Eragon worked the sword upward, burning through the immense wooden beam that barred the doors shut from the inside. As soon as he felt the resistance against Brisingr’s blade lessen, he withdrew the sword and extinguished the flame. He wore thick gloves, so he did not shrink from grasping the glowing edges of one door and pulling it open with a mighty heave. The other door also swung outward, seemingly of its own accord, although a moment later, Eragon saw that it was Saphira who had pushed it open; she sat to the right of the entryway, peering at him with sparkling sapphire eyes. Behind her, the four catapults lay in ruins.
Eragon went to stand with Saphira as the Varden poured into the courtyard, filling the air with their clamorous battle-cries. Exhausted by his efforts, Eragon placed a hand over the belt of Beloth the Wise and bolstered his flagging strength with some of the energy he had stored within the twelve diamonds hidden inside the belt. He offered the rest of it to Saphira, who was equally tired, but she declined, saying, Keep it for yourself. You haven’t that much left. Besides, what I really need is a meal and a full night’s sleep.
Eragon leaned against her and allowed his eyelids to drift halfway closed. Soon, he said. Soon this will all be over.
I hope so, she replied.
Among the warriors who streamed past was Angela, garbed in her strange, flanged armor of green and black and carrying her hûthvír, the double-bladed staff weapon of the dwarf priests. The herbalist paused next to Eragon and, with an impish expression, said, “An impressive display, but don’t you think you’re overdoing it a bit?”
“What do you mean?” asked Eragon, frowning.
She lifted an eyebrow. “Come now, was it really necessary to set your sword on fire?”
Eragon’s expression cleared as he understood her objection. He laughed. “Not for the portcullis, no, but I enjoyed it. Besides, I can’t help it. I named the sword Fire in the ancient language, and every time I say the word, the blade flares up like a branch of dry wood in a bonfire.”
“You named your sword Fire?” Angela exclaimed with a note of incredulity. “Fire? What kind of a boring name is that? You might as well name your sword Blazing Blade and be done with it. Fire indeed. Humph. Wouldn’t you rather have a sword called Sheepbiter or Chrysanthemum Cleaver or something else with imagination?”
“I already have one Sheepbiter here,” said Eragon, and laid a hand on Saphira. “Why would I need another?”
Angela broke out into a wide smile. “So you’re not entirely devoid of wit after all! There just might be hope for you.” And she danced off toward the keep, twirling her double-bladed staff by her side and muttering, “Fire? Bah!”
A soft growl emanated from Saphira, and she said, Be careful whom you call Sheepbiter, Eragon, or you might get bitten yourself.
SHADOW OF DOOM
By then, Blödhgarm and his fellow elves had joined Eragon and Saphira in the courtyard, but Eragon ignored them and looked for Arya. When he spotted her, running alongside Jörmundur on his charger, Eragon hailed her and brandished his shield to attract her attention.
Arya heeded his call and loped over, her stride as graceful as a gazelle’s. She had acquired a shield, a full-sized helm, and a mail hauberk since they had parted, and the metal of her armor gleamed in the gray half-light that pervaded the city. As she drew to a stop, Eragon said, “Saphira and I are going to enter the keep from above and try to capture Lady Lorana. Do you want to come with us?”
Arya agreed with a terse nod.
Springing from the ground onto one of Saphira’s front legs, Eragon climbed into her saddle. Arya followed his example an instant later and sat close behind him, the links of her hauberk pressing against his back.
Saphira unfurled her velvety wings and took flight, leaving Blödhgarm and the other elves gazing up at her with looks of frustration.
“You should not abandon your guards so lightly,” Arya murmured in Eragon’s left ear. She wrapped her sword arm around his waist and held him tightly as Saphira wheeled above the courtyard.
Before Eragon could respond, he felt the touch of Glaedr’s vast mind. For a moment, the city below vanished, and he saw and felt only what Glaedr saw and felt.
Little-stinging-hornet-arrows bounced off his belly as he rose above the scattered wood-caves of the two-legs-round-ears. The air was smooth and firm beneath his wings, perfect for the flying he would need to do. On his back, the saddle rubbed against his scales as Oromis altered his position.
