“She is as old as the Riders?” said Eragon, amazed.
Eragon paused. “What shall we do between now and tomorrow, Master?”
Oromis looked over Eragon and Saphira, then said, “Go and visit the Menoa tree; I know you will not rest easy until you have. See there if you can find the weapon the werecat enticed you with. When you have satisfied your curiosity, retire to the quarters of your tree house, which Islanzadí’s servants keep in readiness for you and Saphira. Tomorrow we shall do what we can.”
“But, Master, we have so little time—”
“And the pair of you are far too tired for any more excitement today. Trust me, Eragon; you will do better for the rest. I think the hours between will help you to digest all we have spoken of. Even by the measure of kings, queens, and dragons, this conversation of ours has been no light exchange.”
Despite Oromis’s assurances, Eragon felt uneasy about spending the remainder of the day in leisure. His sense of urgency was so great, he wanted to continue working even when he knew he ought to be recuperating.
Eragon shifted in his chair, and by the motion he must have revealed something of his ambivalence, for Oromis smiled and said, “If it will help you relax, Eragon, I promise you this: before you and Saphira leave for the Varden, you may pick any use of magic, and in the brief while we have, I will teach you everything I can concerning it.”
With his thumb, Eragon pushed his ring around his right index finger and considered Oromis’s offer, trying to decide what, of all areas of magic, he would most like to learn. At last he said, “I would like to know how to summon spirits.”
A shadow passed over Oromis’s face. “I shall keep my word, Eragon, but sorcery is a dark and unseemly art. You should not seek to control other beings for your own gain. Even if you ignore the immorality of sorcery, it is an exceptionally dangerous and fiendishly complicated discipline. A magician requires at least three years of intensive study before he can hope to summon spirits and not have them possess him.
“Sorcery is not like other magics, Eragon; by it, you attempt to force incredibly powerful and hostile beings to obey your commands, beings who devote every moment of their captivity to finding a flaw in their bonds so that they can turn on you and subjugate you in revenge. Throughout history, never has there been a Shade who was also a Rider, and of all the horrors that have stalked this fair land, such an abomination could easily be the worst, worse even than Galbatorix. Please choose another subject, Eragon: one less perilous for you and for our cause.”
“Then,” said Eragon, “could you teach me my true name?”
“Your requests,” said Oromis, “grow ever more difficult, Eragonfiniarel. I might be able to guess your true name if I so wished.” The silver-haired elf studied Eragon with increased intensity, his eyes heavy upon him. “Yes, I believe I could. But I will not. A true name can be of great importance magically, but it is not a spell in and of itself, and so it is exempt from my promise. If your desire is to better understand yourself, Eragon, then seek to discover your true name on your own. If I gave you it, you might profit thereof, but you would do so without the wisdom you would otherwise acquire during the journey to find your true name. A person must earn enlightenment, Eragon. It is not handed down to you by others, regardless of how revered they be.”
Eragon fiddled with his ring for another moment, then made a noise in his throat and shook his head. “I don’t know…. My questions have run dry.”
“That I very much doubt,” said Oromis.
Eragon found it difficult to concentrate upon the matter at hand; his thoughts kept returning to the Eldunarí and to Brom. Again Eragon marveled at the strange series of events that had led Brom to settle in Carvahall and, eventually, to Eragon himself becoming a Dragon Rider. If Arya hadn’t … Eragon stopped and smiled as a thought occurred to him. “Will you teach me how to move an object from place to place without delay, just as Arya did with Saphira’s egg?”
Oromis nodded. “An excellent choice. The spell is costly, but it has many uses. I am sure it will prove most helpful to you in your dealings with Galbatorix and the Empire. Arya, for one, can attest to its effectiveness.”
Lifting his goblet from the table, Oromis held it up to the sun, and the radiance from above rendered the wine transparent. He studied the liquid for a long while, then lowered the goblet and said, “Before you venture into the city, you should know that he whom you sent to live among us arrived here some time ago.”
A moment passed before Eragon realized to whom Oromis was referring. “Sloan is in Ellesméra?” said Eragon, astonished.
