Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle 1) - Page 42


I will be fine, assured Saphira. A marble cave is safer than any of the other places we’ve stayed.

Perhaps . . . Do you think Murtagh will be all right?

Ajihad strikes me as an honorable man. Unless Murtagh tries to escape, I doubt he will be harmed.

Eragon crossed his arms, unwilling to talk further. He was dazed by the change in circumstances from the day before. Their mad race from Gil’ead was finally over, but his body expected to continue running and riding. “Where are our horses?”

“In the stables by the gate. We can visit them before leaving Tronjheim.”

They exited Tronjheim through the same gate they had entered. The gold griffins gleamed with colored highlights garnered from scores of lanterns. The sun had moved during Eragon’s talk with Ajihad—light no longer entered Farthen Dûr through the crater opening. Without those moted rays, the inside of the hollow mountain was velvety black. The only illumination came from Tronjheim, which sparkled brilliantly in the gloom. The city-mountain’s radiance was enough to brighten the ground hundreds of feet away.

Orik pointed at Tronjheim’s white pinnacle. “Fresh meat and pure mountain water await you up there,” he told Saphira. “You may stay in any of the caves. Once you make your choice, bedding will be laid down in it and then no one will disturb you.”

“I thought we were going to go together. I don’t want to be separated,” protested Eragon.

Orik turned to him. “Rider Eragon, I will do everything to accommodate you, but it would be best if Saphira waits in the dragonhold while you eat. The tunnels to the banquet halls aren’t large enough for her to accompany us.”

“Why can’t you just bring me food in the hold?”

“Because,” said Orik with a guarded expression, “the food is prepared down here, and it is a long way to the top. If you wish, a servant could be sent up to the hold with a meal for you. It will take some time, but you could eat with Saphira then.”

He actually means it, Eragon thought, astonished that they would do so much for him. But the way Orik said it made him wonder if the dwarf was testing him somehow.

I’m weary, said Saphira. And this dragonhold sounds to my liking. Go, have your meal, then come to me. It will be soothing to rest together without fear of wild animals or soldiers. We have suffered the hardships of the trail too long.

Eragon looked at her thoughtfully, then said to Orik, “I’ll eat down here.” The dwarf smiled, seeming satisfied. Eragon unstrapped Saphira’s saddle so she could lie down without discomfort. Would you take Zar’roc with you?

Yes, she said, gathering up the sword and saddle with her claws. But keep your bow. We must trust these people, though not to the point of foolishness.

I know, he said, disquieted.

With an explosive leap Saphira swept off the ground and into the still air. The steady whoosh of her wings was the only sound in the darkness. As she disappeared over the rim of Tronjheim’s peak, Orik let out a long breath. “Ah boy, you have been blessed indeed. I find a sudden longing in my heart for open skies and soaring cliffs and the thrill of hunting like a hawk. Still, my feet are better on the ground—preferably under it.”

He clapped his hands loudly. “I neglect my duties as host. I know you’ve not dined since that pitiful dinner the Twins saw fit to give you, so come, let’s find the cooks and beg meat and bread from them!”

Eragon followed the dwarf back into Tronjheim and through a labyrinth of corridors until they came to a long room filled with rows of stone tables only high enough for dwarves. Fires blazed in soapstone ovens behind a long counter.

Orik spoke words in an unfamiliar language to a stout ruddy-faced dwarf, who promptly handed them stone platters piled with steaming mushrooms and fish. Then Orik took Eragon up several flights of stairs and into a small alcove carved out of Tronjheim’s outer wall, where they sat cross-legged. Eragon wordlessly reached for his food.

When their platters were empty, Orik sighed with contentment and pulled out a long-stemmed pipe. He lit it, saying, “A worthy repast, though it needed a good draught of mead to wash it down properly.”

Eragon surveyed the ground below. “Do you farm in Farthen Dûr?”

“No, there’s only enough sunlight for moss, mushrooms, and mold. Tronjheim cannot survive without supplies from the surrounding valleys, which is one reason why many of us choose to live elsewhere in the Beor Mountains.”

“Then there are other dwarf cities?”

