Hours passed, but Murtagh did not return. Eragon paced around the fire, Zar’roc in hand, while Saphira watched Gil’ead attentively. Only her eyes moved. Neither of them voiced their worries, though Eragon unobtrusively prepared to leave—in case a detachment of soldiers left the city and headed toward their camp.
Look, snapped Saphira.
Eragon swiveled toward Gil’ead, alert. He saw a distant horseman exit the city and ride furiously toward their camp. I don’t like this, he said as he climbed onto Saphira. Be ready to fly.
I’m prepared for more than that.
As the rider approached, Eragon recognized Murtagh bent low over Tornac. No one seemed to be pursuing him, but he did not slow his reckless pace. He galloped into the camp and jumped to the ground, drawing his sword. “What’s wrong?” asked Eragon.
Murtagh scowled. “Did anyone follow me from Gil’ead?”
“We didn’t see anyone.”
“Good. Then let me eat before I explain. I’m starving.” He seized a bowl and began eating with gusto. After a few sloppy bites, he said through a full mouth, “Dormnad has agreed to meet us outside Gil’ead at sunrise tomorrow. If he’s satisfied you really are a Rider and that it’s not a trap, he’ll take you to the Varden.”
“Where are we supposed to meet him?” asked Eragon.
Murtagh pointed west. “On a small hill across the road.”
“So what happened?”
Murtagh spooned more food into his bowl. “It’s a rather simple thing, but all the more deadly because of it: I was seen in the street by someone who knows me. I did the only thing I could and ran away. It was too late, though; he recognized me.”
It was unfortunate, but Eragon was unsure how bad it really was. “Since I don’t know your friend, I have to ask: Will he tell anyone?”
Murtagh gave a strained laugh. “If you had met him, that wouldn’t need answering. His mouth is loosely hinged and hangs open all the time, vomiting whatever happens to be in his mind. The question isn’t whether he will tell people, but whom he will tell. If word of this reaches the wrong ears, we’ll be in trouble.”
“I doubt that soldiers will be sent to search for you in the dark,” Eragon pointed out. “We can at least count on being safe until morning, and by then, if all goes well, we’ll be leaving with Dormnad.”
Murtagh shook his head. “No, only you will accompany him. As I said before, I won’t go to the Varden.”
Eragon stared at him unhappily. He wanted Murtagh to stay. They had become friends during their travels, and he was loath to tear that apart. He started to protest, but Saphira hushed him and said gently, Wait until tomorrow. Now is not the time.
Very well, he said glumly. They talked until the stars were bright in the sky, then slept as Saphira took the first watch.
Eragon woke two hours before dawn, his palm tingling. Everything was still and quiet, but something sought his attention, like an itch in his mind. He buckled on Zar’roc and stood, careful not to make a sound. Saphira looked at him curiously, her large eyes bright. What is it? she asked.
I don’t know, said Eragon. He saw nothing amiss.
Saphira sniffed the air curiously. She hissed a little and lifted her head. I smell horses nearby, but they’re not moving. They reek with an unfamiliar stench.
Eragon crept to Murtagh and shook his shoulder. Murtagh woke with a start, yanked a dagger from under his blankets, then looked at Eragon quizzically. Eragon motioned for him to be silent, whispering, “There are horses close by.”
Murtagh wordlessly drew his sword. They quietly stationed themselves on either side of Saphira, prepared for an attack. As they waited, the morning star rose in the east. A squirrel chattered.
Then an angry snarl from behind made Eragon spin around, sword held high. A broad Urgal stood at the edge of the camp, carrying a mattock with a nasty spike. Where did he come from? We haven’t seen their tracks anywhere! thought Eragon. The Urgal roared and waved his weapon, but did not charge.
“Brisingr!” barked Eragon, stabbing out with magic. The Urgal’s face contorted with terror as he exploded in a flash of blue light. Blood splattered Eragon, and a brown mass flew through the air. Behind him, Saphira bugled with alarm and reared. Eragon twisted around. While he had been occupied with the first Urgal, a group of them had run up from the side. Of all the stupid tricks to fall for!
