With a single hand, Eragon swung the sword through the air, and he laughed at how light and fast it felt. The sword almost seemed alive. He grasped the sword with both his hands then and was delighted to find that they fit perfectly on the longer hilt. Lunging forward, he stabbed at an imaginary enemy and was confident they would have died from the attack.
“Here,” said Rhunön, and pointed at a bundle of three iron rods planted upright in the ground outside the forge. “Try it on those.”
Eragon allowed himself a moment to focus his thoughts, then took a single step toward the rods. With a yell, he slashed downward and cut through all three rods. The blade emitted a single pure note that slowly faded into silence. When Eragon examined the edge where it had struck the iron, he saw that the impact had not damaged it in the slightest.
“Are you well pleased, Dragon Rider?” Rhunön asked.
“More than pleased, Rhunön-elda,” said Eragon, and bowed to her. “I do not know how I can thank you for such a gift.”
“You may thank me by killing Galbatorix. If there is any sword destined to slay that mad king, it is this one.”
“I shall try my hardest, Rhunön-elda.”
The elf woman nodded, appearing satisfied. “Well, you finally have a sword of your own, which is as it ought to be. Now you are truly a Dragon Rider!”
“Yes,” said Eragon, and held the sword up toward the sky, admiring it. “Now I am truly a Rider.”
“Before you leave, one last thing remains for you to do,” said Rhunön.
She flicked a finger toward the sword. “You must name it so I can mark the blade and scabbard with the appropriate glyph.”
Eragon walked over to Saphira and said, What do you think?
I am not the one who must carry the blade. Name it as you see fit.
Yes, but you must have some ideas!
She lowered her head toward him and sniffed at the sword, then said, Blue-gem-tooth is what I would, name it. Or Blue-claw-red.
That would sound ridiculous to humans.
Then what of Reaver or Gutripper? Or maybe Battleclaw or Glitterthorn or Limbhacker? You could name it Terror or Pain or Armbiter or Eversharp or Ripplescale: that on account of the lines in the steel. There is also Tongue of Death and Elfsteel and Starmetal and many others besides.
Her sudden outpouring surprised Eragon. You have a talent for this, he said.
Inventing random names is easy. Inventing the right name, however, can try the patience of even an elf.
What of Kingkiller? he asked.
And what if we actually kill Galbatorix? What, then? Will you do nothing else of worth with your sword?
Mmh. Placing the sword alongside Saphira’s left foreleg, Eragon said, It’s exactly the same color as you…. I could name it after you.
A low growl sounded in Saphira’s chest. No.
He fought back a smile. Are you sure? Just imagine if we were in battle and—
Her claws sank into the earth. No. I am not a thing for you to wave about and make fun of.
No, you’re right. I’m sorry…. Well, what if I named it Hope in the ancient language? Zar’roc means “misery,” so wouldn’t it be fitting if I were to wield a sword that by its very name would counteract misery?
A noble sentiment, said Saphira. But do you really want to give your enemies hope? Do you want to stab Galbatorix with hope?
It’s an amusing pun, he said, chuckling.
Once, maybe, but no more.
Stymied, Eragon grimaced and rubbed his chin, studying the play of light across the glittering blade. As he gazed into the depths of the steel, his eye chanced upon the flamelike pattern that marked the transition between the softer steel of the spine and that of the edges, and he recalled the word Brom had used to light his pipe during the memory Saphira had shared with him. Then Eragon thought of Yazuac, where he had first used magic, and also of his duel with Durza in Farthen Dûr, and in that instant he knew without doubt that he had found the right name for his sword.
Eragon consulted with Saphira, and when she agreed with his choice, he lifted the weapon to shoulder level and said, “I am decided. Sword, I name thee Brisingr!”
And with a sound like rushing wind, the blade burst into fire, an envelope of sapphire-blue flames writhing about the razor-sharp steel.
