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Eldest: Chapter 40

BLACK MORNING GLORY

They cleared the table and took the dishes outside, where they cleaned them with sand. Oromis crumbled what remained of the bread around his house for the birds to eat, then they returned inside.

Oromis brought out pens and ink for Eragon, and they resumed his education of the Liduen Kvaedhí, the written form of the ancient language, which was so much more elegant than the humans’ or dwarves’ runes. Eragon lost himself in the arcane glyphs, happy to have a task that required nothing more strenuous than rote memorization.

After hours spent bent over the paper sheets, Oromis waved a hand and said, “Enough. We will continue this tomorrow.” Eragon leaned back and rolled his shoulders while Oromis selected five scrolls from their nooks in the wall. “Two of these are in the ancient language, three are in your native tongue. They will help you to master both alphabets, as well as give you valuable information that would be tedious for me to vocalize.”

“Vocalize?”

With unerring accuracy, Oromis’s hand darted out and plucked a massive sixth scroll from the wall, which he added to the pyramid in Eragon’s arms. “This is a dictionary. I doubt you can, but try to read it all.”

When the elf opened the door for him to leave, Eragon said, “Master?”

“Yes, Eragon?”

“When will we start working with magic?”

Oromis leaned on one arm against the doorway, caving in on himself as if he no longer possessed the will to remain upright. Then he sighed and said, “You must trust me to guide your training, Eragon. Still, I suppose it would be foolish of me to delay any longer. Come, leave the scrolls on the table, and let us go explore the mysteries of gramarye.”

On the greensward before the hut, Oromis stood looking out over the Crags of Tel’naeír, his back to Eragon, his feet shoulder width apart, and his hands clasped in the small of his back. Without turning around, he asked, “What is magic?”

“The manipulation of energy through the use of the ancient language.”

There was a pause before Oromis responded. “Technically, you are correct, and many spellcasters never understand more than that. However, your description fails to capture the essence of magic. Magic is the art of thinking, not strength or language—you already know that a limited vocabulary is no obstacle to using magic. As with everything else you must master, magic relies on having a disciplined intellect.

“Brom bypassed the normal training regimen and ignored the subtleties of gramarye to ensure that you had the skills you needed to remain alive. I too must distort the regimen in order to focus on the skills that you will likely require in the coming battles. However, whereas Brom taught you the crude mechanics of magic, I will teach you its finer applications, the secrets that were reserved for the wisest of the Riders: how you can kill with no more energy than moving your finger, the method by which you can instantaneously transport an item from one point to another, a spell that will allow you to identify poisons in your food and drink, a variation on scrying that allows you to hear as well as to see, how you can draw energy from your surroundings and thus preserve your own strength, and how you can maximize your strength in every possible way.

“These techniques are so potent and dangerous, they were never shared with novice Riders such as yourself, but circumstances demand that I divulge them and trust that you won’t abuse them.” Raising his right arm to his side, his hand a hooked claw, Oromis proclaimed, “Adurna!”

Eragon watched as a sphere of water coalesced from the brook by the hut and floated through the air until it hovered between Oromis’s outstretched fingers.

The brook was dark and brown under the branches of the forest, but the sphere, removed from it, was as colorless as glass. Flecks of moss, dirt, and other bits of detritus floated inside the orb.

Still gazing toward the horizon, Oromis said, “Catch.” He tossed the sphere back over his shoulder toward Eragon.

Eragon tried to grab the ball, but as soon as it touched his skin, the water lost cohesion and splashed across his chest.

“Catch it with magic,” said Oromis. Again, he cried, “Adurna!” and a sphere of water gathered itself from the surface of the brook and leaped into his hand like a trained hawk obeying its master.

This time Oromis threw the ball without warning. Eragon was prepared, though, and said, “Reisa du adurna,” even as he reached for the ball. It slowed to a halt a hairsbreadth from the skin of his palm.

“An awkward word choice,” said Oromis, “but workable, nevertheless.”

