emptying his mind. With a fingernail, he aimlessly scratched the sandstone. When he looked, he saw that he had written Why me?

He was still there when Murtagh climbed up to the cave, carrying a pair of rabbits. Without a word he seated himself by Eragon. “How are you?” he asked.

“Very ill.”

Murtagh considered him thoughtfully. “Will you recover?” Eragon shrugged. After a few minutes of reflection, Murtagh said, “I dislike asking this at such a time, but I must know . . . Is your Brom the Brom? The one who helped steal a dragon egg from the king, chased it across the Empire, and killed Morzan in a duel? I heard you say his name, and I read the inscription you put on his grave, but I must know for certain, Was that he?”

“It was,” said Eragon softly. A troubled expression settled on Murtagh’s face. “How do you know all that? You talk about things that are secret to most, and you were trailing the Ra’zac right when we needed help. Are you one of the Varden?”

Murtagh’s eyes became inscrutable orbs. “I’m running away, like you.” There was restrained sorrow in his words. “I do not belong to either the Varden or the Empire. Nor do I owe allegiance to any man but myself. As for my rescuing you, I will admit that I’ve heard whispered tales of a new Rider and reasoned that by following the Ra’zac I might discover if they were true.”

“I thought you wanted to kill the Ra’zac,”

said Eragon.

Murtagh smiled grimly. “I do, but if I had, I never would have met you.”

But Brom would still be alive. . . . I wish he were here. He would know whether to trust Murtagh. Eragon remembered how Brom had sensed Trevor’s intentions in Daret and wondered if he could do the same with Murtagh. He reached for Murtagh’s consciousness, but his probe abruptly ran into an iron-hard wall, which he tried to circumvent. Murtagh’s entire mind was fortified. How did he learn to do that? Brom said that few people, if any, could keep others out of their mind without training. So who is Murtagh to have this ability? Pensive and lonely, Eragon asked, “Where is Saphira?”

“I don’t know,” said Murtagh. “She followed me for a time when I went hunting, then flew off on her own. I haven’t seen her since before noon.” Eragon rocked onto his feet and returned to the cave. Murtagh followed. “What are you going to do now?”

“I’m not sure.” And I don’t want to think about it either. He rolled up his blankets and tied them to Cadoc’s saddlebags. His ribs hurt. Murtagh went to prepare the rabbits. As Eragon shifted things in his bags, he uncovered Zar’roc. The red sheath glinted brightly. He took out the sword . . . weighed it in his hands.

He had never carried Zar’roc nor used it in combat—except when he and Brom had sparred—because he had not wanted people to see it. That concerned Eragon no more. The Ra’zac had seemed surprised and frightened by the sword; that was more than enough reason for him to wear it. With a shudder he pulled off his bow and belted on Zar’roc. From this moment on, I’ll live by the sword. Let the whole world see what I am. I have no fear. I am a Rider now, fully and completely.

He sorted through Brom’s bags but found only clothes, a few odd items, and a small pouch of coins. Eragon took the map of Alagaësia and put the bags away, then crouched by the fire. Murtagh’s eyes narrowed as he looked up from the rabbit he was skinning. “That sword. May I see it?” he asked, wiping his hands.

Eragon hesitated, reluctant to relinquish the weapon for even a moment, then nodded. Murtagh examined the symbol on the blade intently. His face darkened. “Where did you get this?”



Tags: Christopher Paolini The Inheritance Cycle Fantasy
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