Glaedr flicked his tongue out and tasted the enticing aroma of burntwood-cooked-meat-spilled-blood. He had been to this place many times before. In his youth, it had been known by a different name than Gil’ead, and then the only inhabitants had been the somber-laughing-quick-tongued-elves and the friends of elves. His previous visits had always been pleasant, but it pained him to remember the two nest-mates who had died here, slain by the twisted-mind-Forsworn.
The lazy-one-eye-sun hovered just above the horizon. To the north, the big-water-Isenstar was a rippling sheet of polished silver. Below, the herd of pointed-ears commanded by Islanzadí was arrayed around the broken-anthill-city. Their armor glittered like crushed ice. A pall of blue smoke lay over the whole area, thick as cold morning mist.
And from the south, the small-angry-rip-claw-Thorn winged his way toward Gil’ead, bellowing his challenge for all to hear. Morzan-son-Murtagh sat upon his back, and in Murtagh’s right hand, Zar’roc shone as bright as a nail.
Sorrow filled Glaedr as he beheld the two miserable hatchlings. He wished he and Oromis did not have to kill them. Once more, he thought, dragon must fight dragon and Rider must fight Rider, and all because of that egg-breaker-Galbatorix. His mood grim, Glaedr quickened his flapping and spread his claws in preparation for tearing at his oncoming foes.
Eragon’s head whipped on his neck as Saphira lurched to one side and dropped a score of feet before she regained her equilibrium. Did you see that as well? she asked.
I did. Worried, Eragon glanced back at the saddlebags, where Glaedr’s heart of hearts was hidden, and wondered if he and Saphira should try to help Oromis and Glaedr but then reassured himself with the knowledge that there were numerous spellcasters among the elves. His teachers would not want for assistance.
“What is wrong?” asked Arya, her voice loud in Eragon’s ear.
Oromis and Glaedr are about to fight Thorn and Murtagh, said Saphira.
Eragon felt Arya stiffen against him. “How do you know?” she asked.
“I’ll explain later. I just hope they don’t get hurt.”
“As do I,” said Arya.
Saphira flew high above the keep, then floated downward on silent wings and alighted upon the spire of the tallest tower. As Eragon and Arya clambered onto the steep roof, Saphira said, I will meet you in the chamber below. The window here is too small for me. And she took off, the gusts from her wings buffeting them.
Eragon and Arya lowered themselves over the edge of the roof and dropped to a narrow stone ledge eight feet below. Ignoring the vertigo-inducing fall that awaited him if he slipped, Eragon inched along the ledge to a cross-shaped window, where he pulled himself into a large square room lined with sheaves of quarrels and racks of heavy crossbows. If anyone had been in the room when Saphira landed, they had already fled.
Arya climbed through the window after him. She inspected the room, then gestured at the stairs in the far corner and padded toward them, her leather boots silent on the stone floor.
As Eragon followed her, he sensed a strange confluence of energies below them and also the minds of five people whose thoughts were closed to him. Wary of a mental attack, Eragon withdrew into himself and concentrated upon reciting a scrap of elvish poetry. He touched Arya on the shoulder and whispered, “Do you feel that?”
She nodded. “We should have brought Blödhgarm with us.”
Together, they descended the stairs, making every effort to be quiet. The next room in the tower was much larger than the last; the ce
iling was over thirty feet high, and from it hung a lantern with faceted panes of glass. A yellow flame burned inside. Hundreds of oil paintings covered the walls: portraits of bearded men in ornate robes and expressionless women sitting amid children with sharp, flat teeth; gloomy, windswept seascapes depicting the drowning of sailors; and scenes of battle, where humans slaughtered bands of grotesque Urgals. A row of tall wooden shutters set within the northern wall opened onto a balcony with a stone balustrade. Op posite the window, near the far wall, was a collection of small round tables littered with scrolls, three padded chairs, and two oversized brass urns filled with bouquets of dried flowers. A stout, gray-haired woman garbed in a lavender dress sat in one of the chairs. She bore a strong resemblance to several of the men in the paintings. A silver diadem adorned with jade and topaz rested upon her head.