Uttering a startled cry, Eragon dropped the sword and jumped back, afraid of being burned. The blade continued to blaze on the ground, the translucent flames charring a nearby clump of grass. It was then that Eragon realized it was he who was providing the energy to sustain the unnatural fire. He quickly ended the magic, and the fire vanished from the sword. Puzzled by how he could have cast a spell without intending to, he picked up the sword again and tapped the blade with the tip of a finger. It was no hotter than before.
A heavy scowl on her brow, Rhunön stalked forward, seized the sword from Eragon, and examined it from tip to pommel. “You are fortunate I have already protected it with wards against heat and damage, else you would have just scratched the guard and destroyed the temper of the blade. Do not drop the sword again, Shade slayer—even if it should turn into a snake—or else I shall take it back and give you a worn-out hammer instead.” Eragon apologized, and appearing somewhat mollified, Rhunön handed the sword back to him. “Did you set fire to it on purpose?” she asked.
“No,” said Eragon, unable to explain what had happened.
“Say it again,” ordered Rhunön.
“The name, the name, say it again.”
Holding the sword as far away from his body as he could, Eragon exclaimed, “Brisingr!”
A column of flickering flames engulfed the blade of the sword, the heat warming Eragon’s face. This time Eragon noticed the slight drain on his strength from the spell. After a few moments, he extinguished the smokeless fire.
Once more Eragon exclaimed, “Brisingr!” And once more the blade shimmered with blue, wraithlike tongues of flame.
Now there is a fitting sword for a Rider and dragon! said Saphira in a delighted tone. It breathes fire as easily as I do.
“But I wasn’t trying to cast a spell!” protested Eragon. “All I did was say Brisingr and—” He yelped and swore as the sword again caught fire, which he put out for the fourth time.
“May I?” asked Rhunön, extending a hand toward Eragon. He gave her the sword, and she too said, “Brisingr!” A shiver seemed to run down the blade, but other than that, it remained inanimate. Her expression contemplative, Rhunön returned the sword to Eragon and said, “I can think of two explanations for this marvel. One is that because you were involved with the forging, you imbued the blade with a portion of your personality and therefore it has become attuned to your wishes. My other explanation is that you have discovered the true name of your sword. Perhaps both those things are what has happened. In any event, you have chosen well, Shadeslayer. Brisingr! Yes, I like it. It is a good name for a sword.”
A very good name, Saphira agreed.
Then Rhunön placed her hand over the middle of Brisingr’s blade and murmured an inaudible spell. The Elvish glyph for fire appeared upon both sides of the blade. She did the same to the front of the scabbard.
Again Eragon bowed to the elf woman, and both he and Saphira expressed their gratitude to her. A smile appeared on Rhunön’s aged face, and she touched each of them upon their brows with her callused thumb. “I am glad I was able to help the Riders this once more. Go, Shadeslayer. Go, Brightscales. Return to the Varden, and may your enemies flee with fear when they see the sword you now wield.”
So Eragon and Saphira bade her farewell, and together they departed Rhunön’s house, Eragon cradling Brisingr in his arms as he would a newborn child.
GREAVES AND BRACERS
A single candle lit the inside of the gray wool tent, a poor substitute for the radiance of the sun.
Roran stood with his arms outstretched while Katrina laced up the sides of the padded jerkin
she had fitted for him. When she finished, she tugged on the hem of the jerkin, smoothing out the wrinkles, and said, “There now. Is it too tight?”
He shook his head. “No.”
She retrieved his greaves from the cot they shared and knelt before him in the flickering candlelight. Roran watched as she buckled the greaves onto his lower legs. She cupped the curve of his calf with her hand as she secured the second piece of armor, her flesh warm against his through the fabric of his trousers.
Standing, she turned to the cot again and picked up his bracers. Roran held out his arms toward her and stared into her eyes, even as she stared into his. With slow, deliberate motions, she fastened the bracers onto his forearms, then drew her hands from the inside of his elbow down to his wrists, where he clasped her hands with his own.
She smiled and pulled free of his gentle grip.