Eragon grinned and whispered, “Thrysta.”

The ball reversed its course and sped toward the base of Oromis’s silver head. However, the sphere did not land where Eragon had intended, but rather shot past the elf, whipped around, and flew back at Eragon with increased velocity.

The water remained as hard and solid as polished marble when it struck Eragon, producing a dull thunk as it collided with his skull. The blow knocked him sprawling on the turf, where he lay stunned, blinking as pulsing lights swam across the sky.

“Yes,” said Oromis. “A better word might be letta or kodthr.” He finally turned to look at Eragon and raised an eyebrow with apparent surprise. “Whatever are you doing? Get up. We can’t lie about all day.”

“Yes, Master,” groaned Eragon.

When Eragon got back on his feet, Oromis had him manipulate the water in various ways—shaping it into complex knots, changing the color of light that it absorbed or reflected, and freezing it in certain prescribed sequences—none of which proved difficult for him.

The exercises continued for so long that Eragon’s initial interest faded and was replaced by impatience and puzzlement. He was chary of offending Oromis, but he saw no point to what the elf was doing; it was as if Oromis were avoiding any spells that would require him to use more than a minimal amount of strength. I’ve already demonstrated the extent of my skills. Why does he persist in reviewing these fundamentals? He said, “Master, I know all of this. Can we not move on?”

The muscles in Oromis’s neck hardened, and his shoulders were like chiseled granite for all they moved; even the elf’s breathing halted before he said, “Will you never learn respect, Eragon-vodhr? So be it!” Then he uttered four words from the ancient language in a voice so deep that their meaning escaped Eragon.

Eragon yelped as he felt each of his legs enveloped by pressure up to the knee, squeezing and constricting his calves in such a way that made it impossible for him to walk. His thighs and upper body were free to move, but other than that, it was as if he had been cast in lime mortar.

“Free yourself,” said Oromis.

Here now was a challenge that Eragon had never dealt with before: how to counter someone else’s spells. He could sever his invisible bonds using one of two different methods. The most effective would be if he knew how Oromis had immobilized him—whether by affecting his body directly or using an external source—for then he could redirect the element or force to disperse Oromis’s power. Or he could use a generic, vague spell to block whatever Oromis was doing. The downside to the tactic was that it would lead to a direct contest of strength between them. It had to happen sometime, thought Eragon. He entertained no hope of prevailing against an elf.

Assembling the required phrase, he said, “Losna kalfya iet.” Release my calves.

The surge of energy that deserted Eragon was greater than he had anticipated; he went from being moderately tired from the day’s pains and exertions to feeling as if he had hiked over rough terrain since morn. Then the pressure vanished from his legs, causing him to stagger as he regained his balance.

Oromis shook his head. “Foolish,” he said, “very foolish. If I had committed more to maintaining my spell, that would have killed you. Never use absolutes.”

“Absolutes?”

“Never word your spells so that only two outcomes are possible: success or death. If an enemy had trapped your legs and if he were stronger than you, then you would have expended all of your energy trying to break his spell. You would have died with no chance to abort the attempt once you realized that it was futile.”

“How do I avoid that?” asked Eragon.

“It’s safer to make the spell a process that you can terminate at your discretion. Instead of saying release my calves, which is an absolute, you could say reduce the magic imprisoning my calves. A bit wordy, but you could then decide how much you wanted your opponent’s spell decreased and if it were safe to remove it entirely. We will try again.”

The pressure returned to Eragon’s legs as soon as Oromis mouthed his inaudible invocation. Eragon was so tired, he doubted that he could provide much opposition. Nevertheless, he reached for the magic.

Before the ancient language left Eragon’s mouth, he became aware of a curious sensation as the weight constraining his legs lessened at a steady rate. It tickled and felt like he was being pulled out of a mire of cold, slick mud. He glanced at Oromis and saw the elf’s face scribed by passion, as if he clung to something precious that he could not bear to lose. A vein throbbed at one of Oromis’s temples.

