We are taking book requests on our companion website. You can request books here. Make sure, you are following the rules.

Brisingr: Chapter 19

GIFTS OF GOLD

Eragon stood next to Saphira, fifty yards from Nasuada’s crimson pavilion. Glad to be free of all the commotion that had surrounded Elva, he gazed up at the clear azure sky and rolled his shoulders, already tired from the events of the day. Saphira intended to fly out to the Jiet River and bathe herself in its deep, slow-moving water, but his own intentions were less definite. He still needed to finish oiling his armor, prepare for Roran and Katrina’s wedding, visit with Jeod, locate a proper sword for himself, and also . . . He scratched his chin.

How long will you be gone? he asked.

Saphira unfurled her wings in preparation for flight. A few hours. I’m hungry. Once I am clean, I am going to catch two or three of those plump deer I’ve seen nibbling the grass on the western bank of the river. The Varden have shot so many of them, though, I may have to fly a half-dozen leagues toward the Spine before I find any game worth hunting.

Don’t go too far, he cautioned, else you might encounter the Empire.

I won’t, but if I happen upon a lone group of soldiers . . . She licked her chops. I would enjoy a quick fight. Besides, humans taste just as good as deer.

Saphira, you wouldn’t!

Her eyes sparkled. Maybe, maybe not. It depends on whether they are wearing armor. I hate biting through metal, and scooping my food out of a shell is just as annoying.

I see. He glanced over at the nearest elf, a tall, silver-haired woman. The elves won’t want you to go alone. Will you allow a couple of them to ride on you? Otherwise, it will be impossible for them to keep pace.

Not today. Today, I hunt alone! With a sweep of her wings, she took off, soaring high overhead. As she turned west, toward the Jiet River, her voice sounded in his mind, fainter than before because of the distance between them. When I return, we will fly together, won’t we, Eragon?

Yes, when you return, we will fly together, just the two of us. Her pleasure at that caused him to smile as he watched her arrow away toward the west.

Eragon lowered his gaze as Blödhgarm ran up to him, lithe as a forest cat. The elf asked where Saphira was going and seemed displeased with Eragon’s explanation, but if he had any objections, he kept them to himself.

“Right,” Eragon said to himself as Blödhgarm rejoined his companions. “First things first.”

He strode through the camp until he found a large square of open space where thirty-some Varden were practicing with a wide assortment of weapons. To his relief, they were too busy training to notice his presence. Crouching, he lay his right hand palm-upward on the trampled earth. He chose the words he would need from the ancient language, then murmured, “Kuldr, rïsa lam iet un malthinae unin böllr.”

The soil beside his hand appeared unchanged, although he could feel the spell sifting through the dirt for hundreds of feet in every direction. Not more than five seconds later, the surface of the earth began to boil like a pot of water left to sit for too long over a high flame, and it acquired a bright yellow sheen. Eragon had learned from Oromis that wherever one went, the land was sure to contain minute particles of nearly every element, and while they would be too small and scattered to mine with traditional methods, a knowledgeable magician could, with great effort, extract them.

From the center of the yellow patch, a fountain of sparkling dust arched up and over, landing in the middle of Eragon’s palm. There each glittering mote melded into the next, until three spheres of pure gold, each the size of a large hazelnut, rested on his hand.

“Letta,” said Eragon, and released the magic. He sat back on his heels and braced himself against the ground as a wave of weariness washed over him. His head drooped forward, and his eyelids descended halfway as his vision flickered and dimmed. Taking a deep breath, he admired the mirror-smooth orbs in his hand while he waited for his strength to return. So pretty, he thought. If only I could have done this when we were living in Palancar Valley. . . . It would almost be easier to mine the gold, though. A spell hasn’t taken so much out of me since I carried Sloan down from the top of Helgrind.

He pocketed the gold and set out again through the camp. He found a cook tent and ate a large lunch, which he needed after casting so many arduous spells, then headed toward the area where the villagers from Carvahall were staying. As he approached, he heard the ring of metal striking metal. Curious, he turned in that direction.

Eragon stepped around a line of three wagons parked across the mouth of the lane and saw Horst standing in a thirty-foot gap between the tents, holding one end of a five-foot-long bar of steel. The other end of the bar was bright cherry red and rested on the face of a massive two-hundred-pound anvil that was staked to the top of a low, wide stump. On either side of the anvil, Horst’s burly sons, Albriech and Baldor, alternated striking the steel with sledgehammers, which they swung over their heads in huge circular blows. A makeshift forge glowed several feet behind the anvil.

