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Chapter no 29 – DIAMOND TOMB

Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle, #1)

When Eragon woke, his eyes were gritty, his body stiff. The cave was empty except for the horses. The litter was gone; no sign of Brom remained. He walked to the entrance and sat on the pitted sandstone.So the witch Angela was correct—there was a death in my future, he thought, staring bleakly at the land. The topaz sun brought a desert heat to the early morning.

A tear slid down his listless face and evaporated in the sunlight, leaving a salty crust on his skin. He closed his eyes and absorbed the warmth, emptying his mind. With a fingernail, he aimlessly scratched the sandstone. When he looked, he saw that he had writtenWhy me?

He was still there when Murtagh climbed up to the cave, carrying a pair of rabbits. Without a word he seated himself by Eragon. “How are you?” he asked.

“Very ill.”

Murtagh considered him thoughtfully. “Will you recover?” Eragon shrugged. After a few minutes of reflection, Murtagh said, “I dislike asking this at such a time, but I must know . . . Is your Bromthe Brom? The one who helped steal a dragon egg from the king, chased it across the Empire, and killed Morzan in a duel? I heard you say his name, and I read the inscription you put on his grave, but I must know for certain, Was that he?”

“It was,” said Eragon softly. A troubled expression settled on Murtagh’s face. “How do you know all that? You talk about things that are secret to most, and you were trailing the Ra’zac right when we needed help. Are you one of the Varden?”

Murtagh’s eyes became inscrutable orbs. “I’m running away, like you.” There was restrained sorrow in his words. “I do not belong to either the Varden or the Empire. Nor do I owe allegiance to any man but myself. As for my rescuing you, I will admit that I’ve heard whispered tales of a new Rider and reasoned that by following the Ra’zac I might discover if they were true.”

“I thought you wanted to kill the Ra’zac,” said Eragon.

Murtagh smiled grimly. “I do, but if I had, I never would have met you.”

But Brom would still be alive. . . . I wish he were here. He would know whether to trust Murtagh.Eragon remembered how Brom had sensed Trevor’s intentions in Daret and wondered if he could do the same with Murtagh. He reached for Murtagh’s consciousness, but his probe abruptly ran into an iron-hard wall, which he tried to circumvent. Murtagh’s entire mind was fortified.How did he learn to do that? Brom said that few people, if any, could

keep others out of their mind without training. So who is Murtagh to have this ability ? Pensive and lonely, Eragon asked, “Where is Saphira?”

“I don’t know,” said Murtagh. “She followed me for a time when I went hunting, then flew off on her own. I haven’t seen her since before noon.” Eragon rocked onto his feet and returned to the cave. Murtagh followed. “What are you going to do now?”

“I’m not sure.”And I don’t want to think about it either. He rolled up his blankets and tied them to Cadoc’s saddlebags. His ribs hurt. Murtagh went to prepare the rabbits. As Eragon shifted things in his bags, he uncovered Zar’roc. The red sheath glinted brightly. He took out the sword . . . weighed it in his hands.

He had never carried Zar’roc nor used it in combat—except when he and Brom had sparred—because he had not wanted people to see it. That concerned Eragon no more. The Ra’zac had seemed surprised and frightened by the sword; that was more than enough reason for him to wear it. With a shudder he pulled off his bow and belted on Zar’roc.From this moment on, I’ll live by the sword. Let the whole world see what I am. I have no fear. I am a Rider now, fully and completely.

He sorted through Brom’s bags but found only clothes, a few odd items, and a small pouch of coins. Eragon took the map of Alagaësia and put the bags away, then crouched by the fire. Murtagh’s eyes narrowed as he looked up from the rabbit he was skinning. “That sword. May I see it?” he asked, wiping his hands.

Eragon hesitated, reluctant to relinquish the weapon for even a moment, then nodded. Murtagh examined the symbol on the blade intently. His face darkened. “Where did you get this?”

“Brom gave it to me. Why?”

Murtagh shoved the sword back and crossed his arms angrily. He was breathing hard. “That sword,” he said with emotion, “was once as well known as its owner. The last Rider to carry it was Morzan—a brutal, savage man. I thought you were a foe of the Empire, yet here I find you bearing one of the Forsworn’s bloody swords!”