“Not as many as we would like. And Tronjheim is the greatest of them.” Leaning on an elbow, Orik took a deep pull on his pipe. “You have only seen the lower levels, so it hasn’t been apparent, but most of Tronjheim is deserted. The farther up you go, the emptier it gets. Entire floors have remained untouched for centuries. Most dwarves prefer to dwell under Tronjheim and Farthen Dûr in the caverns and passageways that riddle the rock. Through the centuries we have tunneled extensively under the Beor Mountains. It is possible to walk from one end of the mountain range to the other without ever setting foot on the surface.”

“It seems like a waste to have all that unused space in Tronjheim,” commented Eragon.

Orik nodded. “Some have argued for abandoning this place because of its drain on our resources, but Tronjheim does perform one invaluable task.”

“What’s that?”

“In times of misfortune it can house our entire nation. There have been only three instances in our history when we have been forced to that extreme, but each time it has saved us from certain and utter destruction. That is why we always keep it garrisoned, ready for use.”

“I’ve never seen anything as magnificent,” admitted Eragon.

Orik smiled around his pipe. “I’m glad you find it so. It took generations to build Tronjheim—and our lives are much longer than those of men. Unfortunately, because of the cursed Empire, few outsiders are allowed to see its glory.”

“How many Varden are here?”

“Dwarves or humans?”

“Humans—I want to know how many have fled the Empire.”

Orik exhaled a long puff of smoke that coiled lazily around his head. “There are about four thousand of your kin here. But that’s a poor indicator of what you want to know. Only people who wish to fight come here. The rest of them are under King Orrin’s protection in Surda.”

So few? thought Eragon with a sinking feeling. The royal army alone numbered nearly sixteen thousand when it was fully marshaled, not counting the Urgals. “Why doesn’t Orrin fight the Empire himself?” he asked.

“If he were to show open hostility,” said Orik, “Galbatorix would crush him. As it is, Galbatorix withholds that destruction because he considers Surda a minor threat, which is a mistake. It’s through Orrin’s assistance that the Varden have most of their weapons and supplies. Without him, there would be no resisting the Empire.

“Don’t despair over the number of humans in Tronjheim. There are many dwarves here—many more than you have seen—and all will fight when the time comes. Orrin has also promised us troops for when we battle Galbatorix. The elves pledged their help as well.”

Eragon absently touched Saphira’s mind and found her busy eating a bloody haunch with gusto. He noticed once more the hammer and stars engraved on Orik’s helm. “What does that mean? I saw it on the floor in Tronjheim.”

Orik lifted the iron-bound cap off his head and brushed a rough finger over the engraving. “It is the symbol of my clan. We are the Ingietum, metalworkers and master smiths. The hammer and stars are inlaid into Tronjheim’s floor because it was the personal crest of Korgan, our founder. One clan to rule, with twelve surrounding. King Hrothgar is Dûrgrimst Ingietum as well and has brought my house much glory, much honor.”

When they returned the platters to the cook, they passed a dwarf in the hall. He stopped before Eragon, bowed, and said respectfully, “Argetlam.”

The dwarf left Eragon fumbling for an answer, flushed with unease, yet also strangely pleased with the gestur

e. No one had bowed to him before. “What did he say?” he asked, leaning closer to Orik.

Orik shrugged, embarrassed. “It’s an elven word that was used to refer to the Riders. It means ‘silver hand.’?” Eragon glanced at his gloved hand, thinking of the gedwëy ignasia that whitened his palm. “Do you wish to return to Saphira?”

“Is there somewhere I could bathe first? I haven’t been able to wash off the grime of the road for a long time. Also, my shirt is bloodstained and torn, and it stinks. I’d like to replace it, but I don’t have any money to buy a new one. Is there a way I could work for one?”

“Do you seek to insult Hrothgar’s hospitality, Eragon?” demanded Orik. “As long as you are in Tronjheim, you won’t have to buy a thing. You’ll pay for it in other ways—Ajihad and Hrothgar will see to that. Come. I’ll show you where to wash, then fetch you a shirt.”

He took Eragon down a long staircase until they were well below Tronjheim. The corridors were tunnels now—which cramped Eragon because they were only five feet high—and all the lanterns were red. “So the light doesn’t blind you when you leave or enter a dark cavern,” explained Orik.

