As Eragon pushed his way through a stand of cattails, the sound of rustling leaves and stalks alerted the Kull of his presence. The creature turned his massive horned head toward Eragon, sniffing at the air. It was Nar Garzhvog, leader of the Urgals who had allied themselves with the Varden.
“You!” exclaimed Eragon, becoming visible once more.
“Greetings, Firesword,” Garzhvog rumbled. Heaving up his thick limbs and giant torso, the Urgal rose to his full eight and a half feet, his gray-skinned muscles rippling in the light of the noonday sun.
“Greetings, Nar Garzhvog,” said Eragon. Confused, he asked, “What of your rams? Who will lead them if you go with me?”
“My blood brother, Skgahgrezh, will lead. He is not Kull, but he has long horns and a thick neck. He is a fine war chief.”
“I see…. Why did you want to come, though?”
The Urgal lifted his square chin, baring his throat. “You are Firesword. You must not die, or the Urgralgra—the Urgals, as you name us—will not have our revenge against Galbatorix, and our race will die in this land. Therefore, I will run with you. I am the best of our fighters. I have defeated forty-two rams in single combat.”
Eragon nodded, not displeased by the turn of events. Of all the Urgals, he trusted Garzhvog the most, for he had probed the Kull’s consciousness before the Battle of the Burning Plains and had discovered that, by the standards of his race, Garzhvog was honest and reliable. As long as he doesn’t decide that his honor requires him to challenge me to a duel, we should have no cause for conflict.
“Very well, Nar Garzhvog,” he said, tightening the strap of the pack around his waist, “let us run together, you and I, as has not happened in the whole of recorded history.”
Garzhvog chuckled deep in his chest. “Let us run, Firesword.”
Together they faced east, and together they set forth for the Beor Mountains, Eragon running light and swift, and Garzhvog loping beside him, taking one stride for every two of Eragon’s, the earth shuddering beneath the burden of his weight. Above them, swollen thunderheads gathered along the horizon, portending a torrential storm, and circling hawks uttered lonesome cries as they hunted their prey.
OVER HILL AND MOUNTAIN
Eragon and Nar Garzhvog ran for the rest of the day, through the night, and through the following day, stopping only to drink and to relieve themselves.
At the end of the second day, Garzhvog said, “Firesword, I must eat, and I must sleep.”
Eragon leaned against a nearby stump, panting, and nodded. He had not wanted to speak first, but he was just as hungry and exhausted as the Kull. Soon after leaving the Varden, he had discovered that while he was faster than Garzhvog at distances of up to five miles, beyond that, Garzhvog’s endurance was equal to or greater than his own.
“I will help you hunt,” he said.
“That is not needed. Make us a big fire, and I will bring us food.”
As Garzhvog strode off toward a thicket of beech trees north of them, Eragon untied the strap around his waist and, with a sigh of relief, dropped his pack next to the stump. “Blasted armor,” he muttered. Even in the Empire, he had not run so far while carrying such a load. He had not anticipated how arduous it would be. His feet hurt, his legs hurt, his back hurt, and when he tried to crouch, his knees refused to bend properly.
Trying to ignore his discomfort, he set about gathering grass and dead branches for a fire, which he piled on a patch of dry, rocky ground.
He and Garzhvog were somewhere just east of the southern tip of Lake Tüdosten. The land was wet and lush, with fields of grass that stood six feet high, through which there roamed herds of deer, gazelles, and wild oxen with black hides and wide, backswept horns. The riches of the area were due, Eragon knew, to the Beor Mountains, which caused the formation of huge banks of clouds that drifted for many leagues over the plains beyond, bringing rain to places that would otherwise have been as dry as the Hadarac Desert.
Although the two of them had already run an enormous number of leagues, Eragon was disappointed by their progress. Between the Jiet River and Lake Tüdosten, they had lost several hours while hiding and taking detours to avoid being seen. Now that Lake Tüdosten was behind them, he hoped that their pace would increase. Nasuada didn’t foresee this delay, now did she? Oh no. She thought I could run flat out from there to Farthen Dûr. Ha! Kicking at a branch that was in his way, he continued to gather wood, grumbling to himself the entire time.
