Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle 1) - Page 37

Saphira dived at the Urgals, bellowing fiercely. They tried to scatter but were trapped against the mountainside. She caught a Kull between her talons and carried the screaming creature aloft, tearing at him with her fangs. The silent body crashed into the lake a moment later, an arm and a leg missing.

The Kull continued around Kóstha-mérna undeterred. With smoke streaming from her nostrils, Saphira dived at them again. She twisted and rolled as a cloud of black arrows shot toward her. Most of the darts glanced off her scaled sides, leaving no more than bruises, but she roared as the rest pierced her wings.

Eragon’s arms twinged with sympathetic pain, and he had to restrain himself from rushing to her defense. Fear flooded his veins as he saw the line of Urgals closing in on them. He tried to run faster, but his muscles were too tired, the rocks too slippery.

Then, with a loud splash, Saphira plunged into Kóstha-mérna. She submerged completely, sending ripples across the lake. The Urgals nervously eyed the dark water lapping their feet. One growled something indecipherable and jabbed his spear at the lake.

The water exploded as Saphira’s head shot out of the depths. Her jaws closed on the spear, breaking it like a twig as she tore it out of the Kull’s hands with a vicious twist. Before she could seize the Urgal himself, his companions thrust at her with their spears, bloodying her nose.

Saphira jerked back and hissed angrily, beating the water with her tail. Keeping his spear pointed at her, the lead Kull tried to edge past, but halted when she snapped at his legs. The string of Urgals was forced to stop as she held him at bay. Meanwhile, the Kull on the other side of the lake still hurried toward the falls.

I’ve trapped them, she told Eragon tersely, but hurry—I cannot hold them long. Archers on the shore were already taking aim at her. Eragon concentrated on going faster, but a rock gave under his boot and he pitched forward. Murtagh’s strong arm kept him on his feet, and clasping each other’s forearms, they urged the horses forward with shouts.

They were almost to the waterfall. The noise was overwhelming, like an avalanche. A white wall of water gushed down the cliff, pounding the rocks below with a fury that sent mist spraying through the air to run down their faces. Four yards from the thunderous curtain, the beach widened, giving them room to maneuver.

Saphira roared as an Urgal spear grazed her haunch, then retreated underwater. With her withdrawal the Kull rushed forward with long strides. They were only a few hundred feet away. “What do we do now?” Murtagh demanded coldly.

“I don’t know. Let me think!” cried Eragon, searching Arya’s memories for her final instructions. He scanned the ground until he found a rock the size of an apple, grabbed it, then pounded on the cliff next to the falls, shouting, “Aí varden abr du Shur’tugals gata vanta!”

Nothing happened.

He tried again, shouting louder than before, but only succeeded in bruising his hand. He turned in despair to Murtagh. “We’re trap—” His words were cut off as Saphira leapt out of the lake, dousing them with icy water. She landed on the beach and crouched, ready to fight.

The horses backpedaled wildly, trying to bolt. Eragon reached out with his mind to steady them. Behind you! cried Saphira. He turned and glimpsed the lead Urgal running at him, heavy spear raised. Up close a Kull was as tall as a small giant, with legs and arms as thick as tree trunks.

Murtagh drew back his arm and threw his sword with incredible speed. The long weapon revolved once, then struck the Kull point first in the chest with a dull crunch. The huge Urgal toppled to the ground with a strangled gurgle. Before another Kull could attack, Murtagh dashed forward and yanked his sword out of the body.

Eragon raised his palm, shouting, “Jierda theirra kalfis!” Sharp cracks resounded off the cliff. Twenty of the charging Urgals fell into Kóstha-mérna, howling and clutching their legs where shards of bone protruded. Without breaking stride, the rest of the Urgals advanced over their fallen companions. Eragon struggled against his weariness, putting a hand on Saphira for support.

A flight of arrows, impossible to see in the darkness, brushed past them and clattered against the cliff. Eragon and Murtagh ducked, covering their heads. With a small growl, Saphira jumped over them so that her armored sides shielded them and the horses. A chorus of clinks sounded as a second volley of arrows bounced off her scales.

“What now?” shouted Murtagh. There was still no opening in the cliff. “We can’t stay here!”