When Eragon’s arcane fetters ceased to exist, Oromis recoiled as if he had been pricked by a wasp and stood with his gaze fixed on his two hands, his thin chest heaving. For perhaps a minute, he remained thus, then he drew himself upright and walked to the very edge of the Crags of Tel’naeír, a lone figure outlined against the pale sky.

Regret and sorrow welled in Eragon—the same emotions that had gripped him when he first saw Glaedr’s mutilated foreleg. He cursed himself for being so arrogant with Oromis, so oblivious to his infirmities, and for not placing more confidence in the elf’s judgment. I’m not the only one who must deal with past injuries. Eragon had not fully comprehended what it meant when Oromis said that all but the slightest magic escaped his grasp. Now he appreciated the depths of Oromis’s situation and the pain that it must cause him, especially for one of his race, who was born and bred with magic.

Eragon went to Oromis, knelt, and bowed in the fashion of the dwarves, pressing his bruised forehead against the ground. “Ebrithil, I beg your pardon.”

The elf gave no indication that he had heard.

The two of them lingered in their respective positions while the sun declined before them, the birds sang their evening songs, and the air grew cool and moist. From the north came the faint offbeat thumps of Saphira and Glaedr’s wing strokes as they returned for the day.

In a low, distant voice, Oromis said, “We will begin anew tomorrow, with this and other subjects.” From his profile, Eragon could tell that Oromis had regained his customary expression of impassive reserve. “Is that agreeable to you?”

“Yes, Master,” said Eragon, grateful for the question.

“I think it best if, from now on, you endeavor to speak only in the ancient language. We have little time at our disposal, and this is the fastest way for you to learn.”

“Even when I talk to Saphira?”

“Even then.”

Adopting the elven tongue, Eragon vowed, “Then I will work ceaselessly until I not only think, but dream, in your language.”

“If you achieve that,” said Oromis, replying in kind, “our venture may yet succeed.” He paused. “Instead of flying directly here in the morning, you will accompany the elf I send to guide you. He will take you to where those of Ellesméra practice swordplay. Stay for an hour, then continue on as normal.”

“Won’t you teach me yourself?” asked Eragon, feeling slighted.

“I have naught to teach. You are as good a swordsman as ever I have met. I know no more of fighting than you, and that which I possess and you do not, I cannot give you. All that remains for you is to preserve your current level of skill.”

“Why can’t I do that with you … Master?”

“Because I do not appreciate beginning the day with alarum and conflict.” He looked at Eragon, then relented and added, “And because it will be good for you to become acquainted with others who live here. I am not representative of my race. But enough of that. Look, they approach.”

The two dragons glided across the flat disk of the sun. First came Glaedr with a roar of wind, blotting out the sky with his massive bulk before he settled on the grass and folded his golden wings, then Saphira, as quick and agile as a sparrow beside an eagle.

As they had that morning, Oromis and Glaedr asked a number of questions to ensure that Eragon and Saphira had paid attention to each other’s lessons. They had not always, but by cooperating and sharing information between themselves, they were able to answer all of the questions. Their only stumbling block was the foreign language they were required to communicate in.

Better, rumbled Glaedr afterward. Much better. He bent his gaze toward Eragon. You and I will have to train together soon.

“Of course, Skulblaka.”

The old dragon snorted and crawled alongside Oromis, half hopping with his front leg to compensate for his missing limb. Darting forward, Saphira nipped at the end of Glaedr’s tail, tossing it into the air with a flip of her head, like she would to break the neck of a deer. She recoiled as Glaedr twisted round and snapped at her neck, exposing his enormous fangs.

Eragon winced and, too late, covered his ears to protect them from Glaedr’s roar. The speed and intensity of Glaedr’s response suggested to Eragon that this was not the first time Saphira had annoyed him throughout the day. Instead of remorse, Eragon detected an excited playfulness in her—like a child with a new toy—and a near-blind devotion to the other dragon.