Steel clashed loudly as Murtagh attacked the Urgals. Eragon tried to join him but was blocked by four of the monsters. The first one swung a sword at his shoulder. He ducked the blow and killed the Urgal with magic. He caught a second one in the throat with Zar’roc, wheeled wildly, and slashed a third through the heart. As he did, the fourth Urgal rushed at him, swinging a heavy club.
Eragon saw him coming and tried to lift his sword to block the club, but was a second too slow. As the club came down on his head, he screamed, “Fly, Saphira!” A burst of light filled his eyes and he lost consciousness.
DU SÚNDAVAR FREOHR
The first things Eragon noticed were that he was warm and dry, his cheek was pressed against rough fabric, and his hands were unbound. He stirred, but it was minutes before he was able to push himself upright and examine his surroundings.
He was sitting in a cell on a narrow, bumpy cot. A barred window was set high in the wall. The iron-bound door with a small window in its top half, barred like the one in the wall, was shut securely.
Dried blood cracked on Eragon’s face when he moved. It took him a moment to remember that it was not his. His head hurt horribly—which was to be expected, considering the blow he had taken—and his mind was strangely fuzzy. He tried to use magic, but could not concentrate well enough to remember any of the ancient words. They must have drugged me, he finally decided.
With a groan he got up, missing the familiar weight of Zar’roc on his hip, and lurched to the window in the wall. He managed to see out of it by standing on his toes. It took a minute for his eyes to adjust to the bright light outside. The window was level with the ground. A street full of busy people ran past the side of his cell, beyond which were rows of identical log houses.
Feeling weak, Eragon slid to the floor and stared at it blankly. What he had seen outside disturbed him, but he was unsure why. Cursing his sluggish thinking, he leaned back his head and tried to clear his mind. A man entered the room and set a tray of food and a pitcher of water on the cot. Wasn’t that nice of him? thought Eragon, smiling pleasantly. He took a couple of bites of the thin cabbage soup and stale bread, but was barely able to stomach it. I wish he had brought me something better, he complained, dropping the spoon.
He suddenly realized what was wrong. I was captured by Urgals, not men! How did I end up here? His befuddled brain grappled with the paradox unsuccessfully. With a mental shrug he filed the discovery away for a time when he would know what to do with it.
He sat on the cot and gazed into the distance. Hours later more food was brought in. And I was just getting hungry, he thought thickly. This time he was able to eat without feeling sick. When he finished, he decided it was time for a nap. After all, he was on a bed; what else was he going to do?
His mind drifted off; sleep began to envelop him. Then a gate clanged open somewhere, and the din of steel-shod boots marching on a stone floor filled the air. The noise grew louder and louder until it sounded like someone banging a pot inside Eragon’s head. He grumbled to himself. Can’t they let me rest in peace? Fuzzy curiosity slowly overcame his exhaustion, so he dragged himself to the door, blinking like an owl.
Through the window he saw a wide hallway nearly ten yards across. The opposing wall was lined with cells similar to his own. A column of soldiers marched through the hall, their swords drawn and ready. Every man was dressed in matching armor; their faces bore the same hard expression, and their feet came down on the floor with mechanical precision, never missing a beat. The sound was hypnotic. It was an impressive display of force.
Eragon watched the soldiers until he grew bored. Just
then he noticed a break in the middle of the column. Carried between two burly men was an unconscious woman.
Her long midnight-black hair obscured her face, despite a leather strip bound around her head to hold the tresses back. She was dressed in dark leather pants and shirt. Wrapped around her slim waist was a shiny belt, from which hung an empty sheath on her right hip. Knee-high boots covered her calves and small feet.
Her head lolled to the side. Eragon gasped, feeling like he had been struck in the stomach. She was the woman from his dreams. Her sculpted face was as perfect as a painting. Her round chin, high cheekbones, and long eyelashes gave her an exotic look. The only mar in her beauty was a scrape along her jaw; nevertheless, she was the fairest woman he had ever seen.