Eragon stared at Zar’roc with shock. He realized that Brom must have taken it from Morzan after they fought in Gil’ead. “Brom never told me where it came from,” he said truthfully. “I had no idea it was Morzan’s.”

“He never told you?” asked Murtagh, a note of disbelief in his voice. Eragon shook his head. “That’s strange. I can think of no reason for him to have concealed it.”

“Neither can I. But then, he kept many secrets,” said Eragon. It felt unsettling to hold the sword of the man who had betrayed the Riders to

Galbatorix.This blade probably killed many Riders in its time, he thought with revulsion.And worse, dragons! “Even so, I’m going to carry it. I don’t have a sword of my own. Until such time as I get one, I’ll use Zar’roc.”

Murtagh flinched as Eragon said the name. “It’s your choice,” he said.

He returned to skinning, keeping his gaze focused downward.

When the meal was ready, Eragon ate slowly, though he was quite hungry. The hot food made him feel better. As they scraped out their bowls, he said, “I have to sell my horse.”

“Why not Brom’s?” asked Murtagh. He seemed to have gotten over his bad temper.

“Snowfire? Because Brom promised to take care of him. Since he . . . isn’t around, I’ll do it for him.”

Murtagh set his bowl on his lap. “If that’s what you want, I’m sure we can find a buyer in some town or village.”

“We?” asked Eragon.

Murtagh looked at him sideways in a calculating way. “You won’t want to stay here for much longer. If the Ra’zac are nearby, Brom’s tomb will be like a beacon for them.” Eragon had not thought of that. “And your ribs are going to take time to heal. I know you can defend yourself with magic, but you need a companion who can lift things and use a sword. I’m asking to travel with you, at least for the time being. But I must warn you, the Empire is searching for me. There’ll be blood over it eventually.”

Eragon laughed weakly and found himself crying because it hurt so much. Once his breath was back, he said, “I don’t care if the entire army is searching for you. You’re right. I do need help. I would be glad to have you along, though I have to talk to Saphira about it. But I have to warnyou, Galbatorix justmight send the entire army after me. You won’t be any safer with Saphira and me than if you were on your own.”

“I know that,” said Murtagh with a quick grin. “But all the same, it won’t stop me.”

“Good.” Eragon smiled with gratitude.

While they spoke, Saphira crawled into the cave and greeted Eragon. She was glad to see him, but there was deep sadness in her thoughts and words. She laid her big blue head on the floor and asked,Are you well again?

Not quite.

I miss the old one.

As do I . . . I never suspected that he was a Rider. Brom! He really was an old man—as old as the Forsworn. Everything he taught me about magic he must have learned from the Riders themselves.

Saphira shifted slightly.I knew what he was the moment he touched me at

your farm.

And you didn’t tell me? Why?

He asked me not to, she said simply.

Eragon decided not to make an issue of it. Saphira never meant to hurt him. Brom kept more than that secret,he told her, then explained about Zar’roc and Murtagh’s reaction to it.I understand now why Brom didn’t explain Zar’roc’s origins when he gave it to me. If he had, I probably would have run away from him at the first opportunity.

You would do well to rid yourself of that sword,she said with distaste.I know it’s a peerless weapon, but you would be better off with a normal blade rather than Morzan’s butchery tool.

Perhaps. Saphira, where does our path go from here? Murtagh offered to come with us. I don’t know his past, but he seems honest enough. Should we go to the Varden now? Only I don’t know how to find them. Brom never told us.

He told me,said Saphira.

Eragon grew angry.Why did he trust you, but not me, with all this knowledge?

Her scales rustled over the dry rock as she stood above him, eyes profound.After we left Teirm and were attacked by the Urgals, he told me many things, some of which I will not speak of unless necessary. He was concerned about his own death and what would happen to you after it. One fact he imparted to me was the name of a man, Dormnad, who lives in Gil’ead. He can help us find the Varden. Brom also wanted you to know that of all the people in Alagaësia, he believed you were the best suited to inherit the Riders’ legacy.

Tears welled in Eragon’s eyes. This was the highest praise he could have ever received from Brom.A responsibility I will bear honorably.

Good.

We will go to Gil’ead, then,stated Eragon, strength and purpose returning to him.And what of Murtagh? Do you think he should come with us?