“Contain yourself, Saphira!” said Oromis. Saphira pranced backward and settled on her haunches, though nothing in her demeanor expressed contrition. Eragon muttered a feeble excuse, and Oromis waved a hand and said, “Begone, both of you.”

Without arguing, Eragon scrambled onto Saphira. He had to urge her to take flight, and once she did, she insisted on circling over the clearing three times before he got her to angle toward Ellesméra.

What possessed you to bite him? he demanded. He thought he knew, but he wanted her to confirm it.

I was only playing.

It was the truth, since they spoke in the ancient language, yet he suspected that it was but a piece of a larger truth. Yes, and at what game? She tensed underneath him. You forget your duty. By … He searched for the right word. Unable to find it, he reverted to his native speech, By provoking Glaedr, you distract him, Oromis, and me—and hinder what we must accomplish. You’ve never been so thoughtless before.

Do not presume to be my conscience.

He laughed then, heedless for a moment of where he sat among the clouds, rolling to his side until he almost dropped from the peak of her shoulders. Oh, rich irony that, after the times you’ve told me what to do. I am your conscience, Saphira, as much as you are mine. You’ve had good reason to chastise and warn me in the past, and now I must do the same for you: stop pestering Glaedr with your attentions.

She remained silent.

Saphira?

I hear you.

I hope so.

After a minute of peaceful flying, she said, Two seizures in one day. How are you now?

Sore and ill. He grimaced. Some of it’s from the Rimgar and sparring, but mostly it’s the aftereffects of the pain. It’s like a poison, weakening my muscles and clouding my mind. I just hope that I can remain sane long enough to reach the end of this training. Afterward, though … I don’t know what I’ll do. I certainly can’t fight for the Varden like this.

Don’t think about it, she counseled. You can do nothing about your condition, and you’ll only make yourself feel worse. Live in the present, remember the past, and fear not the future, for it doesn’t exist and never shall. There is only now.

He patted her shoulder and smiled with resigned gratitude. To their right, a goshawk rode a warm air current while it patrolled the broken forest for signs of furred or feathered quarry. Eragon watched it, pondering the question that Oromis had given him: How could he justify fighting the Empire when it would cause so much grief and agony?

I have an answer, said Saphira.

What is it?

That Galbatorix has … She hesitated, then said, No, I won’t tell you. You should figure this out for yourself.

Saphira! Be reasonable.

I am. If you don’t know why what we do is the right thing, you might as well surrender to Galbatorix for all the good you’ll do. No matter how eloquent his pleas, he could extract nothing more from her, for she blocked him from that part of her mind.

Back in their eyrie, Eragon ate a light supper and was just about to open one of Oromis’s scrolls when a knock on the screen door disturbed his quiet.

“Enter,” he said, hoping that Arya had returned to see him.

She had.

Arya greeted Eragon and Saphira, then said, “I thought that you might appreciate an opportunity to visit Tialdarí Hall and the adjacent gardens, since you expressed interest in them yesterday. That is, if you aren’t too tired.” She wore a flowing red kirtle trimmed and decorated with intricate designs wrought in black thread. The color scheme echoed the queen’s robes and emphasized the strong resemblance between mother and daughter.

Eragon pushed aside the scrolls. “I’d be delighted to see them.”

He means we’d be delighted, added Saphira.

Arya looked surprised when both of them spoke in the ancient language, so Eragon explained Oromis’s command. “An excellent idea,” said Arya, joining them in the same language. “And it is more appropriate to speak thus while you stay here.”

When all three of them had descended from the tree, Arya directed them westward toward an unfamiliar quadrant of Ellesméra. They encountered many elves on the path, all of whom stopped to bow to Saphira.

Eragon noticed once again that no elf children were to be seen. He mentioned this to Arya, and she said, “Aye, we have few children. Only two are in Ellesméra at the present, Dusan and Alanna. We treasure children above all else because they are so rare. To have a child is the greatest honor and responsibility that can be bestowed upon any living being.”