The hammering was so loud, Eragon kept his distance until Albriech and Baldor had finished spreading the steel and Horst had returned the bar to the forge. Waving his free arm, Horst said, “Ho, Eragon!” Then he held up a finger, forestalling Eragon’s reply, and pulled a plug of felted wool out of his left ear. “Ah, now I can hear again. What brings you about, Eragon?” While he spoke, his sons scooped more charcoal into the forge from a bucket and set about tidying up the tongs, hammers, dies, and other tools that lay on the ground. All three men gleamed with sweat.

“I wanted to know what was causing such a commotion,” said Eragon. “I should have guessed it was you. No one else can create as big an uproar as someone from Carvahall.”

Horst laughed, his thick, spade-shaped beard pointed up toward the sky until his mirth was exhausted. “Ah, that tickles my pride, it does. And aren’t you the living truth of it, eh?”

“We all are,” Eragon replied. “You, me, Roran, everyone from Carvahall. Alagaësia will never be the same once the lot of us are done.” He gestured at the forge and the other equipment. “Why are you here? I thought that all the smiths were—”

“So they are, Eragon. So they are. However, I convinced the captain who’s in charge of this part of the camp to let me work closer to our tent.” Horst tugged at the end of his beard. “It’s on account of Elain, you know. This child, it goes hard with her, and no wonder, considering what we went through to get here. She’s always been delicate, and now I worry that . . . well . . .” He shook himself like a bear ridding itself of flies. “Maybe you could look in on her when you get a chance and see if you can ease her discomfort.”

“I’ll do that,” Eragon promised.

With a satisfied grunt, Horst lifted the bar partway out of the coals to better judge the color of the steel. Plunging the bar back into the center of the fire, he jerked his beard toward Albriech. “Here now, give it some air. It’s almost ready.” As Albriech began to pump the leather bellows, Horst grinned at Eragon. “When I told the Varden I was a smith, they were so happy, you would have thought I was another Dragon Rider. They don’t have enough metal workers, you see. And they gave me what tools I was missing, including that anvil. When we left Carvahall, I wept at the prospect that I would not have the opportunity to practice my craft again. I am no swordsmith, but here, ah, here there is enough work to keep Albriech, Baldor, and me busy for the next fifty years. It doesn’t pay very well, but at least we’re not stretched out on a rack in Gal batorix’s dungeons.”

“Or the Ra’zac could be nibbling on our bones,” observed Baldor.

“Aye, that too.” Horst motioned for his sons to take up the sledgehammers again and then, holding the felt plug beside his left ear, said, “Is there anything else you wish of us, Eragon? The steel is ready, and I cannot leave it in the fire any longer without weakening it.”

“Do you know where Gedric is?”

“Gedric?” The furrow between Horst’s eyebrows deepened. “He should be practicing the sword and spear along with the rest of the men, thataway about a quarter of a mile.” Horst pointed with a thumb.

Eragon thanked him and departed in the direction Horst had indicated. The repetitive ring of metal striking metal resumed, clear as the peals of a bell and as sharp and piercing as a glass needle stabbing the air. Eragon covered his ears and smiled. It comforted him that Horst had retained his strength of purpose and that, despite the loss of his wealth and home, he was still the same person he had been in Carvahall. Somehow the smith’s consistency and resiliency renewed Eragon’s faith that if only they could overthrow Galbatorix, everything would be all right in the end, and his life and those of the villagers from Carvahall would regain a semblance of normalcy.

Eragon soon arrived at the field where the men of Carvahall were drilling with their new weapons. Gedric was there, as Horst had suggested he would be, sparring with Fisk, Darmmen, and Morn. A quick word on the part of Eragon with the one-armed veteran who was leading the drills was sufficient to secure Gedric’s temporary release.

The tanner ran over to Eragon and stood before him, his gaze lowered. He was short and swarthy, with a jaw like a mastiff’s, heavy eyebrows, and arms thick and gnarled from stirring the foul-smelling vats where he had cured his hides. Although he was far from handsome, Eragon knew him to be a kind and honest man.

“What can I do for you, Shadeslayer?” Gedric mumbled.

“You have already done it. And I have come here to thank and repay you.”

“I? How have I helped you, Shadeslayer?” He spoke slowly, cautiously, as if afraid Eragon were setting a trap for him.