We owe him our lives,said Saphira.But even if that weren’t so, he has seen both you and me. We should keep him close so he doesn’t furnish the Empire with our location and descriptions, willingly or not.

He agreed with her, then told Saphira about his dream.What I saw disturbed me. I feel that time is running out for her; something dreadful is going to happen soon. She’s in mortal danger—I’m sure of it—but I don’t know how to find her! She could be anywhere.

What does your heart say?asked Saphira.

My heart died a while back,said Eragon with a hint of black

humor.However, I think we should go north to Gil’ead. With any luck, one of the towns or cities along our path is where this woman is being held. I’m afraid that my next dream of her will show a grave. I couldn’t stand that.

Why?

I’m not sure,he said, shrugging.It’s just that when I see her, I feel as if she’s precious and shouldn’t be lost. . . . It’s very strange. Saphira opened her long mouth and laughed silently, fangs gleaming.What is it? snapped Eragon. She shook her head and quietly padded away.

Eragon grumbled to himself, then told Murtagh what they had decided. Murtagh said, “If you find this Dormnad and then continue on to the Varden, I will leave you. Encountering the Varden would be as dangerous for me as walking unarmed into Urû’baen with a fanfare of trumpets to announce my arrival.”

“We won’t have to part anytime soon,” said Eragon. “It’s a long way to Gil’ead.” His voice cracked slightly, and he squinted at the sun to distract himself. “We should leave before the day grows any older.”

“Are you strong enough to travel?” asked Murtagh, frowning.

“I have to do something or I’ll go crazy,” said Eragon brusquely. “Sparring, practicing magic, or sitting around twiddling my thumbs aren’t good options right now, so I choose to ride.”

They doused the fire, packed, and led the horses out of the cave. Eragon handed Cadoc’s and Snowfire’s reins to Murtagh, saying, “Go on, I’ll be right down.” Murtagh began the slow descent from the cave.

Eragon struggled up the sandstone, resting when his side made it impossible to breathe. When he reached the top, he found Saphira already there. They stood together before Brom’s grave and paid their last respects.I can’t believe he’s gone . . . forever. As Eragon turned to depart, Saphira snaked out her long neck to touch the tomb with the tip of her nose. Her sides vibrated as a low humming filled the air.

The sandstone around her nose shimmered like gilded dew, turning clear with dancing silver highlights. Eragon watched in wonder as tendrils of white diamond twisted over the tomb’s surface in a web of priceless filigree. Sparkling shadows were cast on the ground, reflecting splashes of brilliant colors that shifted dazzlingly as the sandstone continued to change. With a satisfied snort, Saphira stepped back and examined her handiwork.

The sculpted sandstone mausoleum of moments before had transformed into a sparkling gemstone vault—under which Brom’s untouched face was visible. Eragon gazed with yearning at the old man, who seemed to be only sleeping. “What did you do?” he asked Saphira with awe.

I gave him the only gift I could. Now time will not ravage him. He can

rest in peace for eternity.

Thank you.Eragon put a hand on her side, and they left together. C APTURE ATGIL’EAD

Riding was extremely painful for Eragon—his broken ribs prevented them from going faster than a walk, and it was impossible for him to breathe deeply without a burst of agony. Nevertheless, he refused to stop. Saphira flew close by, her mind linked with his for solace and strength.

Murtagh rode confidently beside Cadoc, flowing smoothly with his horse’s movements. Eragon watched the gray animal for a while. “You have a beautiful horse. What’s his name?”

“Tornac, after the man who taught me how to fight.” Murtagh patted the horse’s side. “He was given to me when he was just a foal. You’d be hard pressed to find a more courageous and intelligent animal in all of Alagaësia, Saphira excepted, of course.”

“He is a magnificent beast,” said Eragon admiringly.

Murtagh laughed. “Yes, but Snowfire is as close to his match as I’ve ever seen.”

They covered only a short distance that day, yet Eragon was glad to be on the move again. It kept his mind off other, more morbid matters. They were riding through unsettled land. The road to Dras-Leona was several leagues to their left. They would skirt the city by a wide margin on the way to Gil’ead, which was almost as far to the north as Carvahall.

They sold Cadoc in a small village. As the horse was led away by his new owner, Eragon regretfully pocketed the few coins he had gained from the transaction. It was difficult to relinquish Cadoc after crossing half of Alagaësia—and outracing Urgals—on him.