Eragon heard Saphira snarl as an arrow caught the edge of her wing, tearing the thin membrane. He looked around wildly, trying to understand why Arya’s instructions had not worked. “I don’t know! This is where we’re supposed to be!”

“Why don’t you ask the elf to make sure?” demanded Murtagh. He dropped his sword, snatched his bow from Tornac’s saddlebags, and with a swift motion loosed an arrow from between the spikes on Saphira’s back. A moment later an Urgal toppled into the water.

“Now? She’s barely alive! How’s she going to find the energy to say anything?”

“I don’t know,” shouted Murtagh, “but you’d better think of something because we can’t stave off an entire army!”

Eragon, growled Saphira urgently.

What!

We’re on the wrong side of the lake! I’ve seen Arya’s memories through you, and I just realized that this isn’t the right place. She tucked her head against her breast as another flight of arrows sped toward them. Her tail flicked in pain as they struck her. I can’t keep this up! They’re tearing me to pieces!

Eragon slammed Zar’roc back into its sheath and exclaimed, “The Varden are on the other side of the lake. We have to go through the waterfall!” He noted with dread that the Urgals across Kóstha-mérna were almost to the falls.

Murtagh’s eyes shot toward the violent deluge blocking their way. “We’ll never get the horses through there, even if we can hold our own footing.”

“I’ll convince them to follow us,” snapped Eragon. “And Saphira can carry Arya.” The Urgals’ cries and bellows made Snowfire snort angrily. The elf lolled on his back, oblivious to the danger.

Murtagh shrugged. “It’s better than being hacked to death.” He swiftly cut Arya loose from Snowfire’s saddle, and Eragon caught the elf as she slid to the ground.

I’m ready, said Saphira, rising into a half-crouch. The approaching Urgals hesitated, unsure of her intentions.

“Now!” cried Eragon. He and Murtagh heaved Arya onto Saphira, then secured her legs in the saddle’s straps. The second they were finished, Saphira swept up her wings and soared over the lake. The Urgals behind her howled as they saw her escaping. Arrows clattered off her belly. The Kull on the other shore redoubled their pace so as to attain the waterfall before she landed.

Eragon reached out with his mind to force himself into the frightened thoughts of the horses. Using the ancient language, he told them that unless they swam through the waterfall, they would be killed and eaten by the Urgals. Though they did not understand everything he said, the meaning of his words was unmistakable.

Snowfire and Tornac tossed their heads, then dashed into the thundering downpour, whinnying as it struck their backs. They floundered, struggling to stay above water. Murtagh sheathed his sword and jumped after them; his head disappeared under a froth of bubbles before he bobbed up, sputtering.

The Urgals were right behind Eragon; he could hear their feet crunching on the gravel. With a fierce war cry he leapt after Murtagh, closing his eyes a second before the cold water pummeled him.

The tremendous weight of the waterfall slammed down on his shoulders with backbreaking force. The water’s mindless roar filled his ears. He was driven to the bottom, where his knees gouged the rocky lakebed. He kicked off with all his strength and shot partway out of the water. Before he could take a gulp of air, the cascade rammed him back underwater.

All he could see was a white blur as foam billowed around him. He frantically tried to surface and relieve his burning lungs, but he only ros

e a few feet before the deluge halted his ascent. He panicked, thrashing his arms and legs, fighting the water. Weighed down by Zar’roc and his drenched clothes, he sank back to the lakebed, unable to speak the ancient words that could save him.

Suddenly a strong hand grasped the back of his tunic and dragged him through the water. His rescuer sliced through the lake with quick, short strokes; Eragon hoped it was Murtagh, not an Urgal. They surfaced and stumbled onto the pebble beach. Eragon was trembling violently; his entire body shivered in bursts.

Sounds of combat erupted to his right, and he whirled toward them, expecting an Urgal attack. The monsters on the opposite shore—where he had stood only moments before—fell beneath a withering hail of arrows from crevasses that pockmarked the cliff. Scores of Urgals already floated belly up in the water, riddled with shafts. The ones on Eragon’s shore were similarly engaged. Neither group could retreat from their exposed positions, for rows of warriors had somehow appeared behind them, where the lake met the mountainsides. All that prevented the nearest Kull from rushing Eragon was the steady rain of arrows—the unseen archers seemed determined to keep the Urgals at bay.