“Soon after I ran away from Carvahall, you discovered that someone had stolen three ox hides from the drying hut by the vats. Am I right?”

Gedric’s face darkened with embarrassment, and he shuffled his feet. “Ah, well now, I didn’t lock that hut, you know. Anyone might have snuck in and carried those hides off. Besides, given what’s happened since, I can’t see as it’s much important. I destroyed most of my stock before we trooped into the Spine, to keep the Empire and those filthy Ra’zac from getting their claws on anything of use. Whoever took those hides saved me from having to destroy three more. So let bygones be bygones, I say.”

“Perhaps,” said Eragon, “but I still feel honor-bound to tell you that it was I who stole your hides.”

Gedric met his gaze then, looking at him as if he were an ordinary person, without fear, awe, or undue respect, as if the tanner were reevaluating his opinion of Eragon.

“I stole them, and I’m not proud of it, but I needed the hides. Without them, I doubt I would have survived long enough to reach the elves in Du Weldenvarden. I always preferred to think that I had borrowed the hides, but the truth is, I stole them, for I had no intention of returning them. Therefore, you have my apologies. And since I am keeping the hides, or what is left of them, it seems only right to pay you for them.” From within his belt, Eragon removed one of the spheres of gold—hard, round, and warm from the heat of his flesh—and handed it to Gedric.

Gedric stared at the shiny metal pearl, his massive jaw clamped shut, the lines around his thin-lipped mouth harsh and unyielding. He did not insult Eragon by weighing the gold in his hand, nor by biting it, but when he spoke, he said, “I cannot accept this, Eragon. I was a good tanner, but the leather I made was not worth this much. Your generosity does you credit, but it would bother me to keep this gold. I would feel as if I hadn’t earned it.”

Unsurprised, Eragon said, “You would not deny another man the opportunity to haggle for a fair price, would you?”

“No.”

“Good. Then you cannot deny me this. Most people haggle downward. In this case, I have chosen to haggle upward, but I will still haggle as fiercely as if I were trying to save myself a handful of coins. To me, the hides are worth every ounce of that gold, and I would not pay you a copper less, not even if you held a knife to my throat.”

Gedric’s thick fingers closed around the gold orb. “Since you insist, I will not be so churlish as to keep refusing you. No one can say that Gedric Ostvensson allowed good fortune to pass him by because he was too busy protesting his own unworthiness. My thanks, Shadeslayer.” He placed the orb in a pouch on his belt, wrapping the gold in a patch of wool cloth to protect it from scratches. “Garrow did right by you, Eragon. He did right by both you and Roran. He may have been sharp as vinegar and as hard and dry as a winter rutabaga, but he raised the two of you well. He would be proud of you, I think.”

Unexpected emotion clogged Eragon’s chest.

As Gedric turned to rejoin the other villagers, he paused. “If I may ask, Eragon, why were those hides worth so much to you? What did you use them for?”

Eragon chuckled. “Use them for? Why, with Brom’s help, I made a saddle for Saphira out of them. She doesn’t wear it as often as she used to—not since the elves gave us a proper dragon’s saddle—but it served us well through many a scrape and fight, and even the Battle of Farthen Dûr.”

Astonishment raised Gedric’s eyebrows, exposing pale skin that normally lay hidden in deep folds. Like a split in blue-gray granite, a wide grin spread across his jaw, transforming his features. “A saddle!” he breathed. “Imagine, me tanning the leather for a Rider’s saddle! And without a hint of what I was doing at the time, no less! No, not Rider, the Rider. He who will finally cast down the black tyrant himself! If only my father could see me now!” Kicking up his heels, Gedric danced an impromptu jig. With his grin undiminished, he bowed to Eragon and trotted back to his place among the villagers, where he began to relate his tale to everyone within earshot.

Eager to escape before the lot of them could descend upon him, Eragon slipped away between the rows of tents, pleased with what he had accomplished. It might take me a while, he thought, but I always settle my debts.

Before long, he arrived at another tent, close to the eastern edge of the camp. He knocked on the pole between the two front flaps.

With a sharp sound, the entrance was yanked aside to reveal Jeod’s wife, Helen, standing in the opening. She regarded Eragon with a cold expression. “You’ve come to talk with him, I suppose.”

“If he’s here.” Which Eragon knew perfectly well he was, for he could sense Jeod’s mind as clearly as Helen’s.

For a moment, Eragon thought Helen might deny the presence of her husband, but then she shrugged and moved aside. “You might as well come in, then.”