The days rolled by unnoticed as their small group traveled in isolation. Eragon was pleased to find that he and Murtagh shared many of the same interests; they spent hours debating the finer points of archery and hunting.

There was one subject, however, they avoided discussing by unspoken consent: their pasts. Eragon did not explain how he had found Saphira, met Brom, or where he came from. Murtagh was likewise mute as to why the Empire was chasing him. It was a simple arrangement, but it worked.

Yet because of their proximity, it was inevitable that they learned about each other. Eragon was intrigued by Murtagh’s familiarity with the power struggles and politics within the Empire. He seemed to know what every noble and courtier was doing and how it affected everyone else. Eragon listened carefully, suspicions whirling through his mind.

The first week went by without any sign of the Ra’zac, which allayed some of Eragon’s fears. Even so, they still kept watches at night. Eragon had

expected to encounter Urgals on the way to Gil’ead, but they found no trace of them.I thought these remote places would be teeming with monsters, he mused.Still, I’m not one to complain if they’ve gone elsewhere.

He dreamed of the woman no more. And though he tried to scry her, he saw only an empty cell. Whenever they passed a town or city, he checked to see if it had a jail. If it did, he would disguise himself and visit it, but she was not to be found. His disguises became increasingly elaborate as he saw notices featuring his name and description—and offering a substantial reward for his capture—posted in various towns.

Their travels north forced them toward the capital, Urû’baen. It was a heavily populated area, which made it difficult to escape notice. Soldiers patrolled the roads and guarded the bridges. It took them several tense, irritable days to skirt the capital.

Once they were safely past Urû’baen, they found themselves on the edge of a vast plain. It was the same one that Eragon had crossed after leaving Palancar Valley, except now he was on the opposite side. They kept to the perimeter of the plain and continued north, following the Ramr River.

Eragon’s sixteenth birthday came and went during this time. At Carvahall a celebration would have been held for his entrance into manhood, but in the wilderness he did not even mention it to Murtagh.

At nearly six months of age, Saphira was much larger. Her wings were massive; every inch of them was needed to lift her muscular body and thick bones. The fangs that jutted from her jaw were nearly as thick around as Eragon’s fist, their points as sharp as Zar’roc.

The day finally came when Eragon unwrapped his side for the last time. His ribs had healed completely, leaving him with only a small scar where the Ra’zac’s boot had cut his side. As Saphira watched, he stretched slowly, then with increasing vigor when there was no pain. He flexed his muscles, pleased. In an earlier time he would have smiled, but after Brom’s death, such expressions did not come easily.

He tugged his tunic on and walked back to the small fire they had made. Murtagh sat next to it, whittling a piece of wood. Eragon drew Zar’roc. Murtagh tensed, though his face remained calm. “Now that I am strong enough, would you like to spar?” asked Eragon.

Murtagh tossed the wood to the side. “With sharpened swords? We could kill each other.”

“Here, give me your sword,” said Eragon. Murtagh hesitated, then handed over his long hand-and-a-half sword. Eragon blocked the edges with magic, the way Brom had taught him. While Murtagh examined the blade, Eragon said, “I can undo that once we’re finished.”

Murtagh checked the balance of his sword. Satisfied, he said, “It will do.” Eragon safed Zar’roc, settled into a crouch, then swung at Murtagh’s shoulder. Their swords met in midair. Eragon disengaged with a flourish, thrust, and then riposted as Murtagh parried, dancing away.

He’s fast!thought Eragon.

They struggled back and forth, trying to batter each other down. After a particularly intense series of blows, Murtagh started laughing. Not only was it impossible for either of them to gain an advantage, but they were so evenly matched that they tired at the same rate. Acknowledging with grins each other’s skill, they fought on until their arms were leaden and sweat poured off their sides.

Finally Eragon called, “Enough, halt!” Murtagh stopped in mid-blow and sat down with a gasp. Eragon staggered to the ground, his chest heaving. None of his fights with Brom had been this fierce.

As he gulped air, Murtagh exclaimed, “You’re amazing! I’ve studied swordplay all my life, but never have I fought one like you. You could be the king’s weapon master if you wanted to.”