They entered a bare room with a small door on the far side. Orik pointed. “The pools are through there, along with brushes and soap. Leave your clothes here. I’ll have new ones waiting when you get out.”

Eragon thanked him and started to undress. It felt oppressive being alone underground, especially with the low rock ceiling. He stripped quickly and, cold, hurried through the door, into total darkness. He inched forward until his foot touched warm water, then eased himself into it.

The pool was mildly salty, but soothing and calm. For a moment he was afraid of drifting away from the door, into deeper water, but as he waded forward, he discovered the water reached only to his waist. He groped over a slippery wall until he found the soap and brushes, then scrubbed himself. Afterward he floated with his eyes closed, enjoying the warmth.

When he emerged, dripping, into the lighted room, he found a towel, a fine linen shirt, and a pair of breeches. The clothes fit him reasonably well. Satisfied, he went out into the tunnel.

Orik was waiting for him, pipe in hand. They climbed the stairs back up into Tronjheim, then exited the city-mountain. Eragon gazed at Tronjheim’s peak and called Saphira with his mind. As she flew down from the dragonhold, he asked, “How do you communicate with people at the top of Tronjheim?”

Orik chuckled. “That’s a problem we solved long ago. You didn’t notice, but behind the open arches that line each level is a single, unbroken staircase that spirals around the wall of Tronjheim’s central chamber. The stairs climb all the way to the dragonhold above Isidar Mithrim. We call it Vol Turin, The Endless Staircase. Running up or down it isn’t swift enough for an emergency, nor convenient enough for casual use. Instead, we use flashing lanterns to convey messages. There is another way too, though it is seldom used. When Vol Turin was constructed, a polished trough was cut next to it. The trough acts as a giant slide as high as a mountain.”

Eragon’s lips twitched with a smile. “Is it dangerous?”

“Do not think of trying it. The slide was built for dwarves and is too narrow for a man. If you slipped out of it, you could be thrown onto the stairs and against the arches, perhaps even into empty space.”

Saphira landed a spear’s throw away, her scales rustling dryly. As she greeted Eragon, humans and dwarves trickled out of Tronjheim, gathering around her with murmurs of interest. Eragon regarded the growing crowd uneasily. “You’d better go,” said Orik, pushing him forward. “Meet me by this gate tomorrow morning. I’ll be waiting.”

Eragon balked. “How will I know when it’s morning?”

“I’ll have someone wake you. Now go!” Without further protest, Eragon slipped through the jostling group that surrounded Saphira and jumped onto her back.

Before she could take off, an old woman stepped forward and grasped Eragon’s foot with a fierce grip. He tried to pull away, but her hand was like an iron talon around his ankle—he could not break her tenacious hold. The burning gray eyes she fixed on him were surrounded by a lifetime’s worth of wrinkles—the skin was folded in long creases down her sunken cheeks. A tattered bundle rested in the crook of her left arm.

Frightened, Eragon asked, “What do you want?”

The woman tilted her arm, and a cloth fell from the bundle, revealing a baby’s face. Hoarse and desperate, she said, “The child has no parents—there is no one to care for her but me, and I am weak. Bless her with your power, Argetlam. Bless her for luck!”

Eragon looked to Orik for help, but the dwarf only watched with a guarded expression. The small crowd fell silent, waiting for his response. The woman’s eyes were still fastened on him. “Bless her, Argetlam, bless her,” she insisted.

Eragon had never blessed anyone. It was not something done lightly in Alagaësia, as a blessing could easily go awry and prove to be more curse than boon—especially if it was spoken with ill intent or lack of conviction. Do I dare take that responsibility? he wondered.

“Bless her, Argetlam, bless her.”

Suddenly decided, he searched for a phrase or expression to use. Nothing came to mind until, inspired, he thought of the ancient language. This would be a true blessing, spoken with words of power, by one of power.

He bent down and tugged the glove off his right hand. Laying his palm on the babe’s brow, he intoned, “Atra gülai un ilian tauthr ono un atra ono waíse skölir frá rauthr.” The words left him unexpectedly weak, as if he had used magic. He slowly pulled the glove back on and said to the woman, “That is all I can do for her. If any words have the power to forestall tragedy, it will be those.”