Eragon found Jeod sitting on a stool, poring over an assortment of scrolls, books, and sheaves of loose papers that were piled high on a cot bare of blankets. A thin shock of hair hung across Jeod’s forehead, mimicking the curve of the scar that stretched from his scalp to his left temple.

“Eragon!” he cried as he saw him, the lines of concentration on his face clearing. “Welcome, welcome!” He shook Eragon’s hand and then offered him the stool. “Here, I shall sit on the corner of the bed. No, please, you are our guest. Would you care for some food or drink? Nasuada gives us an extra ration, so do not restrain yourself for fear that we will go hungry on your account. It is poor fare compared with what we served you in Teirm, but then no one should go to war and expect to eat well, not even a king.”

“A cup of tea would be nice,” said Eragon.

“Tea and biscuits it is.” Jeod glanced at Helen.

Snatching the kettle off the ground, Helen braced it against her hip, fit the nipple of a waterskin in the end of the spout, and squeezed. The kettle reverberated with a dull roar as a stream of water struck the bottom. Helen’s fingers tightened around the neck of the waterskin, restricting the flow to a languorous trickle. She remained thus, with the detached look of a person performing an unpleasant task, while the water droplets drummed out a maddening beat against the inside of the kettle.

An apologetic smile flickered across Jeod’s face. He stared at a scrap of paper beside his knee as he waited for Helen to finish. Eragon studied a wrinkle in the side of the tent.

The bombastic trickle continued for over three minutes.

When the kettle was finally full, Helen removed the deflated waterskin from the spout, hung it on a hook on the center pole of the tent, and stormed out.

Eragon raised an eyebrow at Jeod.

Jeod spread his hands. “My position with the Varden is not as prominent as she had hoped, and she blames me for the fact. She agreed to flee Teirm with me, expecting, or so I believe, that Nasuada would vault me into the inner circle of her advisers, or grant me lands and riches fit for a lord, or some other extravagant reward for my help stealing Saphira’s egg those many years ago. What Helen did not bargain on was the unglamorous life of a common swordsman: sleeping in a tent, fixing her own food, washing her own clothes, and so on. It’s not that wealth and status are her only concerns, but you have to understand, she was born into one of the richest shipping families of Teirm, and for most of our marriage, I was not unsuccessful in my own ventures. She is unused to such privations as these, and she has yet to reconcile herself to them.” His shoulders rose and fell a fraction of an inch. “My own hope was that this adventure—if it deserves such a romantic term—would narrow the rifts that have opened between us in recent years, but as always, nothing is ever as simple as it seems.”

“Do you feel that the Varden ought to show you greater consideration?” asked Eragon.

“For myself, no. For Helen . . .” Jeod hesitated. “I want her to be happy. My reward was in escaping from Gil’ead with my life when Brom and I were attacked by Morzan, his dragon, and his men; in the satisfaction of knowing that I had helped strike a crippling blow against Galbatorix; in being able to return to my previous life and yet still help further the Varden’s cause; and in being able to marry Helen. Those were my rewards, and I am more than content with them. Any doubts I had vanished the instant I saw Saphira fly out of the smoke of the Burning Plains. I do not know what to do about Helen, though. But I forget myself. These are not your troubles, and I should not lay them upon you.”

Eragon touched a scroll with the tip of his index finger. “Then tell me, why so many papers? Have you become a copyist?”

The question amused Jeod. “Hardly, although the work is often as tedious. Since it was I who discovered the hidden passageway into Galbatorix’s castle, in Urû’baen, and I was able to bring with me some of the rare books from my library in Teirm, Nasuada has set me to searching for similar weaknesses in the other cities of the Empire. If I could find mention of a tunnel that led underneath the walls of Dras-Leona, for example, it might save us a great deal of bloodshed.”

“Where are you looking?”

“Everywhere I can.” Jeod brushed back the lock of hair that was hanging over his forehead. “Histories; myths; legends; poems; songs; religious tracts; the writings of Riders, magicians, wanderers, madmen, obscure potentates, various generals, anyone who might have knowledge of a hidden door or a secret mechanism or something of that ilk that we might turn to our advantage. The amount of material I have to sift through is immense, for all of the cities have stood for hundreds of years, and some antedate the arrival of humans in Alagaësia.”

“Is it likely you will actually find anything?”