“You’re just as good,” observed Eragon, still panting. “The man who taught you, Tornac, could make a fortune with a fencing school. People would come from all parts of Alagaësia to learn from him.”

“He’s dead,” said Murtagh shortly. “I’m sorry.”

Thus it became their custom to fight in the evening, which kept them lean and fit, like a pair of matched blades. With his return to health, Eragon also resumed practicing magic. Murtagh was curious about it and soon revealed that he knew a surprising amount about how it worked, though he lacked the precise details and could not use it himself. Whenever Eragon practiced speaking in the ancient language, Murtagh would listen quietly, occasionally asking what a word meant.

On the outskirts of Gil’ead they stopped the horses side by side. It had taken them nearly a month to reach it, during which time spring had finally nudged away the remnants of winter. Eragon had felt himself changing during the trip, growing stronger and calmer. He still thought about Brom and spoke about him with Saphira, but for the most part he tried not to awaken painful memories.

From a distance they could see the city was a rough, barbaric place, filled with log houses and yapping dogs. There was a rambling stone fortress at its center. The air was hazy with blue smoke. The place seemed more like a temporary trading post than a permanent city. Five miles beyond it was the hazy outline of Isenstar Lake.

They decided to camp two miles from the city, for safety. While their dinner simmered, Murtagh said, “I’m not sure you should be the one to go into Gil’ead.”

“Why? I can disguise myself well enough,” said Eragon. “And Dormnad will want to see the gedwëy ignasia as proof that I really am a Rider.”

“Perhaps,” said Murtagh, “but the Empire wants you much more than me. If I’m captured, I could eventually escape. But ifyou are taken, they’ll drag you to the king, where you’ll be in for a slow death by torture—unless you join him. Plus, Gil’ead is one of the army’s major staging points. Those aren’t houses out there; they’re barracks. Going in there would be like handing yourself to the king on a gilded platter.”

Eragon asked Saphira for her opinion. She wrapped her tail around his legs and lay next to him.You shouldn’t have to ask me; he speaks sense. There are certain words I can give him that will convince Dormnad of his truthfulness. And Murtagh’s right; if anyone is to risk capture it should be him, because he would live through it.

He grimaced.I don’t like letting him put himself in danger for us. “All right, you can go,” he said reluctantly. “But if anything goes wrong, I’m coming after you.”

Murtagh laughed. “That would be fit for a legend: how a lone Rider took on the king’s army single-handedly.” He chuckled again and stood. “Is there anything I should know before going?”

“Shouldn’t we rest and wait until tomorrow?” asked Eragon cautiously. “Why? The longer we stay here, the greater the chance that we’ll be

discovered. If this Dormnad can take you to the Varden, then he needs to be found as quickly as possible. Neither of us should remain near Gil’ead longer than a few days.”

Again wisdom flies from his mouth,commented Saphira dryly. She told Eragon what should be said to Dormnad, and he relayed the information to Murtagh.

“Very well,” said Murtagh, adjusting his sword. “Unless there’s trouble, I’ll be back within a couple of hours. Make sure there’s some food left for me.” With a wave of his hand, he jumped onto Tornac and rode away. Eragon sat by the fire, tapping Zar’roc’s pommel apprehensively.

Hours passed, but Murtagh did not return. Eragon paced around the fire, Zar’roc in hand, while Saphira watched Gil’ead attentively. Only her eyes moved. Neither of them voiced their worries, though Eragon unobtrusively prepared to leave—in case a detachment of soldiers left the city and headed toward their camp.

Look,snapped Saphira.

Eragon swiveled toward Gil’ead, alert. He saw a distant horseman exit the city and ride furiously toward their camp.I don’t like this, he said as he climbed onto Saphira.Be ready to fly.

I’m prepared for more than that.

As the rider approached, Eragon recognized Murtagh bent low over Tornac. No one seemed to be pursuing him, but he did not slow his reckless pace. He galloped into the camp and jumped to the ground, drawing his sword. “What’s wrong?” asked Eragon.

Murtagh scowled. “Did anyone follow me from Gil’ead?” “We didn’t see anyone.”

“Good. Then let me eat before I explain. I’m starving.” He seized a bowl and began eating with gusto. After a few sloppy bites, he said through a full mouth, “Dormnad has agreed to meet us outside Gil’ead at sunrise tomorrow. If he’s satisfied you really are a Rider and that it’s not a trap, he’ll take you to the Varden.”