Eragon’s blood burned as he looked at her. Something awoke in him—something he had never felt before. It was like an obsession, except stronger, almost a fevered madness. Then the woman’s hair shifted, revealing pointed ears. A chill crept over him. She was an elf.
The soldiers continued marching, taking her from his sight. Next strode a tall, proud man, a sable cape billowing behind him. His face was deathly white; his hair was red. Red like blood.
As he walked by Eragon’s cell, the man turned his head and looked squarely at him with maroon eyes. His upper lip pulled back in a feral smile, revealing teeth filed to points. Eragon shrank back. He knew what the man was. A Shade. So help me . . . a Shade. The procession continued, and the Shade vanished from view.
Eragon sank to the floor, hugging himself. Even in his bewildered state, he knew that the presence of a Shade meant that evil was loose in the land. Whenever they appeared, rivers of blood were sure to follow. What is a Shade doing here? The soldiers should have killed him on sight! Then his thoughts returned to the elf-woman, and he was grasped by strange emotions again.
I have to escape. But with his mind clouded, his determination quickly faded. He returned to the cot. By the time the hallway fell silent, he was fast asleep.
As soon as Eragon opened his eyes, he knew something was different. It was easier for him to think; he realized that he was in Gil’ead. They made a mistake; the drug’s wearing off! Hopeful, he tried to contact Saphira and use magic, but both activities were still beyond his reach. A pit of worry twisted inside him as he wondered if she and Murtagh had managed to escape. He stretched his arms and looked out the window. The city was just awakening; the street was empty except for two beggars.
He reached for the water pitcher, ruminating about the elf and Shade. As he started to drink, he noticed that the water had a faint odor, as if it contained a few drops of rancid perfume. Grimacing, he set the pitcher down. The drug must be in there and maybe in the food as well! He remembered that when the Ra’zac had drugged him, it had taken hours to wear off. If I can keep from drinking and eating for long enough, I should be able to use magic. Then I can rescue the elf. . . . The thought made him smile. He sat in a corner, dreaming about how it could be done.
The portly jailer entered the cell an hour later with a tray of food. Eragon waited until he departed, then carried the tray to the window. The meal was composed only of bread, cheese, and an onion, but the smell made his stomach grumble hungrily. Resigning himself to a miserable day, he shoved the food out the window and onto the street, hoping that no one would notice.
Eragon devoted himself to overcoming the drug’s effects. He had difficulty concentrating for any length of time, but as the day progressed, his mental acuity increased. He began to remember several of the ancient words, though nothing happened when he uttered them. He wanted to scream with frustration.
When lunch was delivered, he pushed it out the window after his breakfast. His hunger was distracting, but it was the lack of water that taxed him most. The back of his throat was parched. Thoughts of drinking cool water tortured him as each breath dried his mouth and throat a bit more. Even so, he forced himself to ignore the pitcher.
He was diverted from his discomfort by a commotion in the hall. A man argued in a loud voice, “You can’t go in there! The orders were clear: no one is to see him!”
“Really? Will you be the one to die stopping me, Captain?” cut in a smooth voice.
There was a subdued, “No . . . but the king—”
“I will handle the king,” interrupted the second person. “Now, unlock the door.”
After a pause, keys jangled outside Eragon’s cell. He tried to adopt a languorous expression. I have to act like I don’t understand what’s going on. I can’t show surprise, no matter what this person says.
The door opened. His breath caught as he looked into the Shade’s face. It was like gazing at a death mask or a polished skull with skin pulled over it to give the appearance of life. “Greetings,” said the Shade with a cold smile, showing his filed teeth. “I’ve waited a long time to meet you.”
“Who—who’re you?” asked Eragon, slurring his words.
“No one of consequence,” answered the Shade, his maroon eyes alight with controlled menace. He sat with a flourish of his cloak. “My name does not matter to one in your position. It wouldn’t mean a thing to you anyway. It’s you that I’m interested in. Who are you?”
The question was posed innocently enough, but Eragon knew there had to be a catch or trap in it, though it eluded him. He pretended to struggle over the question for a while, then slowly said, frowning, “I’m not sure. . . . M’name’s Eragon, but that’s not all I am, is it?”