A gruff voice next to Eragon said, “Akh Guntéraz dorzâda! What were they thinking? You would have drowned!” Eragon jerked with surprise. It was not Murtagh standing by him but a diminutive man no taller than his elbow.

The dwarf was busy wringing water out of his long braided beard. His chest was stocky, and he wore a chain-mail jacket cut off at the shoulders to reveal muscular arms. A war ax hung from a wide leather belt strapped around his waist. An iron-bound oxhide cap, bearing the symbol of a hammer surrounded by twelve stars, sat firmly on his head. Even with the cap, he barely topped four feet. He looked longingly at the fighting and said, “Barzul, but I wish I could join them!”

A dwarf! Eragon drew Zar’roc and looked for Saphira and Murtagh. Two twelve-foot-thick stone doors had opened in the cliff, revealing a broad tunnel nearly thirty feet tall that burrowed its way into the mysterious depths of the mountain. A line of flameless lamps filled the passageway with a pale sapphire light that spilled out onto the lake.

Saphira and Murtagh stood before the tunnel, surrounded by a grim mixture of men and dwarves. At Murtagh’s elbow was a bald, beardless man dressed in purple and gold robes. He was taller than all the other humans—and he was holding a dagger to Murtagh’s throat.

Eragon reached for his power, but the robed man said in a sharp, dangerous voice, “Stop! If you use magic, I’ll kill your lovely friend here, who was so kind as to mention you’re a Rider. Don’t think I won’t know if you’re drawing upon it. You can’t hide anything from me.” Eragon tried to speak, but the man snarled and pressed the dagger harder against Murtagh’s throat. “None of that! If you say or do anything I don’t tell you to, he will die. Now, everyone inside.” He backed into the tunnel, pulling Murtagh with him and keeping his eyes on Eragon.

Saphira, what should I do? Eragon asked quickly as the men and dwarves followed Murtagh’s captor, leading the horses along with them.

Go with them, she counseled, and hope that we live. She entered the tunnel herself, eliciting nervous glances from those around her. Reluctantly, Eragon followed her, aware that the warriors’ eyes were upon him. His rescuer, the dwarf, walked alongside him with a hand on the haft of his war ax.

Utterly exhausted, Eragon staggered into the mountain. The stone doors swung shut behind them with only a whisper of sound. He looked back and saw a seamless wall where the opening had been. They were trapped inside. But were they any safer?

HUNTING FOR ANSWERS

“This way,” snapped the bald man. He stepped back, keeping the dagger pressed under Murtagh’s chin, then wheeled to the right, disappearing through an arched doorway. The warriors cautiously followed him, their attention centered on Eragon and Saphira. The horses were led into a different tunnel.

Dazed by the turn of events, Eragon started after Murtagh. He glanced at Saphira to confirm that Arya was still tied to her back. She has to get the antidote! he thought frantically, knowing that even then the Skilna Bragh was fulfilling its deadly purpose within her flesh.

He hurried through the arched doorway and down a narrow corridor after the bald man. The warriors kept their weapons pointed at him. They swept past a sculpture of a peculiar animal with thick quills. The corridor curved sharply to the left, then to the right. A door opened and they entered a bare room large enough for Saphira to move around with ease. There was a hollow boom as the door closed, followed by a loud scrape as a bolt was secured on the outside.

Eragon slowly examined his surroundings, Zar’roc tight in his hand. The walls, floor, and ceiling were made of polished white marble that reflected a ghost image of everyone, like a mirror of veined milk. One of the unusual lanterns hung in each corner. “There’s an injured—” he began, but a sharp gesture from the bald man cut him off.

“Do not speak! It must wait until you have been tested.” He shoved Murtagh over to one of the warriors, who pressed a sword against Murtagh’s neck. The bald man clasped his hands together softly. “Remove your weapons and slide them to me.” A dwarf unbuckled Murtagh’s sword and dropped it on the floor with a clank.