“He lives alone in a small dwelling by a stream on the western edge of Ellesméra. Death was close upon him when he staggered out of the forest, but we tended the wounds of his flesh, and he is healthy now. The elves in the city bring him food and clothes and otherwise see to it he is well cared for. They escort him wherever he wishes to go, and sometimes they read to him, but for the most part, he prefers to sit alone, saying nothing to those who approach. Twice he has attempted to leave, but your spells prevented it.”
I’m surprised he arrived here so quickly, Eragon said to Saphira.
The compulsion you placed upon him must have been stronger than you realized.
Aye. In a quiet voice, Eragon asked, “Have you seen fit to restore his vision?”
“We have not.”
The weeping man is broken inside, Glaedr said. He cannot see clearly enough for his eyes to be of any use.
“Should I go and visit him?” asked Eragon, unsure of what Oromis and Glaedr expected.
“That is for you to decide,” said Oromis. “Meeting you again might only upset him. However, you are responsible for his punishment, Eragon. It would be wrong for you to forget him.”
“No, Master, I won’t.”
With a brisk motion of his head, Oromis set his goblet on the table and moved his chair closer to Eragon. “The day grows old, and I would keep you here no longer, lest I interfere with your rest, but there is one more thing I wish to attend to before you depart: your hands, may I examine them? I would like to see what they say about you now.” And Oromis held out his own hands toward Eragon.
Extending his arms, Eragon placed his hands palm-downward on top of Oromis’s, shivering at the touch of the elf’s thin fingers against the inside of his wrists. The calluses on Eragon’s knuckles cast long shadows across the backs of his hands as Oromis tilted them from side to side. Then, exerting a slight but firm pressure, Oromis turned Eragon’s hands over and inspected his palms and the undersides of his fingers.
“What do you see?” asked Eragon.
Oromis twisted Eragon’s hands around again and gestured at his calluses. “You now have the hands of a warrior, Eragon. Take care they do not become the hands of a man who revels in the carnage of war.”
THE TREE OF LIFE
From the Crags of Tel’naeír, Saphira flew low over the swaying forest until she arrived at the clearing wherein stood the Menoa tree. Thicker than a hundred of the giant pines that encircled it, the Menoa tree rose toward the sky like a mighty pillar, its arching canopy thousands of feet across. The gnarled net of its roots radiated outward from the massive, moss-bound trunk, covering more than ten acres of forest floor before the roots delved deeper into the soft soil and vanished beneath those of lesser trees. Close to the Menoa tree, the air was moist and cool, and a faint but constant mist drifted down from the mesh of needles above, watering the broad ferns clustered about the base of its trunk. Red squirrels raced along the branches of the ancient tree, and the bright calls and chirrups of hundreds of birds burst forth from the bramble-like depths of its foliage. And throughout the clearing, the sense of a watchful presence pervaded, for the tree contained within it the remnants of the elf once known as Linnëa, whose consciousness now guided the growth of the tree and that of the forest beyond.
Eragon searched the uneven field of roots for any sign of a weapon, but as b
efore, he found no object he would consider carrying into battle. He pried a loose slab of bark from the moss at his feet and held it up to Saphira. What do you think? he asked. If I imbued it with enough spells, could I kill a soldier with this?
You could kill a soldier with a blade of grass if you wanted to, she answered. However, against Murtagh and Thorn, or the king and his black dragon, you might as well attack them with a strand of wet wool as that bark.
You’re right, he said, and tossed it away.
It seems to me, she said, that you should not need to make a fool of yourself in order for Solembum’s advice to prove true.
No, but perhaps I should approach the problem differently if I am going to find this weapon. As you pointed out before, it could just as easily be a stone or a book as a blade of some sort. A staff carved from the branch of the Menoa tree would be a worthy weapon, I would think.
But hardly equal to a sword.
No …. And I would not dare lop off a branch without permission from the tree herself, and I have no idea how I could go about convincing her to grant my request.
Saphira arched her sinuous neck and gazed upward at the tree, then shook her head and shoulders to rid herself of the droplets that had accumulated on the sharp edges of her faceted scales. As the spray of cold water struck him, Eragon yelped and jumped backward, shielding his face with his arm. If any creature tried to harm the Menoa tree, she said, I doubt they would live long enough to regret their mistake.