The Shade’s narrow lips stretched tautly over his mouth as he laughed sharply. “No, it isn’t. You have an interesting mind, my young Rider.” He leaned forward. The skin on his forehead was thin and translucent. “It seems I must be more direct. What is your name?”
“No! Not that one.” The Shade cut him off with a wave of his hand. “Don’t you have another one, one that you use only rarely?”
He wants my true name so he can control me! realized Eragon. But I can’t tell him. I don’t even know it myself. He thought quickly, trying to invent a deception that would conceal his ignorance. What if I made up a name? He hesitated—it could easily give him away—then raced to create a name that would withstand scrutiny. As he was about to utter it, he decided to take a chance and try to scare the Shade. He deftly switched a few letters, then nodded foolishly and said, “Brom told it to me once. It was . . .” The pause stretched for a few seconds, then his face brightened as he appeared to remember. “It was Du Súndavar Freohr.” Which meant almost literally “death of the shadows.”
A grim chill settled over the cell as the Shade sat motionless, eyes veiled. He seemed to be deep in thought, pondering what he had learned. Eragon wondered if he had dared too much. He waited until the Shade stirred before asking ingenuously, “Why are you here?”
The Shade looked at him with contempt in his red eyes and smiled. “To gloat, of course. What use is a victory if one cannot enjoy it?” There was confidence in his voice, but he seemed uneasy, as if his plans had been disrupted. He stood suddenly. “I must attend to certain matters, but while I am gone you would do well to think on who you would rather serve: a Rider who betrayed your own order or a fellow man like me, though one skilled in arcane arts. When the time comes to choose, there will be no middle ground.” He turned to leave, then glanced at Eragon’s water pitcher and stopped, his face granite hard. “Captain!” he snapped.
A broad-shouldered man rushed into the cell, sword in hand. “What is it, my lord?” he asked, alarmed.
“Put that toy away,” instructed the Shade. He turned to Eragon and said in a deadly quiet voice, “The boy hasn’t been drinking his water. Why is that?”
“I talked with the jailer earlier. Every bowl and plate was scraped clean.”
“Very well,” said the Shade, mollified. “But make sure that he starts drinking again.” He leaned toward the captain and murmured into his ear. Eragon caught the last few words, “. . . extra dose, just in case.” The captain nodded. The Shade returned his atte
ntion to Eragon. “We will talk again tomorrow when I am not so pressed for time. You should know, I have an endless fascination for names. I will greatly enjoy discussing yours in much greater detail.”
The way he said it gave Eragon a sinking feeling.
Once they left, he lay on the cot and closed his eyes. Brom’s lessons proved their worth now; he relied on them to keep himself from panicking and to reassure himself. Everything has been provided for me; I only have to take advantage of it. His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of approaching soldiers.
Apprehensive, he went to the door and saw two soldiers dragging the elf down the hallway. When he could see her no more, Eragon slumped to the floor and tried to touch the magic again. Oaths flew from his lips when it eluded his grasp.
He looked out at the city and ground his teeth. It was only midafternoon. Taking a calming breath, he tried to wait patiently.
It was dark in Eragon’s cell when he sat up with a start, electrified. The wrinkle had shifted! He had felt the magic at the edge of his consciousness for hours, but every time he tried to use it, nothing happened. Eyes bright with nervous energy, he clenched his hands and said, “Nagz reisa!” With a flap, the cot’s blanket flew into the air and crumpled into a ball the size of his fist. It landed on the floor with a soft thump.
Exhilarated, Eragon stood. He was weak from his enforced fast, but his excitement overcame his hunger. Now for the real test. He reached out with his mind and felt the lock on the door. Instead of trying to break or cut it, he simply pushed its internal mechanism into the unlocked position. With a click, the door creaked inward.
When he had first used magic to kill the Urgals in Yazuac, it had consumed nearly all of his strength, but he had grown much stronger since then. What once would have exhausted him now only tired him slightly.