Chapter no 11 – DEATH WATCH

Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle, #1)

Dreams roiled in Eragon’s mind, breeding and living by their own laws.He watched as a group of people on proud horses approached a lonely river. Many had silver hair and carried tall lances. A strange, fair ship waited for them, shining under a bright moon. The figures slowly boarded the vessel; two of them, taller than the rest, walked arm in arm. Their faces were obscured by cowls, but he could tell that one was a woman. They stood on the deck of the ship and faced the shore. A man stood alone on the pebble beach, the only one who had not boarded the ship. He threw back his head and let out a long, aching cry. As it faded, the ship glided down the river, without a breeze or oars, out into the flat, empty land. The vision clouded, but just before it disappeared, Eragon glimpsed two dragons in the sky.

Eragon was first aware of the creaking: back and forth, back and forth. The persistent sound made him open his eyes and stare at the underside of a thatched roof. A rough blanket was draped over him, concealing his nakedness. Someone had bandaged his legs and tied a clean rag around his knuckles.

He was in a single-room hut. A mortar and pestle sat on a table with bowls and plants. Rows of dried herbs hung from the walls and suffused the air with strong, earthy aromas. Flames writhed inside a fireplace, before which sat a rotund woman in a wicker rocking chair—the town healer, Gertrude. Her head lolled, eyes closed. A pair of knitting needles and a ball of wool thread rested in her lap.

Though Eragon felt drained of willpower, he made himself sit up. That helped to clear his mind. He sifted through his memories of the last two days. His first thought was of Garrow, and his second was of Saphira.I hope she’s in a safe place. He tried to contact her but could not. Wherever she was, it was far from Carvahall.At least Brom got me to Carvahall. I wonder what happened to him? There was all that blood.

Gertrude stirred and opened her sparkling eyes. “Oh,” she said. “You’re awake. Good!” Her voice was rich and warm. “How do you feel?”

“Well enough. Where’s Garrow?”

Gertrude dragged the chair close to the bed. “Over at Horst’s. There wasn’t enough room to keep both of you here. And let me tell you, it’s kept me on my toes, having to run back and forth, checking to see if the two of you were all right.”

Eragon swallowed his worries and asked, “How is he?”

There was a long delay as she examined her hands. “Not good. He has a fever that refuses to break, and his injuries aren’t healing.”

“I have to see him.” He tried to get up.

“Not until you eat,” she said sharply, pushing him down. “I didn’t spend all this time sitting by your side so you can get back up and hurt yourself. Half the skin on your legs was torn off, and your fever broke only last night. Don’t worry yourself about Garrow. He’ll be fine. He’s a tough man.” Gertrude hung a kettle over the fire, then began chopping parsnips for soup.

“How long have I been here?” “Two full days.”

Two days!That meant his last meal had been four mornings ago! Just thinking about it made Eragon feel weak.Saphira’s been on her own this entire time; I hope she’s all right.

“The whole town wants to know what happened. They sent men down to your farm and found it destroyed.” Eragon nodded; he had expected that. “Your barn was burned down Is that how Garrow was injured?”

“I I don’t know,” said Eragon. “I wasn’t there when it happened.”

“Well, no matter. I’m sure it’ll all get untangled.” Gertrude resumed knitting while the soup cooked. “That’s quite a scar on your palm.”

He reflexively clenched his hand. “Yes.” “How did you get it?”

Several possible answers came to mind. He chose the simplest one. “I’ve had it ever since I can remember. I never asked Garrow where it came from.”

“Mmm.” The silence remained unbroken until the soup reached a rolling boil. Gertrude poured it in a bowl and handed it to Eragon with a spoon. He accepted it gratefully and took a cautious sip. It was delicious.

When he finished, he asked, “Can I visit Garrow now?”

Gertrude sighed. “You’re a determined one, aren’t you? Well, if you really want to, I won’t stop you. Put on your clothes and we’ll go.”

She turned her back as he struggled into his pants, wincing as they dragged over the bandages, and then slipped on his shirt. Gertrude helped him stand. His legs were weak, but they did not pain him like before.

“Take a few steps,” she commanded, then dryly observed, “At least you won’t have to crawl there.”

Outside, a blustery wind blew smoke from the adjacent buildings into their faces. Storm clouds hid the Spine and covered the valley while a curtain of snow advanced toward the village, obscuring the foothills. Eragon leaned heavily on Gertrude as they made their way through Carvahall.

Horst had built his two-story house on a hill so he could enjoy a view of the mountains. He had lavished all of his skill on it. The shale roof shadowed

a railed balcony that extended from a tall window on the second floor. Each water spout was a snarling gargoyle, and every window and door was framed by carvings of serpents, harts, ravens, and knotted vines.