“No, not likely. It is never likely that you will succeed in ferreting out the secrets of the past. But I may still prevail, given enough time. I have no doubt that what I am searching for exists in each of the cities; they are too old not to contain surreptitious ways in and out through their walls. However, it is another question entirely whether records of those ways exist and whether we possess those records. People who know about concealed trapdoors and the like usually want to keep the information to themselves.” Jeod grasped a handful of the papers next to him on the cot and brought them closer to his face, then snorted and tossed the papers away. “I’m trying to solve riddles invented by people who didn’t want them to be solved.”

He and Eragon continued talking about other, less important matters until Helen reappeared, carrying three mugs of steaming-hot red-clover tea. As Eragon accepted his mug, he noted that her earlier anger seemed to have subsided, and he wondered if she had been listening outside to what Jeod had said about her. She handed Jeod his mug and, from somewhere behind Eragon, procured a tin plate laden with flat biscuits and a small clay pot of honey. Then she withdrew a few feet and stood leaning against the center pole, blowing on her own mug.

As was polite, Jeod waited until Eragon had taken a biscuit from the plate and consumed a bite of it before saying, “To what do I owe the pleasure of your company, Eragon? Unless I am mistaken, this is no idle visit.”

Eragon sipped his tea. “After the Battle of the Burning Plains, I promised I would tell you how Brom died. That is why I have come.”

A gray pallor replaced the color in Jeod’s cheeks. “Oh.”

“I don’t have to, if that’s not what you want,” Eragon quickly pointed out.

With an effort, Jeod shook his head. “No, I do. You merely caught me by surprise.”

When Jeod did not ask Helen to leave, Eragon was uncertain whether he should continue, but then he decided that it did not matter if Helen or anyone else heard his story. In a slow, deliberate voice, Eragon began to recount the events that had transpired since he and Brom had left Jeod’s house. He described their encounter with the band of Urgals, their search for the Ra’zac in Dras-Leona, how the Ra’zac had ambushed them outside the city, and how the Ra’zac had stabbed Brom as they fled from Murtagh’s attack.

Eragon’s throat constricted as he spoke of Brom’s last hours, of the cool sandstone cave where he had lain, of the feelings of helplessness that had assailed Eragon as he watched Brom slipping away, of the smell of death that had pervaded the dry air, of Brom’s final words, of the sandstone tomb Eragon had made with magic, and of how Saphira had transformed it into pure diamond.

“If only I had known what I know now,” Eragon said, “then I could have saved him. Instead . . .” Unable to summon words past the tightness in his throat, he wiped his eyes and gulped at his tea. He wished it were something stronger.

A sigh escaped Jeod. “And so ended Brom. Alas, we are all far worse off without him. If he could have chosen the means of his death, though, I think he would have chosen to die like this, in the service of the Varden, defending the last free Dragon Rider.”

“Were you aware that he had been a Rider himself?”

Jeod nodded. “The Varden told me before I met him.”

“He seemed as if he was a man who revealed little about himself,” observed Helen.

Jeod and Eragon laughed. “That he was,” said Jeod. “I still have not recovered from the shock of seeing him and you, Eragon, standing on our doorstep. Brom always kept his own counsel, but we became close friends when we were traveling together, and I cannot understand why he let me believe he was dead for what, sixteen, seventeen years? Too long. What’s more, since it was Brom who delivered Saphira’s egg to the Varden after he slew Morzan in Gil’ead, the Varden couldn’t very well tell me they had her egg without revealing that Brom was still alive. So I’ve spent the better part of two decades convinced that the one great adventure of my life had ended in failure and that, as a result, we had lost our only hope of having a Dragon Rider to help us overthrow Galbatorix. The knowledge was no easy burden, I can assure you. . . .”

With one hand, Jeod rubbed his brow. “When I opened our front door and realized whom I was looking at, I thought that the ghosts of my past had come to haunt me. Brom said he kept himself hidden to ensure that he would still be alive to train the new Rider when he or she should appear, but his explanation has never entirely satisfied me. Why was it necessary for him to cut himself off from nearly everyone he knew or cared about? What was he afraid of? What was he protecting?”

Jeod fingered the handle of his mug. “I cannot prove it, but it seems to me that Brom must have discovered something in Gil’ead when he was fighting Morzan and his dragon, something so momentous, it moved Brom to abandon everything that was his life up until then. It’s a fanciful conjecture, I admit, but I cannot account for Brom’s actions except by postulating that there was a piece of information he never shared with me nor another living soul.”