Loath to be parted with Zar’roc, Eragon unfastened the sheath and set it and the blade on the floor. He placed his bow and quiver next to them, then pushed the pile toward the warriors. “Now step away from your dragon and slowly approach me,” commanded the bald man.

Puzzled, Eragon moved forward. When they were a yard apart, the man said, “Stop there! Now remove the defenses from around your mind and prepare to let me inspect your thoughts and memories. If you try to hide anything from me, I will take what I want by force . . . which would drive you mad. If you don’t submit, your companion will be killed.”

“Why?” asked Eragon, aghast.

“To be sure you aren’t in Galbatorix’s service and to understand why hundreds of Urgals are banging on our front door,” growled the bald man. His close-set eyes shifted from point to point with cunning speed. “No one may enter Farthen Dûr without being tested.”

“There isn’t time. We need a healer!” protested Eragon.

“Silence!” roared the man, pressing down his robe with thin fingers. “Until you are examined, your words are meaningless!”

“But she’s dying!” retorted Eragon angrily, pointing at Arya. They were in a precarious position, but he would let nothing else happen until Arya was cared for.

“It will have to wait! No one will leave this room until we have discovered the truth of this matter. Unless you wish—”

The dwarf who had saved Eragon from the lake jumped forward. “Are you blind, Egraz Carn? Can’t you see that’s an elf on the dragon? We cannot keep her here if she’s in danger. Ajihad and the king will have our heads if she’s allowed to die!”

The man’s eyes tightened with anger. After a moment he relaxed and said smoothly, “Of course, Orik, we wouldn’t want that to happen.” He snapped his fingers and pointed at Arya. “Remove her from the dragon.” Two human warriors sheathed their swords and hesitantly approached Saphira, who watched them steadily. “Quickly, quickly!”

The men unstrapped Arya from the saddle and lowered the elf to the floor. One of the men inspected her face, then said sharply, “It’s the dragon-egg courier, Arya!”

“What?” exclaimed the bald man. The dwarf Orik’s eyes widened with astonishment. The bald man fixed his steely gaze on Eragon and said flatly, “You have much explaining to do.”

Eragon returned the intense stare with all the determination he could muster. “She was poisoned with the Skilna Bragh while in prison. Only Túnivor’s Nectar can save her now.”

The bald man’s face became inscrutable. He stood motionless, except for his lips, which twitched occasionally. “Very well. Take her to the healers, and tell them what she needs. Guard her until the ceremony is completed. I will have new orders for you by then.” The warriors nodded curtly and carried

Arya out of the room. Eragon watched them go, wishing that he could accompany her. His attention snapped back to the bald man as he said, “Enough of this, we have wasted too much time already. Prepare to be examined.”

Eragon did not want this hairless threatening man inside his mind, laying bare his every thought and feeling, but he knew that resistance would be useless. The air was strained. Murtagh’s gaze burned into his forehead. Finally he bowed his head. “I am ready.”

“Good, then—”

He was interrupted as Orik said abruptly, “You’d better not harm him, Egraz Carn, else the king will have words for you.”

The bald man looked at him irritably, then faced Eragon with a small smile. “Only if he resists.” He bowed his head and chanted several inaudible words.

Eragon gasped with pain and shock as a mental probe clawed its way into his mind. His eyes rolled up into his head, and he automatically began throwing up barriers around his consciousness. The attack was incredibly powerful.

Don’t do that! cried Saphira. Her thoughts joined his, filling him with strength. You’re putting Murtagh at risk! Eragon faltered, gritted his teeth, then forced himself to remove his shielding, exposing himself to the ravening probe. Disappointment emanated from the bald man. His battering intensified. The force coming from his mind felt decayed and unwholesome; there was something profoundly wrong about it.

He wants me to fight him! cried Eragon as a fresh wave of pain racked him. A second later it subsided, only to be replaced by another. Saphira did her best to suppress it, but even she could not block it entirely.

Give him what he wants, she said quickly, but protect everything else. I’ll help you. His strength is no match for mine; I’m already shielding our words from him.

Then why does it still hurt?

The pain comes from you.


Tags: Christopher Paolini The Inheritance Cycle Fantasy
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