When Garzhvog returned an hour later, Eragon had built a fire a yard long and two feet wide and was sitting in front of it, staring at the flames and fighting the urge to slip into the waking dreams that were his rest. His neck cracked as he looked up.
Garzhvog strode toward him, holding the carcass of a plump doe under his left arm. As if it weighed no more than a sack of rags, he lifted the doe and wedged its head in the fork of a tree twenty yards from the fire. Then he drew a knife and began to clean the carcass.
Eragon stood, feeling as if his joints had turned to stone, and stumbled toward Garzhvog.
“How did you kill it?” he asked.
“With my sling,” rumbled Garzhvog.
“Do you intend to cook it on a spit? Or do Urgals eat their meat raw?”
Garzhvog turned his head and gazed through the coil of his left horn at Eragon, a deep-set yellow eye gleaming with some enigmatic emotion. “We are not beasts, Firesword.”
“I did not say you were.”
With a grunt, the Urgal returned to his work.
“It will take too long to cook on a spit,” said Eragon.
“I thought a stew, and we can fry what is left on a rock.”
“Stew? How? We don’t have a pot.”
Reaching down, Garzhvog scrubbed his right hand clean on the ground, then removed a square of folded material from the pouch at his belt and tossed it at Eragon.
Eragon tried to catch it but was so tired he missed, and the object struck the ground. It looked like an exceptionally large piece of vellum. As he picked it up, the square fell open, and he saw it had the shape of a bag, perhaps a foot and a half wide and three feet deep. The rim was reinforced with a thick strip of leather, upon which were sewn metal rings. He turned the container over, amazed by its softness and the fact that it had no seams.
“What is it?” he asked.
“The stomach of the cave bear I killed the year I first got my horns. Hang it from a frame or put it in a hole, then fill it with water and drop hot stones in it. Stones heat water, and stew tastes good.”
“Won’t the stones burn through the stomach?”
“They have not yet.”
“Is it enchanted?”
“No magic. Strong stomach.” Garzhvog’s breath huffed out as he grasped the deer’s hips on either side and, with a single movement, broke its pelvis in two. The sternum he split using his knife.
“It must have been a big bear,” Eragon said.
Garzhvog made a ruk-ruk sound deep in his throat. “It was bigger than I am now, Shadeslayer.”
“Did you kill it with your sling as well?”
“I choked him to death with my hands. No weapons are allowed when you come of age and must prove your courage.” Garzhvog paused for a moment, his knife buried to the hilt in the carcass. “Most do not try to kill a cave bear. Most hunt wolves or mountain goats. That is why I became war chief and others did not.”
Eragon left him preparing the meat and went to the fire. Next to it, he dug a hole, which he lined with the bear stomach, pushing stakes through the metal rings to hold the stomach in place. He gathered a dozen apple-sized rocks from the surrounding field and tossed them into the center of the fire. While he waited for the rocks to heat, he used magic to fill the bear stomach two-thirds with water, and then he fashioned a pair of tongs out of a sapling willow and a piece of knotted rawhide.
When the rocks were cherry red, he shouted, “They’re ready!”
“Put them in,” Garzhvo
Using the tongs, Eragon extracted the nearest stone from the fire and lowered it into the container. The surface of the water exploded into steam as the stone touched it. He deposited two more stones in the bear stomach, which brought the water to a rolling boil.
Garzhvog lumbered over and poured a double handful of meat into the water, then seasoned the stew with large pinches of salt from the pouch at his belt and several sprigs of rosemary, thyme, and other wild greens he had chanced upon while hunting. Then he placed a flat piece of shale across one side of the fire. When the stone was hot, he fried strips of meat on it.
While the food cooked, Eragon and Garzhvog carved themselves spoons from the stump where Eragon had dropped his pack.
Hunger made it seem longer to Eragon, but it was not many more minutes before the stew was done, and he and Garzhvog ate, ravenous as wolves. Eragon devoured twice as much as he thought he ever had before, and what he did not consume, Garzhvog did, eating enough for six large men.
Afterward, Eragon lay back, propping himself up on his elbows, and stared at the flashing fireflies that had appeared along the edge of the beech trees, swirling in abstract patterns as they chased one another. Somewhere an owl hooted, soft and throaty. The first few stars speckled the purple sky.