Again Jeod sighed, and he drew a hand down his long face. “After so many years apart, I had hoped Brom and I might ride together once more, but fate had other ideas, it seems. And then to lose him a second time but a few weeks after discovering he was still alive was a cruel joke for the world to play.” Helen swept past Eragon and went to stand by Jeod, touching him on the shoulder. He offered her a wan smile and wrapped an arm around her narrow waist. “I’m glad that you and Saphira gave Brom a tomb even a dwarf king might envy. He deserved that and more for all he did for Alagaësia. Although once people discover his grave, I have a horrible suspicion they will not hesitate to break it apart for the diamond.”

“If they do, they will regret it,” muttered Eragon. He resolved to return to the site at the earliest opportunity and place wards around Brom’s tomb to protect it from grave robbers. “Besides, they will be too busy hunting gold lilies to bother Brom.”

“What?”

“Nothing. It’s not important.” The three of them sipped their tea. Helen nibbled on a biscuit. Then Eragon asked, “You met Morzan, didn’t you?”

“They were not the friendliest of occasions, but yes, I met him.”

“What was he like?”

“As a person? I really couldn’t say, although I’m well acquainted with tales of his atrocities. Every time Brom and I crossed paths with him, he was trying to kill us. Or rather, capture, torture, and then kill us, none of which are conducive to establishing a close relationship.” Eragon was too intent to respond to Jeod’s humor. Jeod shifted on the bed. “As a warrior, Morzan was terrifying. We spent a great deal of time running away from him, I seem to remember—him and his dragon, that is. Few things are as frightening as having an enraged dragon chasing you.”

“How did he look?”

“You seem inordinately interested in him.”

Eragon blinked once. “I’m curious. He was the last of the Forsworn to die, and Brom was the one who slew him. And now Morzan’s son is my mortal enemy.”

“Let me see, then,” said Jeod. “He was tall, he had broad shoulders, his hair was dark like a raven’s feathers, and his eyes were different colors. One was blue and one was black. His chin was bare, and he was missing the tip of one of his fingers; I forget which. Handsome he was, in a cruel, haughty manner, and when he spoke, he was most charismatic. His armor was always polished bright, whether mail or a breastplate, as if he had no fear of being spotted by his enemies, which I suppose he hadn’t. When he laughed, it sounded as if he were in pain.”

“What of his companion, the woman Selena? Did you meet her as well?”

Jeod laughed. “If I had, I would not be here today. Morzan may have been a fearsome swordsman, a formidable magician, and a murderous traitor, but it was that woman of his who inspired the most terror in people. Morzan only used her for missions that were so repugnant, difficult, or secretive that no one else would agree to undertake them. She was his Black Hand, and her presence always signaled imminent death, torture, betrayal, or some other horror.” Eragon felt sick hearing his mother described thusly. “She was utterly ruthless, devoid of either pity or compassion. It was said that when she asked Morzan to enter his service, he tested her by teaching her the word for heal in the ancient language—for she was a spellcaster as well as a common fighter—and then pitting her against twelve of his finest swordsmen.”

“How did she defeat them?”

“She healed them of their fear and their hate and all the things that drive a man to kill. And then while they stood grinning at each other like idiot sheep, she went up to the men and cut their throats. . . . Are you feeling well, Eragon? You are as pale as a corpse.”

“I’m fine. What else do you remember?”

Jeod tapped the side of his mug. “Precious little concerning Selena. She was always somewhat of an enigma. No one besides Morzan even knew her real name until just a few months before Morzan’s death. To the public at large, she has never been anything other than the Black Hand; the Black Hand we have now—the collection of spies, assassins, and magicians who carry out Galbatorix’s low skulduggery—is Galbatorix’s attempt to re-create Selena’s usefulness to Morzan. Even among the Varden, only a handful of people were privy to her name, and most of them are moldering in graves now. As I recall, it was Brom who discovered her true identity. Before I went to the Varden with the information concerning the secret passageway into Castle Ilirea—which the elves built millennia ago and which Galbatorix expanded upon to form the black citadel that now dominates Urû’baen—before I went to them, Brom had spent a rather significant length of time spying on Morzan’s estate in the hope he might unearth a hitherto unsuspected weakness of Morzan’s. . . . I believe Brom gained admittance to Morzan’s hall by disguising himself as a member of the serving staff. It was then that he found out what he did about Selena. Still, we never did learn why she was so attached to Morzan. Perhaps she loved him. In any event, she was utterly loyal to him, even to the point of death. Soon after Brom killed Morzan, word reached the Varden that sickness had taken her. It is as if the trained hawk was so fond of her master, she could not live without him.”