Next from the cot, she took his shirt of mail. She rose up onto the tips of her toes and lifted the hauberk over his head and held it there while he fit his arms into the sleeves. The mail tinkled like ice as she released it and it fell onto his shoulders, unfurling so that the lower edge hung level with his knees.
On his head, she set his leather arming cap, tying it firmly in place with a knot under his chin. She held his face between her hands for a moment, then kissed him once upon the lips and fetched his peaked helm, which she carefully slid over the arming cap.
Roran slipped his arm around her thickening waist as she started back toward the cot, stopping her. “Listen to me,” he said. “I’ll be fine.” He tried to convey all his love for her through the tone of his voice and the strength of his gaze. “Don’t just sit here all alone. Promise me that. Go to Elain; she could use your help. She’s sick, and her child is overdue.”
Katrina lifted her chin, her eyes gleaming with tears he knew she would not shed until after he had left. “Must you march in the front line?” she whispered.
“Someone must, and it might as well be me. Whom would you send in my stead?”
“Anyone … anyone at all.” Katrina looked down and was silent for a span, then she removed a red kerchief from the bodice of her dress and said, “Here, carry this favor of mine, so that the whole world may know how proud I am of you.” And she tied the kerchief to his sword belt.
Roran kissed her twice and released her, and she fetched his shield and spear from the cot. He kissed her a third time as he took them from her, then fit his arm through the strap on his shield.
“If something does happen to me—” he began to say.
Katrina placed a finger upon his lips. “Shh. Speak not of it, lest it should come true.”
“Very well.” He hugged her one last time. “Be safe.”
Although he hated to leave her, Roran raised his shield and strode out of the tent into the pale light of dawn. Men, dwarves, and Urgals streamed westward through the camp, heading toward the trampled field where the Varden were assembling.
Roran filled his lungs with the cool morning air and then followed, knowing that his band of warriors would be waiting for him. Once he arrived at the field, he sought out Jörmundur’s division and, after reporting to Jörmundur, made his way to the front of the group, where he chose to stand next to Yarbog.
The Urgal glanced at him, then grunted, “A good day for a battle.”
“A good day.”
A horn sounded at the forefront of the Varden as soon as the sun broke over the horizon. Roran hefted his spear and began to run forward, like everyone else around him, howling at the top of his lungs as arrows rained down upon them and boulders whistled past overhead, flying in either direction. Ahead of him, a stone wall eighty feet tall loomed.
The siege of Feinster had begun.
From Rhunön’s house, Saphira and Eragon flew back to their tree house. Eragon gathered up his belongings from the bedroom, saddled Saphira, and then returned to his usual place upon the crest of her shoulders.
Before we go to the Crags of Tel’naeír, he said, there is one more thing I must do in Ellesméra.
Must you? she asked.
I won’t be content unless I do.
Saphira leaped out from the tree house. She glided westward until the number of buildings began to diminish, and then she angled downward for a soft landing upon a narrow, moss-covered path. After asking for, and getting, directions from an elf who was sitting in the branches of a nearby tree, Eragon and Saphira continued through the woods until they arrived at a small one-room house grown out of the bole of a fir tree that stood at an acute angle, as if a constant wind pressed against it.
To the left of the house was a soft bank of earth taller by several feet than Eragon. A rivulet of water tumbled over the edge of the bank and poured itself into a limpid pool before meandering off into the dim recesses of the forest. White orchids lined the pool. A bulbous root protruded out of the ground from among the slender flowers that grew along the near shore, and sitting cross-legged upon the root was Sloan.
Eragon held his breath, not wanting to alert the other man to his presence.
The butcher wore robes of brown and orange, after the fashion of the elves. A thin black strip of cloth was tied around his head, concealing the gaping holes where his eyes had been. In his lap, he held a length of seasoned wood, which he was whittling with a small, curved knife. His face was covered with far more lines than Eragon remembered, and upon his hands and arms were several new scars, livid against the surrounding skin.
Wait here, Eragon said to Saphira, and slipped off her back.
As Eragon approached him, Sloan paused in his carving and cocked his head. “Go away,” he rasped.