Eragon stared without seeing and thought of Saphira and then of Arya and then of Arya and Saphira, and then he closed his eyes, a dull throb forming behind his temples. He heard a cracking sound and, opening his eyes once more, saw that on the other side of the empty bear stomach, Garzhvog was cleaning his teeth with the pointed end of a broken thighbone. Eragon dropped his gaze to the bottom of the Urgal’s bare feet—Garzhvog having removed his sandals before they began their meal—and to his surprise noticed that the Urgal had seven toes on each foot.
“The dwarves have the same number of toes as you do,” he said.
Garzhvog spat a piece of meat into the coals of the fire. “I did not know that. I have never wanted to look at the feet of a dwarf.”
“Don’t you find it curious that Urgals and dwarves should both have fourteen toes, while elves and humans have ten?”
Garzhvog’s thick lips lifted in a snarl. “We share no blood with those hornless mountain rats, Firesword. They have fourteen toes, and we have fourteen toes. It pleased the gods to shape us so when they created the world. There is no other explanation.”
Eragon grunted in response and returned to watching the fireflies. Then: “Tell me a story your race is fond of, Nar Garzhvog.”
The Kull pondered for a moment, then removed the bone from his mouth. He said, “Long ago, there lived a young Urgralgra, and her name was Maghara. She had horns that shone like polished stone, hair that hung past her waist, and a laugh that could charm the birds out of the trees. But she was not pretty. She was ugly. Now, in her village, there also lived a ram who was very strong. He had killed four rams in wrestling matches and had defeated twenty-three others besides. But although his feats had won him wide renown, he had yet to choose a brood-mate. Maghara wished to be his brood-mate, but he would not look at her, for she was ugly, and because of her ugliness, he did not see her bright horns, nor her long hair, and he did not hear her pleasant laugh. Sick at heart that he would not look at her, Maghara climbed the tallest mountain in the Spine, and she called out to Rahna to help her. Rahna is mother of us all, and it was she who invented weaving and farming and she who raised the Beor Mountains when she was fleeing the great dragon. Rahna, She of the Gilded Horns, she answered Maghara, and she asked why Maghara had summoned her. ‘Make me pretty, Honored Mother, so I can attract the ram I want,’ said Maghara. And Rahna answered, ‘You do not need to be pretty, Maghara. You have bright horns and long hair and a pleasant laugh. With those, you can catch a ram who is not so foolish as to look at only a female’s face.’ And Maghara, she threw herself down upon the ground and said, ‘I will not be happy unless I can have this ram, Honored Mother. Please, make me pretty.’ Rahna, she smiled then and said, ‘If I do this, child, how will you repay me for this favor?’ And Maghara said, ‘I will give you anything you want.’
“Rahna was well pleased with her offer, and so she made Maghara pretty then, and Maghara returned to her village, and everyone wondered at her beauty. With her new face, Maghara became the brood-mate of the ram she wanted, and they had many children, and they lived in happiness for seven years. Then Rahna came to Maghara, and Rahna said, ‘You have had seven years with the ram you wanted. Have you enjoyed them?’ And Maghara said, ‘I have.’ And Rahna said, ‘Then I have come for my payment.’ And she looked around their house of stone, and she seized hold of Maghara’s eldest son and said, ‘I will have him.’ Maghara begged She of the Gilded Horns not to take her eldest son, but Rahna would not relent. At last, Maghara took her brood-mate’s club, and she struck at Rahna, but the club shattered in her hands. In punishment, Rahna stripped Maghara’s beauty from her, and then Rahna left with Maghara’s son for her hall where the four winds dwell, and she named the boy Hegraz and raised him to be one of the mightiest warriors who has ever walked this land. And so one should learn from Maghara to never fight one’s fate, for you will lose that which you hold most dear.”
Eragon watched the glowing rim of the crescent moon appear above the eastern horizon. “Tell me something about your villages.”
“Anything. I experienced hundreds of memories when I was in your mind and in Khagra’s and in Otvek’s, but I can recall only a handful of them, and those imperfectly. I am trying to make sense of what I saw.”