“Where are we supposed to meet him?” asked Eragon. Murtagh pointed west. “On a small hill across the road.” “So what happened?”

Murtagh spooned more food into his bowl. “It’s a rather simple thing, but all the more deadly because of it: I was seen in the street by someone who knows me. I did the only thing I could and ran away. It was too late, though; he recognized me.”

It was unfortunate, but Eragon was unsure how bad it really was. “Since I don’t know your friend, I have to ask: Will he tell anyone?”

Murtagh gave a strained laugh. “If youhad met him, that wouldn’t need answering. His mouth is loosely hinged and hangs open all the time, vomiting whatever happens to be in his mind. The question isn’twhether he will tell people, butwhom he will tell. If word of this reaches the wrong ears, we’ll be in trouble.”

“I doubt that soldiers will be sent to search for you in the dark,” Eragon pointed out. “We can at least count on being safe until morning, and by then, if all goes well, we’ll be leaving with Dormnad.”

Murtagh shook his head. “No, only you will accompany him. As I said before, I won’t go to the Varden.”

Eragon stared at him unhappily. He wanted Murtagh to stay. They had become friends during their travels, and he was loath to tear that apart. He started to protest, but Saphira hushed him and said gently,Wait until tomorrow. Now is not the time.

Very well,he said glumly. They talked until the stars were bright in the sky, then slept as Saphira took the first watch.

Eragon woke two hours before dawn, his palm tingling. Everything was still and quiet, but something sought his attention, like an itch in his mind. He buckled on Zar’roc and stood, careful not to make a sound. Saphira looked at him curiously, her large eyes bright.What is it? she asked.

I don’t know,said Eragon. He saw nothing amiss.

Saphira sniffed the air curiously. She hissed a little and lifted her head. I smell horses nearby, but they’re not moving. They reek with an unfamiliar stench.

Eragon crept to Murtagh and shook his shoulder. Murtagh woke with a start, yanked a dagger from under his blankets, then looked at Eragon quizzically. Eragon motioned for him to be silent, whispering, “There are horses close by.”

Murtagh wordlessly drew his sword. They quietly stationed themselves on either side of Saphira, prepared for an attack. As they waited, the morning star rose in the east. A squirrel chattered.

Then an angry snarl from behind made Eragon spin around, sword held high. A broad Urgal stood at the edge of the camp, carrying a mattock with a nasty spike.Where did he come from? We haven’t seen their tracks anywhere! thought Eragon. The Urgal roared and waved his weapon, but did not charge.

“Brisingr!” barked Eragon, stabbing out with magic. The Urgal’s face contorted with terror as he exploded in a flash of blue light. Blood splattered Eragon, and a brown mass flew through the air. Behind him, Saphira bugled with alarm and reared. Eragon twisted around. While he had been occupied with the first Urgal, a group of them had run up from the side.Of all the stupid tricks to fall for!

Steel clashed loudly as Murtagh attacked the Urgals. Eragon tried to join him but was blocked by four of the monsters. The first one swung a sword at his shoulder. He ducked the blow and killed the Urgal with magic. He caught a second one in the throat with Zar’roc, wheeled wildly, and slashed a third through the heart. As he did, the fourth Urgal rushed at him, swinging a heavy club.

Eragon saw him coming and tried to lift his sword to block the club, but

was a second too slow. As the club came down on his head, he screamed, “Fly, Saphira!” A burst of light filled his eyes and he lost consciousness.

D USÚNDAVARFREOHR

The first things Eragon noticed were that he was warm and dry, his cheek was pressed against rough fabric, and his hands were unbound. He stirred, but it was minutes before he was able to push himself upright and examine his surroundings.

He was sitting in a cell on a narrow, bumpy cot. A barred window was

set high in the wall. The iron-bound door with a small window in its top half, barred like the one in the wall, was shut securely.

Dried blood cracked on Eragon’s face when he moved. It took him a moment to remember that it was not his. His head hurt horribly—which was to be expected, considering the blow he had taken—and his mind was strangely fuzzy. He tried to use magic, but could not concentrate well enough to remember any of the ancient words.They must have drugged me, he finally decided.