At last they arrived at a ribbed lancet arch—grown between two trees—which served as the entrance for a wide compound. Still in the ancient language, Arya chanted, “Root of tree, fruit of vine, let me pass by this blood of mine.”

The two archway doors trembled, then swung outward, releasing five monarch butterflies that fluttered toward the dusky sky. Through the archway lay a vast flower garden arranged to look as pristine and natural as a wild meadow. The one element that betrayed artifice was the sheer variety of plants; many of the species were blooming out of season, or came from hotter or colder climates and would never have flourished without the elves’ magic. The scene was lit with the gemlike flameless lanterns, augmented by constellations of swirling fireflies.

To Saphira, Arya said, “Mind your tail, that it does not sweep across the beds.”

Advancing, they crossed the garden and pressed deep into a line of scattered trees. Before Eragon quite knew where he was, the trees became more numerous and then thickened into a wall. He found himself standing on the threshold of a burnished wood hall without ever being conscious of having gone inside.

The hall was warm and homey—a place of peace, reflection, and comfort. Its shape was determined by the tree trunks, which on the inside of the hall had been stripped of their bark, polished, and rubbed with oil until the wood gleamed like amber. Regular gaps between the trunks acted as windows. The scent of crushed pine needles perfumed the air. A number of elves occupied the hall, reading, writing, and, in one dark corner, playing a set of reed pipes. They all paused and inclined their heads to acknowledge Saphira’s presence.

“Here you would stay,” said Arya, “were you not Rider and dragon.”

“It’s magnificent,” replied Eragon.

Arya guided him and Saphira everywhere in the compound that was accessible to dragons. Each new room was a surprise; no two were alike, and each chamber found different ways to incorporate the forest in its construction. In one room, a silver brook trickled down the gnarled wall and flowed across the floor on a vein of pebbles and back out under the sky. In another, creepers blanketed the entire room, except for the floor, in a leafy green pelt adorned with trumpet-shaped flowers with the most delicate pink and white colors. Arya called it the Lianí Vine.

They saw many great works of art, from fairths and paintings to sculptures and radiant mosaics of stained glass—all based on the curved shapes of plants and animals.

Islanzadí met with them for a short time in an open pavilion joined to two other buildings by covered pathways. She inquired about the progress of Eragon’s training and the state of his back, both of which he described with brief, polite phrases. This seemed to satisfy the queen, who exchanged a few words with Saphira and then departed.

In the end, they returned to the garden. Eragon walked beside Arya—Saphira trailing behind—entranced by the sound of her voice as she told him about the different varieties of flowers, where they originated, how they were maintained, and, in many instances, how they had been altered with magic. She also pointed out the flowers that opened their petals only during the night, like a white datura.

“Which one is your favorite?” he asked.

Arya smiled and escorted him to a tree on the edge of the garden, by a pond lined with rushes. Around the tree’s lowest branch coiled a morning glory with three velvety black blossoms that were clenched shut.

Blowing on them, Arya whispered, “Open.”

The petals rustled as they unfurled, fanning their inky robes to expose the hoard of nectar in their centers. A starburst of royal blue filled the flowers’ throats, diffusing into the sable corolla like the vestiges of day into night.

“Is it not the most perfect and lovely flower?” asked Arya.

Eragon gazed at her, exquisitely aware of how close they were, and said, “Yes … it is.” Before his courage deserted him, he added, “As are you.”

Eragon! exclaimed Saphira.

Arya fixed her eyes upon him, studying him until he was forced to look away. When he dared face her again, he was mortified to see her wearing a faint smile, as if amused by his reaction. “You are too kind,” she murmured. Reaching up, she touched the rim of a blossom and glanced from it to him. “Fäolin created this especially for me one summer solstice, long ago.”

He shuffled his feet and responded with a few unintelligible words, hurt and offended that she did not take his compliment more seriously. He wished he could turn invisible, and even considered trying to cast a spell that would allow him to do just that.

In the end, he drew himself upright and said, “Please excuse us, Arya Svit-kona, but it is late, and we must return to our tree.”