“Thank you, Argetlam,” she whispered, bowing slightly. She started to cover the baby again, but Saphira snorted and twisted until her head loomed over the child. The woman grew rigid; her breath caught in her chest. Saphira lowered her snout and brushed the baby between the eyes with the tip of her nose, then smoothly lifted away.

A gasp ran through the crowd, for on the child’s forehead, where Saphira had touched her, was a star-shaped patch of skin as white and silvery as Eragon’s gedwëy ignasia. The woman stared at Saphira with a feverish gaze, wordless thanks in her eyes.

Immediately Saphira took flight, battering the awestruck spectators with the wind from her powerful wing strokes. As the ground dwindled away, Eragon took a deep breath and hugged her neck tightly. What did you do? he asked softly.

I gave her hope. And you gave her a future.

Loneliness suddenly flowered within Eragon, despite Saphira’s presence. Their surroundings were so foreign—it struck him for the first time exactly how far he was from home. A destroyed home, but still where his heart lay. What have I become, Saphira? he asked. I’m only in the first year of manhood, yet I’ve consulted with the leader of the Varden, am pursued by Galbatorix, and have traveled with Morzan’s son—and now blessings are sought from me! What wisdom can I give people that they haven’t already learned? What feats can I achieve that an army couldn’t do better? It’s insanity! I should be back in Carvahall with Roran.

Saphira took a long time to answer, but her words were gentle when they came. A hatchling, that is what you are. A hatchling struggling into the world. I may be younger than you in years, but I am ancient in my thoughts. Do not worry about these things. Find peace in where and what you are. People often know what must be done. All you need do is show them the way—that is wisdom. As for feats, no army could have given the blessing you did.

But it was nothing, he protested. A trifle.

Nay, it wasn’t. What you saw was the beginning of another story, another legend. Do you think that child will ever be content to be a tavern keeper or a farmer when her brow is dragon-marked and your words hang over her? You underestimate our power and that of fate.

Eragon bowed his head. It’s overwhelming. I feel as if I am living in an illusion, a dream where all things are possible. Amazing things d

o happen, I know, but always to someone else, always in some far-off place and time. But I found your egg, was tutored by a Rider, and dueled a Shade—those can’t be the actions of the farm boy I am, or was. Something is changing me.

It is your wyrd that shapes you, said Saphira. Every age needs an icon—perhaps that lot has fallen to you. Farm boys are not named for the first Rider without cause. Your namesake was the beginning, and now you are the continuation. Or the end.

Ach, said Eragon, shaking his head. It’s like speaking in riddles. . . . But if all is foreordained, do our choices mean anything? Or must we just learn to accept our fate?

Saphira said firmly, Eragon, I chose you from within my egg. You have been given a chance most would die for. Are you unhappy with that? Clear your mind of such thoughts. They cannot be answered and will make you no happier.

True, he said glumly. All the same, they continue to bounce around within my skull.

Things have been . . . unsettled . . . ever since Brom died. It has made me uneasy, acknowledged Saphira, which surprised him because she rarely seemed perturbed. They were above Tronjheim now. Eragon looked down through the opening in its peak and saw the floor of the dragonhold: Isidar Mithrim, the great star sapphire. He knew that beneath it was nothing but Tronjheim’s great central chamber. Saphira descended to the dragonhold on silent wings. She slipped over its rim and dropped to Isidar Mithrim, landing with the sharp clack of claws.

Won’t you scratch it? asked Eragon.

I think not. It’s no ordinary gem. Eragon slid off her back and slowly turned in a circle, absorbing the unusual sight. They were in a round roofless room sixty feet high and sixty feet across. The walls were lined with the dark openings of caves, which differed in size from grottoes no larger than a man to a gaping cavern larger than a house. Shiny rungs were set into the marble walls so that people could reach the highest caves. An enormous archway led out of the dragonhold.

Eragon examined the great gem under his feet and impulsively lay down on it. He pressed his cheek against the cool sapphire, trying to see through it. Distorted lines and wavering spots of color glimmered through the stone, but its thickness made it impossible to discern anything clearly on the floor of the chamber a mile below them.



Tags: Christopher Paolini The Inheritance Cycle Fantasy
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