In the center of the room stood the three magicians Eragon had glimpsed before in the city. The two men and a woman were facing each other, the hoods of their robes thrown back and their arms extended out to each side, so that the tips of their fingers touched. They swayed in unison, murmuring an unfamiliar spell in the ancient language. A fourth person sat in the middle of the triangle they formed: a man garbed in an identical fashion, but who said nothing, and who grimaced as if in pain.
Eragon threw himself at the mind of one of the male spellcasters, but the man was so focused on his task, Eragon failed to gain entry to his consciousness and thus was unable to subordinate him to his will. The man did not even seem to notice the attack. Arya must have attempted the same thing, for she frowned and whispered, “They were trained well.”
“Do you know what they are doing?” he murmured.
She shook her head.
Then the woman in the lavender dress looked up and saw Eragon and Arya crouched upon the stone stairs. To Eragon’s surprise, the woman did not call for help but rather placed a finger upon her lips, then beckoned.
Eragon exchanged a perplexed glance with Arya. “It could be a trap,” he whispered.
“It most likely is,” she said.
“What should we do?”
“Is Saphira almost here?”
“Then let us go and greet our host.”
Matching their steps, they padded down the remaining stairs and snuck across the room, never taking their eyes off the engrossed magicians. “Are you Lady Lorana?” asked Arya in a soft voice as they halted before the seated woman.
The woman inclined her head. “That I am, fair elf.” She turned her gaze upon Eragon then and said, “And are you the Dragon Rider of whom we have heard so much about recently? Are you Eragon Shadeslayer?”
“I am,” said Eragon.
A relieved expression appeared upon the woman’s distinguished face. “Ah, I had hoped you would come. You must stop them, Shade slayer.” And she gestured at the magicians.
“Why don’t you order them to surrender?” whispered Eragon.
“I cannot,” said Lorana. “They answer only to the king and his new Rider. I have sworn myself to Galbatorix—I had no choice in the matter—so I cannot raise a hand against him or his servants; otherwise, I would have arranged their destruction myself.”
“Why?” asked Arya. “What is it you fear so much?”
The skin around Lorana’s eyes tightened. “They know they cannot hope to drive off the Varden as they are, and Galbatorix has not sent reinforcements to our aid. So they are attempting, I do not know how, to create a Shade in the hope that the monster will turn against the Varden and spread sorrow and confusion throughout your ranks.”
Horror enveloped Eragon. He could not imagine having to fight another Durza. “But a Shade might just as easily turn against them and everyone else in Feinster as it would against the Varden.”
Lorana nodded. “They do not care. They only wish to cause as much pain and destruction as they can before they die. They are insane, Shadeslayer. Please, you must stop them, for the sake of my people!”
As she finished speaking, Saphira landed upon the balcony outside the room, cracking the balustrade with her tail. She knocked aside the shutters with a single blow of her paw, breaking their frames like so much tinder, and then pushed her head and shoulders into the chamber and growled.
The magicians continued to chant, seemingly oblivious to her presence.
“Oh my,” said Lady Lorana, gripping the arms of her chair.
“Right,” said Eragon. He hefted Brisingr and started toward the magicians, as did Saphira from the opposite direction.
The world reeled around Eragon, and again he found himself peering through Glaedr’s eyes.
Red. Black. Flashes of throbbing yellow. Pain … Bone-bending pain in his belly and in the shoulder of his left wing. Pain as he had not felt for over a hundred years. Then relief as partner-of-his-life-Oromis healed his injuries.
Glaedr regained his balance and looked for Thorn. The little-red-shrike-dragon was stronger and faster than Glaedr had anticipated, due to Galbatorix’s meddling.
Thorn slammed into Glaedr’s left side, his weak side, where he had lost his foreleg. They spun around each other, plummeting toward the hard-flat-wing-crushing-ground. Glaedr snapped and tore and raked with his hind feet, trying to batter the smaller dragon into submission.