The door was opened by Elain, Horst’s wife, a small, willowy woman with refined features and silky blond hair pinned into a bun. Her dress was demure and neat, and her movements graceful. “Please, come in,” she said softly. They stepped over the threshold into a large well-lit room. A staircase with a polished balustrade curved down to the floor. The walls were the color of honey. Elain gave Eragon a sad smile, but addressed Gertrude. “I was just about to send for you. He isn’t doing well. You should see him right away.”

“Elain, you’ll have to help Eragon up the stairs,” Gertrude said, then hurried up them two at a time.

“It’s okay, I can do it myself.”

“Are you sure?” asked Elain. He nodded, but she looked doubtful. “Well

. . . as soon as you’re done come visit me in the kitchen. I have a fresh-baked pie you might enjoy.” As soon as she left, he sagged against the wall, welcoming the support. Then he started up the stairs, one painful step at a time. When he reached the top, he looked down a long hallway dotted with doors. The last one was open slightly. Taking a breath, he lurched toward it.

Katrina stood by a fireplace, boiling rags. She looked up, murmured a condolence, and then returned to her work. Gertrude stood beside her, grinding herbs for a poultice. A bucket by her feet held snow melting into ice water.

Garrow lay on a bed piled high with blankets. Sweat covered his brow, and his eyeballs flickered blindly under their lids. The skin on his face was shrunken like a cadaver’s. He was still, save for subtle tremors from his shallow breathing. Eragon touched his uncle’s forehead with a feeling of unreality. It burned against his hand. He apprehensively lifted the edge of the blankets and saw that Garrow’s many wounds were bound with strips of cloth. Where the bandages were being changed, the burns were exposed to the air. They had not begun to heal. Eragon looked at Gertrude with hopeless eyes. “Can’t you do anything about these?”

She pressed a rag into the bucket of ice water, then draped the cool cloth over Garrow’s head. “I’ve tried everything: salves, poultices, tinctures, but nothing works. If the wounds closed, he would have a better chance. Still, things may turn for the better. He’s hardy and strong.”

Eragon moved to a corner and sank to the floor.This isn’t the way things are supposed to be! Silence swallowed his thoughts. He stared blankly at the bed. After a while he noticed Katrina kneeling beside him. She put an arm around him. When he did not respond, she diffidently left.

Sometime later the door opened and Horst came in. He talked to Gertrude in a low voice, then approached Eragon. “Come on. You need to get out of here.” Before Eragon could protest, Horst dragged him to his feet and shepherded him out the door.

“I want to stay,” he complained.

“You need a break and fresh air. Don’t worry, you can go back soon enough,” consoled Horst.

Eragon grudgingly let the smith help him downstairs into the kitchen. Heady smells from half a dozen dishes—rich with spices and herbs—filled the air. Albriech and Baldor were there, talking with their mother as she kneaded bread. The brothers fell silent as they saw Eragon, but he had heard enough to know that they were discussing Garrow.

“Here, sit down,” said Horst, offering a chair.

Eragon sank into it gratefully. “Thank you.” His hands were shaking slightly, so he clasped them in his lap. A plate, piled high with food, was set before him.

“You don’t have to eat,” said Elain, “but it’s there if you want.” She returned to her cooking as he picked up a fork. He could barely swallow a few bites.

“How do you feel?” asked Horst. “Terrible.”

The smith waited a moment. “I know this isn’t the best time, but we need to know . . . what happened?”

“I don’t really remember.”

“Eragon,” said Horst, leaning forward, “I was one of the people who went out to your farm. Your house didn’t just fall apart—something tore it to pieces. Surrounding it were tracks of a gigantic beast I’ve never seen nor heard of before. Others saw them too. Now, if there’s a Shade or a monster roaming around, we have to know. You’re the only one who can tell us.”

Eragon knew he had to lie. “When I left Carvahall . . . ,” he counted up the time, “four days ago, there were . . . strangers in town asking about a stone like the one I found.” He gestured at Horst. “You talked to me about them, and because of that, I hurried home.” All eyes were upon him. He licked his lips. “Nothing . . . nothing happened that night. The next morning I finished my chores and went walking in the forest. Before long I heard an explosion and saw smoke above the trees. I rushed back as fast as I could, but whoever did it was already gone. I dug through the wreckage and . . . found Garrow.”

“So then you put him on the plank and dragged him back?” asked Albriech.

“Yes,” said Eragon, “but before I left, I looked at the path to the road.

There were two pairs of tracks on it, both of them men’s.” He dug in his pocket and pulled out the scrap of black fabric. “This was clenched in Garrow’s hand. I think it matches what those strangers were wearing.” He set it on the table.