Her smile deepened. “Of course, Eragon. I understand.” She accompanied them to the main archway, opened the doors for them, and said, “Good night, Saphira. Good night, Eragon.”

Good night, replied Saphira.

Despite his embarrassment, Eragon could not help asking, “Will we see you tomorrow?”

Arya tilted her head. “I think I shall be busy tomorrow.” Then the doors closed, cutting off his view of her as she returned to the main compound.

Crouching low on the path, Saphira nudged Eragon in the side. Stop daydreaming and get on my back. Climbing up her left foreleg, he took his usual place, then clutched the neck spike in front of him as Saphira rose to her full height. After a few steps: How can you criticize my behavior with Glaedr and then go and do something like that? What were you thinking?

You know how I feel about her, he grumbled.

Pah! If you are my conscience and I am yours, then it’s my duty to tell you when you’re acting like a deluded popinjay. You’re not using logic, like Oromis keeps telling us to. What do you really expect to happen between you and Arya? She’s a princess!

And I’m a Rider.

She’s an elf; you’re a human!

I look more like an elf every day.

Eragon, she’s over a hundred years old!

I’ll live as long as her or any elf.

Ah, but you haven’t yet, and that’s the problem. You can’t overcome such a vast difference. She’s a grown woman with a century of experience, while you’re—What?

What am I? he snarled. A child? Is that what you mean?

No, not a child. Not after what you have seen and done since we were joined. But you are young, even by the reckoning of your short-lived race—much less by that of the dwarves, dragons, and elves.

As are you.

His retort silenced her for a minute. Then: I’m just trying to protect you, Eragon. That’s all. I want you to be happy, and I’m afraid you won’t be if you insist on pursuing Arya.

The two of them were about to retire when they heard the trapdoor in the vestibule bang open and the jingle of mail as someone climbed inside. Zar’roc in hand, Eragon threw back the screen door, ready to confront the intruder.

His hand dropped as he saw Orik on the floor. The dwarf took a hearty draught from the bottle he wielded in his left hand, then squinted at Eragon. “Bricks and bones, where be you? Ah, there you shtand. I wondered where you were. Couldn’t find you, so I thought that given this fine dolorous night, I might go find you … and here you are! What shall we talk about, you and I, now that we’re together in this delectable bird’s nest?”

Taking hold of the dwarf’s free arm, Eragon pulled him upright, surprised, as he always was, by how dense Orik was, like a miniature boulder. When Eragon removed his support, Orik swayed from one side to the other, achieving such precarious angles that he threatened to topple at the slightest provocation.

“Come on in,” said Eragon in his own language. He closed the trapdoor. “You’ll catch cold out here.”

Orik blinked his round, deep-set eyes at Eragon. “I’ve not sheen you round my leafy exile, no I haven’t. You’ve abandoned me to the company of elves … and misherable, dull company they are, yesh indeed.”

A touch of guilt made Eragon disguise himself with an awkward smile. He had forgotten the dwarf amid the goings-on. “I’m sorry I haven’t visited you, Orik, but my studies have kept me busy. Here, give me your cloak.” As he helped the dwarf out of his brown mantle, he asked, “What are you drinking?”

“Faelnirv,” declared Orik. “A mosht wonderful, ticklish potion. The besht and greatest of the elves’ tricksty inventions; it gives you the gift of loquacion. Words float from your tongue like shoals of flapping minnows, like flocks of breathlessh hummingbirds, like rivers of writhing shnakes.” He paused, apparently taken by the unique magnificence of his similes. As Eragon ushered him into the bedroom, Orik saluted Saphira with his bottle and said, “Greetings, O Irontooth. May your shcales shine as bright as the coals of Morgothal’s forge.”

Greetings, Orik, said Saphira, laying her head on the rim of her bed. What has put you in this state? It is not like you. Eragon repeated her question.