You will not best me, youngling, he vowed to himself. I was old before you were born.
White-dagger-claws scratched Glaedr along his ribs and underside. He flexed his tail and struck snarling-long-fang-Thorn across one leg, stabbing him in the thigh with a spike on his tail. The fighting had long since exhausted both of their invisible-spell-shields, leaving them vulnerable to every sort of wound.
When the twirling ground was only a few thousand feet away, Glaedr inhaled and drew back his head. He tightened his neck, clenched his belly, and drew forth the dense-liquid-of-fire from deep within his gut. The liquid ignited as it combined with the air in his throat. He opened his jaws to their full extent and sprayed the red dragon with fire, engulfing him in a blistering cocoon. The torrent of hungry-grasping-writhing-flames tickled the inside of Glaedr’s cheeks.
He closed off his throat, terminating the flow of fire as he and the squirming-squealing-slash-claw-dragon pulled away from each other. From on his back, Glaedr heard Oromis say, “Their strength is fading; I can see it in their bearing. Another few minutes and Murtagh’s concentration shall fail and I will be able to assume control over his thoughts. That or we shall slay them with sword and fang.”
Glaedr growled in agreement, frustrated that he and Oromis dared not communicate with their minds, as they usually did. Rising on warm-wind-from-tilled-earth, he turned toward Thorn, whose limbs dripped with crimson blood, and roared and prepared to grapple with him once more.
Eragon stared at the ceiling, disoriented. He was lying on his back within the keep tower. Kneeling next to him was Arya, concern etched upon her face. She grasped him by an arm and helped him upright, steadying him as he wobbled. Across the room, Eragon saw Saphira shake her head, and he felt her own confusion.
The three magicians still stood with their arms outstretched, swaying and chanting in the ancient language. The words of their spell rang with unusual force and lingered in the air long after they should have faded to silence. The man who sat at their feet gripped his knees, his entire body shuddering as he thrashed his head from side to side.
“What happened?” asked Arya in a strained undertone. She pulled Eragon closer and lowered her voice even further. “How can you know what Glaedr is thinking from so far away, and when his mind is closed even to Oromis? Forgive me for touching your thoughts without your permission, Eragon, but I was worried about your welfare. What sort of a bond do you and Saphira share with Glaedr?”
“Later,” he said, and squared his shoulders.
“Did Oromis give you an amulet or some other trinket that allows you to contact Glaedr?”
“It would take too long to explain. Later, I promise.”
Arya hesitated, then
nodded and said, “I shall hold you to that.”
Together, Eragon, Saphira, and Arya advanced toward the magicians and struck at a separate one each. A metallic peal filled the room as Brisingr glanced aside before it reached its intended target, wrenching Eragon’s shoulder. Likewise, Arya’s sword rebounded off a ward, as did Saphira’s right front paw. Her claws screeched against the stone floor.
“Concentrate on this one!” Eragon shouted, and pointed at the tallest spellcaster, a pale man with a snarled beard. “Hurry, before they manage to summon any spirits!” Eragon or Arya could have attempted to circumvent or deplete the spellcasters’ wards with spells of their own, but using magic against another magician was always a perilous proposition unless the magician’s mind was under your control. Neither Eragon nor Arya wanted to risk being killed by a ward they were as yet ignorant of.
Attacking in turns, Eragon, Saphira, and Arya cut, stabbed, and battered at the bearded spellcaster for nearly a minute. None of their blows touched the man. Then, at last, after only the slightest hint of resistance, Eragon felt something give way beneath Brisingr, and the sword continued on its way and lopped off the spellcaster’s head. The air in front of Eragon shimmered. At the same instant, he felt a sudden drain on his strength as his wards defended him from an unknown spell. The assault ceased after a few seconds, leaving him dizzy and light-headed. His stomach rumbled. He grimaced and fortified himself with energy from the belt of Beloth the Wise.
The only response the other two magicians evinced at the death of their companion was to increase the speed of their invocation. Yellow foam encrusted the corners of their mouths, and spittle flew from their lips, and the whites of their eyes showed, but still they made no attempt to flee or to attack.