For several more hours, the two of them prowled the clearing. Eragon continued to hope they would stumble across some nook or cranny among the knotted roots where they would find the exposed corner of a buried chest, which would contain a sword. Since Murtagh has Zar’roc, which is his father’s sword, Eragon thought, by all rights, I ought to have the sword Rhunön made for Brom.
It would be the right color too, Saphira added. His dragon, my namesake, was blue as well.
At last, in desperation, Eragon reached out with his mind toward the Menoa tree and attempted to attract the attention of her slow-moving consciousness, to explain his search and ask for her help. But he might as well have been trying to communicate with the wind or the rain, for the tree took no more notice of him than he would of an ant flailing its feelers by his boots.
Disappointed, he and Saphira left the Menoa tree even as the rim of the sun kissed the horizon. From the clearing, Saphira flew to the center of Ellesméra, where she glided to a landing within the bedroom of the tree house the elves had given them to stay in. The house was a cluster of several globular rooms that rested in the crown of a sturdy tree, several hundred feet above the ground.
A meal of fruit, vegetables, cooked beans, and bread was waiting for Eragon in the dining room. After eating a little, Eragon curled up next to Saphira on the blanket-lined basin set into the floor, ignoring the bed in preference for Saphira’s company. He lay there, alert and aware of his surroundings, while Saphira sank into a deep sleep. From his place by her side, Eragon watched the stars rise and set above the moonlit forest and thought of Brom and the mystery of his mother. Late in the night, he slipped into the trancelike state of his waking dreams, and there he spoke with his parents. Eragon could not hear what they said, for his voice and theirs were muted and indistinct, but somehow he was aware of the love and pride his parents felt for him, and although he knew they were no more than phantoms of his restless mind, ever after he treasured the memory of their affection.
At dawn, a slim elf maid led Eragon and Saphira through the paths of Ellesméra to the compound of the family Valtharos. As they passed between the dark boles of the gloomy pines, it struck Eragon how very empty and quiet the city was compared with their last visit; he descried only three elves among the trees: tall, graceful figures who glided away on silent footsteps.
When the elves march to war, Saphira observed, few remain behind.
Lord Fiolr was waiting for them inside an arched hall illuminated by several floating werelights. His face was long and stern and angled more sharply than those of most elves, so that his features reminded Eragon of a thin-bladed spear. He wore a robe of green and gold, the collar of which flared high behind his head, like the neck feathers of an exotic bird. In his left hand, he carried a wand of white wood carved with glyphs from the Liduen Kvaedhí. Mounted upon the end was a lustrous pearl.
Bending at the waist, Lord Fiolr bowed, as did Eragon. Then they exchanged the elves’ traditional greetings, and Eragon thanked the lord for being so generous as to allow him to inspect the sword Támerlein.
And Lord Fiolr said, “Long has Támerlein been a prized possession of my family, and it is especially dear to my own heart. Know you the history of Támerlein, Shadeslayer?”
“No,” said Eragon.
“My mate was the most wise and fair Naudra, and her brother, Arva, was a Dragon Rider at the time of the Fall. Naudra was visiting with him in Ilirea when Galbatorix and the Forsworn did sweep down upon the city like a storm from the north. Arva fought alongside the other Riders to defend Ilirea, but Kialandí of the Forsworn dealt him a mortal blow. As he lay dying on the battlements of Ilirea, Arva gave his sword, Támerlein, to Naudra that she might protect herself. With Támerlein, Naudra fought free of the Forsworn and returned here with another dragon and Rider, although she died soon afterward of her wounds.”
With a single finger, Lord Fiolr stroked the wand, eliciting a soft glow from the pearl in response. “Támerlein is as precious to me as the air in my lungs; I would sooner part with life than part with it. Unfortunately, neither I nor my kin are worthy of wielding it. Támerlein was forged for a Rider, and Riders we are not. I am willing to lend you it, Shadeslayer, in order to aid you in your fight against Galbatorix. However, Támerlein will remain the property of House Valtharos, and you must promise to return the sword if ever I or my heirs ask for it.”