She was not entirely loyal, thought Eragon. She defied Morzan when it came to me, even though she lost her life as a result. If only she could have rescued Murtagh as well. As for Jeod’s accounts of her misdeeds, Eragon chose to believe that Morzan had perverted her essentially good nature. For the sake of his own sanity, Eragon could not accept that both his parents had been evil.

“She loved him,” he said, staring at the murky dregs at the bottom of his mug. “In the beginning, she loved him; maybe not so much later. Murtagh is her son.”

Jeod raised an eyebrow. “Indeed? You have it from Murtagh himself, I suppose?” Eragon nodded. “Well, that explains a number of questions I always had. Murtagh’s mother . . . I’m surprised that Brom didn’t uncover that particular secret.”

“Morzan did everything he could to conceal Murtagh’s existence, even from the other members of the Forsworn.”

“Knowing the history of those power-hungry, backstabbing knaves, he probably saved Murtagh’s life. More’s the pity too.”

Silence crept among them then, like a shy animal ready to flee at the slightest motion. Eragon continued to gaze into his mug. A host of questions bedeviled him, but he knew that Jeod could not answer them and it was unlikely anyone else could either: Why had Brom hidden himself in Carvahall? To keep watch over Eragon, the son of his most hated foe? Had it been some cruel joke giving Eragon Zar’roc, his father’s blade? And why had Brom not told him the truth about his parentage? He tightened his grip on the mug and, without meaning to, shattered the clay.

The three of them started at the unexpected noise.

“Here, let me help you with that,” said Helen, bustling forward and dabbing at his tunic with a rag. Embarrassed, Eragon apologized several times, to which both Jeod and Helen responded by assuring him it was a small mishap and not to worry himself about it.

While Helen picked up the shards of fire-hardened clay, Jeod began to dig through the layers of books, scrolls, and loose papers that covered the bed, saying, “Ah, it had nearly slipped my mind. I have something for you, Eragon, that might prove useful. If only I can find it here. . . .” With a pleased exclamation, he straightened, flourishing a book, which he handed to Eragon.

It was Domia abr Wyrda, the Dominance of Fate, a complete history of Alagaësia written by Heslant the Monk. Eragon had first seen it in Jeod’s library in Teirm. He had not expected that he would ever get a chance to examine it again. Savoring the feeling, he ran his hands over the carved leather on the front cover, which was shiny with age, then opened the book and admired the neat rows of runes within, lettered in glossy red ink. Awed by the size of the knowledge hoard he held, Eragon said, “You wish me to have this?”

“I do,” asserted Jeod. He moved out of the way as Helen retrieved a fragment of the mug from under the bed. “I think you might profit by it. You are engaged in historic events, Eragon, and the roots of the difficulties you face lie in happenings from decades, centuries, and millennia ago. If I were you, I would study at every opportunity the lessons history has to teach us, for they may help you with the problems of today. In my own life, reading the record of the past has often provided me with the courage and the insight to choose the correct path.”

Eragon longed to accept the gift, but still he hesitated. “Brom said that Domia abr Wyrda was the most valuable thing in your house. And rare as well. . . . Besides, what of your work? Don’t you need this for your research?”

Domia abr Wyrda is valuable and it is rare,” said Jeod, “but only in the Empire, where Galbatorix burns every copy he finds and hangs their unfortunate owners. Here in the camp, I have already had six copies foisted upon me by members of King Orrin’s court, and this is hardly what one would call a great center of learning. However, I do not part with it lightly, and only because you can put it to better use than I can. Books should go where they will be most appreciated, and not sit unread, gathering dust on a forgotten shelf, don’t you agree?”

“I do.” Eragon closed Domia abr Wyrda and again traced the intricate patterns on the front with his fingers, fascinated by the swirling designs that had been chiseled into the leather. “Thank you. I shall treasure it for as long as it is mine to watch over.” Jeod dipped his head and leaned back against the wall of the tent, appearing satisfied. Turning the book on its edge, Eragon examined the lettering on the spine. “What was Heslant a monk of?”

“A small, secretive sect called the Arcaena that originated in the area by Kuasta. Their order, which has endured for at least five hundred years, believes that all knowledge is sacred.” A hint of a smile lent Jeod’s features a mysterious cast. “They have dedicated themselves to collecting every piece of information in the world and preserving it against a time when they believe an unspecified catastrophe will destroy all the civilizations in Alagaësia.”