“It does,” said Horst. He looked both thoughtful and angry. “And what of your legs? How were they injured?”

“I’m not sure,” said Eragon, shaking his head. “I think it happened when I dug Garrow out, but I don’t know. It wasn’t until the blood started dripping down my legs that I noticed it.”

“That’s horrible!” exclaimed Elain.

“We should pursue those men,” stated Albriech hotly. “They can’t get away with this! With a pair of horses we could catch them tomorrow and bring them back here.”

“Put that foolishness out of your head,” said Horst. “They could probably pick you up like a baby and throw you in a tree. Remember what happened to the house? We don’t want to get in the way of those people. Besides, they have what they want now.” He looked at Eragon. “They did take the stone, didn’t they?”

“It wasn’t in the house.”

“Then there’s no reason for them to return now that they have it.” He gave Eragon a piercing look. “You didn’t mention anything about those strange tracks. Do you know where they came from?”

Eragon shook his head. “I didn’t see them.”

Baldor abruptly spoke. “I don’t like this. Too much of this rings of wizardry. Who are those men? Are they Shades? Why did they want the stone, and how could they have destroyed the house except with dark powers? You may be right, Father, the stone might be all they wanted, but I think we will see them again.”

Silence followed his words.

Something had been overlooked, though Eragon was not sure what. Then it struck him. With a sinking heart, he voiced his suspicion. “Roran doesn’t know, does he?”How could I have forgotten him?

Horst shook his head. “He and Dempton left a little while after you. Unless they ran into some difficulty on the road, they’ve been in Therinsford for a couple of days now. We were going to send a message, but the weather was too cold yesterday and the day before.”

“Baldor and I were about to leave when you woke up,” offered Albriech.

Horst ran a hand through his beard. “Go on, both of you. I’ll help you saddle the horses.”

Baldor turned to Eragon. “I’ll break it to him gently,” he promised, then

followed Horst and Albriech out of the kitchen.

Eragon remained at the table, his eyes focused on a knot in the wood. Every excruciating detail was clear to him: the twisting grain, an asymmetrical bump, three little ridges with a fleck of color. The knot was filled with endless detail; the closer he looked, the more he saw. He searched for answers in it, but if there were any, they eluded him.

A faint call broke through his pounding thoughts. It sounded like yelling from outside. He ignored it.Let someone else deal with it. Several minutes later he heard it again, louder than before. Angrily, he blocked it out.Why can’t they be quiet? Garrow’s resting. He glanced at Elain, but she did not seem to be bothered by the noise.

ERAGON!The roar was so strong he almost fell out of the chair. He peered around in alarm, but nothing had changed. He suddenly realized that the shouts had been inside his head.

Saphira?he asked anxiously. There was a pause.Yes, stone ears.

Relief seeped into him.Where are you?

She sent him an image of a small clump of trees.I tried to contact you many times, but you were beyond reach.

I was sick . . . but I’m better now. Why couldn’t I sense you earlier? After two nights of waiting, hunger bested me. I had to hunt.

Did you catch anything?

A young buck. He was wise enough to guard against the predators of land, but not those of sky. When I first caught him in my jaws, he kicked vigorously and tried to escape. I was stronger, though, and when defeat became unavoidable, he gave up and died. Does Garrow also fight the inevitable?

I don’t know.He told her the particulars, then said,It’ll be a long time, if ever, before we can go home. I won’t be able to see you for at least a couple of days. You might as well make yourself comfortable.

Unhappily, she said,I will do as you say. But do not take too long.

They parted reluctantly. He looked out a window and was surprised to see that the sun had set. Feeling very tired, he limped to Elain, who was wrapping meat pies with oilcloth. “I’m going back to Gertrude’s house to sleep,” he said.

She finished with the packages and asked, “Why don’t you stay with us?

You’ll be closer to your uncle, and Gertrude can have her bed back.” “Do you have enough room?” he asked, wavering.

“Of course.” She wiped her hands. “Come with me; I’ll get everything ready.” She escorted him upstairs to an empty room. He sat on the edge of the

bed. “Do you need anything else?” she asked. He shook his head. “In that case, I’ll be downstairs. Call me if you need help.” He listened as she descended the stairs. Then he opened the door and slipped down the hallway to Garrow’s room. Gertrude gave him a small smile over her darting knitting needles.

“How is he?” whispered Eragon.

Her voice rasped with fatigue. “He’s weak, but the fever’s gone down a little and some of the burns look better. We’ll have to wait and see, but this could mean he’ll recover.”

That lightened Eragon’s mood, and he returned to his room. The darkness seemed unfriendly as he huddled under the blankets. Eventually he fell asleep, healing the wounds his body and soul had suffered.

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