“What has put me in mine shtate?” repeated Orik. He dropped into the chair that Eragon provided—his feet dangling several inches above the ground—and began to shake his head. “Red cap, green cap, elves here and elves there. I drown in elvesh and their thrice-damned courtesy. Bloodless they be. Taciturn they are. Yesh sir, no shir, three bagsh full, sir, yet nary a pip more can I extract.” He looked at Eragon with a mournful expression. “What am I to do while you meander through your instruction? Am I to sit and twiddle mine thumbs while I turn to shtone and join the shpirits of mine anshestors? Tell me, O sagacious Rider.”

Have you no skills or hobbies that you might occupy yourself with? asked Saphira.

“Aye,” said Orik. “I’m a fair enough smith by any who’d care to judge. But why should I craft bright armsh and armor for those who treasure them not? I’m usheless here. As usheless as a three-legged Feldûnost.”

Eragon extended a hand toward the bottle. “May I?” Orik glanced between him and the bottle, then grimaced and gave it up. The faelnirv was cold as ice as it ran down Eragon’s throat, stinging and smarting. He blinked as his eyes watered. After he indulged in a second quaff, he passed the bottle back to Orik, who seemed disappointed by how little of the concoction remained.

“And what mischief,” asked Orik, “have you two managed to ferret out of Oromis and yon bucolic woods?”

The dwarf alternately chuckled and groaned as Eragon described his training, his misplaced blessing in Farthen Dûr, the Menoa tree, his back, and all else that had filled the past few days. Eragon ended with the topic that was dearest to him at the moment: Arya. Emboldened by the liqueur, he confessed his affection for her and described how she had dismissed his advance.

Wagging a finger, Orik said, “The rock beneath you is flawed, Eragon. Don’t tempt fate. Arya …” He stopped, then growled and took another gulp of faelnirv. “Ah, it’s too late for thish. Who am I to say what is wisdom and what isn’t?”

Saphira had closed her eyes a while ago. Without opening them, she asked, Are you married, Orik? The question surprised Eragon; he had never stopped to wonder about Orik’s personal life.

“Eta,” said Orik. “Although I’m promished to fair Hvedra, daughter of Thorgerd One-eye and Himinglada. We were to be wed thish spring, until the Urgals attacked and Hrothgar sent me on this accursed trip.”

“Is she of Dûrgrimst Ingeitum?” asked Eragon.

“Of coursh!” roared Orik, pounding his fist on the side of the chair. “Thinkest thou I would marry outside my clan? She’s the granddaughter of mine aunt Vardrûn, Hrothgar’s coushin twice removed, with white, round calves as smooth as satin, cheeks as red as apples, and the prettiesht dwarf maid who ever did exist.”

Undoubtedly, said Saphira.

“I’m sure it won’t be long before you see her again,” said Eragon.

“Hmph.” Orik squinted at Eragon. “Do you believe in giants? Tall giants, shtrong giants, thick and bearded giants with fingers like spadeses?”

“I’ve never seen nor heard of them,” said Eragon, “except in stories. If they do exist, it’s not in Alagaësia.”

“Ah, but they do! They do!” exclaimed Orik, waving the bottle about his head. “Tell me, O Rider, if a fearshome giant were to meet you on the garden path, what might he call you, if not dinner?”

“Eragon, I would presume.”

“No, no. He’d call you a dwarf, for dwarf you’d be to him.” Orik guffawed and nudged Eragon in the ribs with his hard elbow. “See you now? Humans and elvesh are the giants. The land’s full of them, here, there, and everywhere, stomping about with their big feet and casting us in endless shadowses.” He continued laughing, rocking back in his chair until it tipped over and he fell to the floor with a solid thump.

Helping him upright, Eragon said, “I think you’d better stay here for the night. You’re in no condition to go down those stairs in the dark.”

Orik agreed with cheery indifference. He allowed Eragon to remove his mail and bundle him onto one side of the bed. Afterward, Eragon sighed, covered the lights, and lay on his side of the mattress.

He fell asleep hearing the dwarf mutter, “… Hvedra … Hvedra … Hvedra …”


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