“It seems a strange religion,” Eragon said.

“Are not all religions strange to those who stand outside of them?” countered Jeod.

Eragon said, “I have a gift for you as well, or rather, for you, Helen.” She tilted her head, a quizzical frown on her face. “Your family was a merchant family, yes?” She jerked her chin in an affirmative. “Were you very familiar with the business yourself?”

Lightning sparked in Helen’s eyes. “If I had not married him”—she motioned with a shoulder—“I would have taken over the family affairs when my father died. I was an only child, and my father taught me everything he knew.”

That was what Eragon had hoped to hear. To Jeod, he said, “You claimed that you are content with your lot here with the Varden.”

“And so I am. Mostly.”

“I understand. However, you risked a great deal to help Brom and me, and you risked even more to help Roran and everyone else from Carvahall.”

“The Palancar Pirates.”

Eragon chuckled and continued. “Without your assistance, the Empire would surely have captured them. And because of your act of rebellion, you both lost all that was dear to you in Teirm.”

“We would have lost it anyway. I was bankrupt and the Twins had betrayed me to the Empire. It was only a matter of time before Lord Risthart had me arrested.”

“Maybe, but you still helped Roran. Who can blame you if you were protecting your own necks at the same time? The fact remains that you abandoned your lives in Teirm in order to steal the Dragon Wing along with Roran and the villagers. And for your sacrifice, I will always be grateful. So this is part of my thanks. . . .”

Sliding a finger underneath his belt, Eragon removed the second of the three gold orbs and presented it to Helen. She cradled it as gently as if it were a baby robin. While she gazed at it with wonder, and Jeod craned his neck to see over the edge of her hand, Eragon said, “It’s not a fortune, but if you are clever, you should be able to make it grow. What Nasuada did with lace taught me that there is a great deal of opportunity for a person to prosper in war.”

“Oh yes,” breathed Helen. “War is a merchant’s delight.”

“For one, Nasuada mentioned to me last night at dinner that the dwarves are running low on mead, and as you might suspect, they have the means to buy as many casks as they want, even if the price were a thousandfold of what it was before the war. But then, that’s just a suggestion. You may find others who are more desperate to trade if you look for yourself.”

Eragon staggered back a step as Helen rushed at him and embraced him. Her hair tickled his chin. She released him, suddenly shy, then her excitement burst forth again and she lifted the honey-colored globe in front of her nose and said, “Thank you, Eragon! Oh, thank you!” She pointed at the gold. “This I can use. I know I can. With it, I’ll build an empire even larger than my father’s.” The shiny orb disappeared within her clenched fist. “You believe my ambition exceeds my abilities? It shall be as I have said. I shall not fail!”

Eragon bowed to her. “I hope that you succeed and that your success benefits us all.”

Eragon noticed that hard cords stood out in Helen’s neck as she curtsied and said, “You are most generous, Shadeslayer. Again I thank you.”

“Yes, thank you,” said Jeod, rising from the bed. “I cannot think that we deserve this”—Helen shot him a furious look, which he ignored—“but it is most welcome nevertheless.”

Improvising, Eragon added, “And for you, Jeod, your gift is not from me, but Saphira. She has agreed to let you fly on her when you both have a spare hour or two.” It pained Eragon to share Saphira, and he knew that she would be upset he had not consulted her before volunteering her services, but after giving Helen the gold, he would have felt guilty about not giving Jeod something of equal value.

A film of tears glazed Jeod’s eyes. He grasped Eragon’s hand and shook it and, still holding it, said, “I cannot imagine a higher honor. Thank you. You don’t know how much you have done for us.”

Extricating himself from Jeod’s grip, Eragon edged toward the entrance to the tent while excusing himself as gracefully as he could and making his farewells. Finally, after yet another round of thanks on their part and a self-deprecating “It was nothing,” he managed to escape outdoors.

Eragon hefted Domia abr Wyrda and then glanced at the sun. It would not be long until Saphira returned, but he still had time to attend to one other thing. First, though, he would have to stop by his tent; he did not want to risk damaging Domia abr Wyrda by carrying it with him across the camp.

I own a book, he thought, delighted.

He set off at a trot, clasping the book against his chest, as Blödhgarm and the other elves followed close behind.


Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Options

not work with dark mode
Reset