Not knowing how to respond, Eragon stopped where he was and remained silent.
The muscles in his jaw rippling, Sloan removed another few curls from the wood he held, then tapped the tip of his knife against the root and said, “Blast you. Can you not leave me alone with my misery for a few hours? I don’t want to listen to any bard or minstrel of yours, and no matter how many times you ask me, I won’t change my mind. Now go on. Away with you.”
Pity and anger welled up inside Eragon, and also a sense of displacement at seeing a man he had grown up around, and had so often feared and disliked, brought to such a state. “Are you comfortable?” Eragon asked in the ancient language, adopting a light, lilting tone.
Sloan uttered a growl of disgust. “You know I cannot understand your tongue and I do not wish to learn it. The words ring in my ears longer than they ought to. If you will not speak in the language of my race, then do not speak to me at all.”
Despite Sloan’s entreaty, Eragon did not repeat the question in their common language, nor did he depart.
With a curse, Sloan resumed his whittling. After every other stroke, he ran his right thumb over the surface of the wood, checking the progress of whatever he was carving. Several minutes passed, and then in a softer voice, Sloan said, “You were right; having something to do with my hands calms my thoughts. Some–times … sometimes I can almost forget what I have lost, but the memories always return, and I feel as if I am choking on them….
I am glad you sharpened the knife. A man’s knives should always be sharp.”
Eragon watched him for a minute more, then he turned away and walked back to where Saphira was waiting. As he pulled himself into the saddle, he said, Sloan does not seem to have changed very much.
And Saphira replied, You cannot expect him to become someone else entirely in such a short time.
No, but I had hoped he would learn something of wisdom here in Ellesméra and that maybe he would repent of his crimes.
If he does not wish to acknowledge his mistakes, Eragon, nothing can force him to. In any event, you have done all you can for him. Now he must find a way to reconcile himself with his lot. If he cannot, then let him seek the solace of the everlasting grave.
From a clearing close to Sloan’s house, Saphira launched herself up and over the surr
ounding trees and headed north toward the Crags of Tel’naeír, flapping as hard and fast as she could. The morning sun sat full upon the horizon, and the rays of light that streamed out over the treetops created long, dark shadows that, as one, pointed to the west like purple pennants.
Saphira descended toward the clearing by Oromis’s pinewood house, where Glaedr and Oromis stood waiting for them. Eragon was startled to see that Glaedr was wearing a saddle nestled between two of the towering spikes on his back and that Oromis was garbed in heavy traveling robes of blue and green, over which he wore a corselet of golden scale armor, as well as bracers upon his arms. A tall, diamond-shaped shield was slung across his back, an archaic helm rested in the crook of his left arm, and around his waist was belted his bronze-colored sword, Naegling.
With a gust of wind from her wings, Saphira alighted upon the sward of grass and clover. She flicked out her tongue, tasting the air as Eragon slid to the ground. Are you going to fly with us to the Varden? she asked. The tip of her tail twitched with excitement.
“We shall fly with you as far as the edge of Du Weldenvarden, but there our paths must part,” said Oromis.
Disappointed, Eragon asked, “Will you return to Ellesméra then?”
Oromis shook his head. “No, Eragon. Then we shall continue onward to the city of Gil’ead.”
Saphira hissed with surprise, a sentiment Eragon shared. “Why to Gil’ead?” he asked, bewildered.
Because Islanzadí and her army have marched there from Ceunon, and they are about to lay siege to the city, said Glaedr. The strange, gleaming structures of his mind brushed against Eragon’s consciousness.
But do not you and Oromis wish to keep your existence hidden from the Empire? Saphira asked.
Oromis closed his eyes for a moment, his expression withdrawn and enigmatic. “The time for hiding has passed, Saphira. Glaedr and I have taught the two of you everything we could in the brief while you were able to study under us. It was a paltry education compared with that you would have received of old, but given how events press on us, we are fortunate to have been able to teach you as much as we did. Glaedr and I are satisfied that you now know everything that might help you to defeat Galbatorix.