“There is much I could tell you,” rumbled Garzhvog. His heavy eyes pensive, he worked his makeshift toothpick around one of his fangs and then said, “We take logs, and we carve them with faces of the animals of the mountains, and these we bury upright by our houses so they will frighten away the spirits of the wild. Sometimes the poles almost seem to be alive. When you walk into one of our villages, you can feel the eyes of all the carved animals watching you….” The bone paused in the Urgal’s fingers, then resumed its back-and-forth motion. “By the doorway of each hut, we hang the namna. It is a strip of cloth as wide as my outstretched hand. The namna are brightly colored, and the patterns on them depict the history of the family that lives in that hut. Only the oldest and most skilled weavers are allowed to add to a namna or to reweave one if it becomes damaged….” The bone disappeared inside of Garzhvog’s fist. “During the months of winter, those who have mates work with them on their hearth rug. It takes at least five years to finish such a rug, so by the time it is done, you know whether you have made a good choice of mate.”
“I’ve never seen one of your villages,” said Eragon. “They must be very well hidden.”
“Well hidden and well defended. Few who see our homes live to tell of it.”
Focusing on the Kull and allowing an edge to creep into his voice, Eragon said, “How is it you learned this language, Garzhvog? Was there a human who lived among you? Did you keep any of us as slaves?”
Garzhvog returned Eragon’s gaze without flinching. “We have no slaves, Firesword. I tore the knowledge from the minds of the men I fought, and I shared it with the rest of my tribe.”
“You have killed many humans, haven’t you?”
“You have killed many Urgralgra, Firesword. It is why we must be allies, or my race will not survive.”
Eragon crossed his arms. “When Brom and I were tracking the Ra’zac, we passed through Yazuac, a village by the Ninor River. We found all of the people piled in the center of the village, dead, with a baby stuck on a spear at the top of the pile. It was the worst thing I’ve ever seen. And it was Urgals who killed them.”
“Before I got my horns,” said Garzhvog, “my father took me to visit one of our villages along the western fringes of the Spine. We found our people tortured, burnt, and slaughtered. The men of Narda had learned of our presence, and they had surprised the village with many soldiers. Not one of our tribe escaped…. It is true we love wa
r more than other races, Firesword, and that has been our downfall many times before. Our women will not consider a ram for a mate unless he has proven himself in battle and killed at least three foes himself. And there is a joy in battle unlike any other joy. But though we love feats of arms, that does not mean we are not aware of our faults. If our race cannot change, Galbatorix will kill us all if he defeats the Varden, and you and Nasuada will kill us all if you overthrow that snake-tongued betrayer. Am I not right, Firesword?”
Eragon jerked his chin in a nod. “Aye.”
“It does no good, then, to dwell upon past wrongs. If we cannot overlook what each of our races has done, there will never be peace between humans and the Urgralgra.”
“How should we treat you, though, if we defeat Galbatorix and Nasuada gives your race the land you have asked for and, twenty years from now, your children begin to kill and plunder so they can win mates? If you know your own history, Garzhvog, then you know it has always been so when Urgals sign peace accords.”
With a thick sigh, Garzhvog said, “Then we will hope that there are still Urgralgra across the sea and that they are wiser than us, for we will be no more in this land.”
Neither of them spoke again that night. Garzhvog curled up on his side and slept with his massive head resting on the ground, while Eragon wrapped himself in his cloak and sat against the stump and gazed at the slowly turning stars, drifting in and out of his waking dreams.
By the end of the next day, they had come into sight of the Beor Mountains. At first the mountains were nothing more than ghostly shapes on the horizon, angled panes of white and purple, but as evening drew nigh, the distant range acquired substance, and Eragon was able to make out the dark band of trees along the base and, above that, the even wider band of gleaming snow and ice and, still higher yet, the peaks themselves, which were gray, bare stone, for they were so tall, no plants grew upon them and no snow fell upon them. As when he had first seen them, the sheer size of the Beor Mountains overwhelmed Eragon. His every instinct insisted that nothing that large could exist, and yet he knew his eyes did not deceive him. The mountains averaged ten miles high, and many were even taller.