Eragon gave his word, and then Lord Fiolr led him and Saphira to a long, polished table grown out of the living wood of the floor. At one end of the table was an ornate stand, and resting upon the stand was the sword Támerlein and its sheath.
The blade of Támerlein was colored a dark, rich green, as was its sheath. A large emerald adorned the pommel. The furniture of the sword had been wrought of blued steel. A line of glyphs adorned the crossguard. In Elvish, they said, I am Támerlein, bringer of the final sleep. In length, the sword was equal to Zar’roc, but the blade was wider and the tip rounder and the build of the hilt was heavier. It was a beautiful, deadly weapon, but just by looking at it, Eragon could see that Rhunön had forged Támerlein for a person with a fighting style different from his own, a style that relied more on cutting and slashing than the faster, more elegant techniques Brom had taught him.
As soon as Eragon’s fingers closed around Támerlein’s hilt, he realized that the hilt was too large for his hand, and at that moment he knew that Támerlein was not the sword for him. It did not feel like an extension of his arm, as had Zar’roc. And yet, despite his realization, Eragon hesitated, for where else could he hope to find so fine a sword? Arvindr, the other blade Oromis had mentioned, lay in a city hundreds of miles distant.
Then Saphira said, Do not take it. If you are to carry a sword into battle, if your life and mine are to depend upon it, then the sword must be perfect. Nothing else will suffice. Besides, I do not like the conditions Lord Fiolr has attached to his gift.
And so Eragon replaced Támerlein on its stand and apologized to Lord Fiolr, explaining why he could not accept the sword. The narrow-faced elf did not appear overly disappointed; to the contrary, Eragon thought he saw a flash of satisfaction appear in Fiolr’s fierce eyes.
From the halls of the family Valtharos, Eragon and Saphira made their own way through the dim caverns of the forest to the tunnel of dogwood trees that led to the open atrium in the center of Rhunön’s house. As they emerged from the tunnel, Eragon heard the clink of a hammer on a chisel, and he saw Rhunön sitting at a bench by the open-walled forge in
the middle of the atrium. The elf woman was busy carving a block of polished steel that lay before her. Whatever she was sculpting, Eragon could not guess, for the piece was still rough and indistinct.
“So, Shadeslayer, you are still alive,” said Rhunön, without taking her eyes off her work. Her voice grated like pitted millstones. “Oromis told me that you lost Zar’roc to the son of Morzan.”
Eragon winced and nodded, even though she was not looking at him. “Yes, Rhunön-elda. He took it from me on the Burning Plains.”
“Hmph.” Rhunön concentrated on her hammering, tapping the back of her chisel with inhuman speed, then she paused and said, “The sword has found its rightful owner, then. I do not like the use to which—what is his name? ah yes—Murtagh is putting Zar’roc, but every Rider deserves a proper sword, and I can think of no better sword for the son of Morzan than Morzan’s own blade.” The elf woman glanced up at Eragon from underneath her lined brow. “Understand me, Shadeslayer, I would prefer it if you had kept hold of Zar’roc, but it would please me even more if you had a sword that was made for you. Zar’roc may have served you well, but it was the wrong shape for your body. And do not even speak to me of Támerlein. You would have to be a fool to think you could wield it.”
“As you can see,” said Eragon, “I did not bring it with me from Lord Fiolr.”
Rhunön nodded and resumed chiseling. “Well then, good.”
“If Zar’roc is the right sword for Murtagh,” said Eragon, “wouldn’t Brom’s sword be the right weapon for me?”
A frown pinched Rhunön’s eyebrows together. “Undbitr? Why would you think of Brom’s blade?”
“Because Brom was my father,” said Eragon, and felt a thrill at being able to say that.
“Is that so now?” Laying down her hammer and chisel, Rhunön walked out from under the roof of her forge until she stood opposite Eragon. Her posture was slightly stooped from the centuries she had spent hunched over her work, and because of it, she appeared an inch or two shorter than he. “Mmh, yes, I can see the similarity. He was a rude one, he was, Brom; he said what he meant and wasted no words. I rather liked it. I cannot abide how my race has become. They are too polite, too refined, too precious. Ha! I remember when elves used to laugh and fight like normal creatures. Now they have become so withdrawn, some seem to have no more emotion than a marble statue!”