With a groan he got up, missing the familiar weight of Zar’roc on his hip, and lurched to the window in the wall. He managed to see out of it by standing on his toes. It took a minute for his eyes to adjust to the bright light outside. The window was level with the ground. A street full of busy people ran past the side of his cell, beyond which were rows of identical log houses.

Feeling weak, Eragon slid to the floor and stared at it blankly. What he had seen outside disturbed him, but he was unsure why. Cursing his sluggish thinking, he leaned back his head and tried to clear his mind. A man entered the room and set a tray of food and a pitcher of water on the cot.Wasn’t that nice of him? thought Eragon, smiling pleasantly. He took a couple of bites of the thin cabbage soup and stale bread, but was barely able to stomach it.I wish he had brought me something better, he complained, dropping the spoon.

He suddenly realized what was wrong.I was captured by Urgals, not men! How did I end up here? His befuddled brain grappled with the paradox unsuccessfully. With a mental shrug he filed the discovery away for a time when he would know what to do with it.

He sat on the cot and gazed into the distance. Hours later more food was brought in.And I was just getting hungry, he thought thickly. This time he was able to eat without feeling sick. When he finished, he decided it was time for a nap. After all, he was on a bed; what else was he going to do?

His mind drifted off; sleep began to envelop him. Then a gate clanged open somewhere, and the din of steel-shod boots marching on a stone floor filled the air. The noise grew louder and louder until it sounded like someone banging a pot inside Eragon’s head. He grumbled to himself.Can’t they let me rest in peace? Fuzzy curiosity slowly overcame his exhaustion, so he dragged himself to the door, blinking like an owl.

Through the window he saw a wide hallway nearly ten yards across. The opposing wall was lined with cells similar to his own. A column of soldiers marched through the hall, their swords drawn and ready. Every man was dressed in matching armor; their faces bore the same hard expression, and their feet came down on the floor with mechanical precision, never missing a beat. The sound was hypnotic. It was an impressive display of force.

Eragon watched the soldiers until he grew bored. Just then he noticed a break in the middle of the column. Carried between two burly men was an unconscious woman.

Her long midnight-black hair obscured her face, despite a leather strip bound around her head to hold the tresses back. She was dressed in dark leather pants and shirt. Wrapped around her slim waist was a shiny belt, from which hung an empty sheath on her right hip. Knee-high boots covered her calves and small feet.

Her head lolled to the side. Eragon gasped, feeling like he had been struck in the stomach. She was the woman from his dreams. Her sculpted face was as perfect as a painting. Her round chin, high cheekbones, and long eyelashes gave her an exotic look. The only mar in her beauty was a scrape along her jaw; nevertheless, she was the fairest woman he had ever seen.

Eragon’s blood burned as he looked at her. Something awoke in him— something he had never felt before. It was like an obsession, except stronger, almost a fevered madness. Then the woman’s hair shifted, revealing pointed ears. A chill crept over him. She was an elf.

The soldiers continued marching, taking her from his sight. Next strode a tall, proud man, a sable cape billowing behind him. His face was deathly white; his hair was red. Red like blood.

As he walked by Eragon’s cell, the man turned his head and looked squarely at him with maroon eyes. His upper lip pulled back in a feral smile, revealing teeth filed to points. Eragon shrank back. He knew what the man was.A Shade.So help me . . . a Shade. The procession continued, and the Shade vanished from view.

Eragon sank to the floor, hugging himself. Even in his bewildered state, he knew that the presence of a Shade meant that evil was loose in the land. Whenever they appeared, rivers of blood were sure to follow.What is a Shade doing here? The soldiers should have killed him on sight! Then his thoughts returned to the elf-woman, and he was grasped by strange emotions again.

I have to escape.But with his mind clouded, his determination quickly faded. He returned to the cot. By the time the hallway fell silent, he was fast asleep.

As soon as Eragon opened his eyes, he knew something was different. It was easier for him to think; he realized that he was in Gil’ead.They made a mistake; the drug’s wearing off! Hopeful, he tried to contact Saphira and use magic, but both activities were still beyond his reach. A pit of worry twisted inside him as he wondered if she and Murtagh had managed to escape. He stretched his arms and looked out the window. The city was just awakening; the street was empty except for two beggars.

He reached for the water pitcher, ruminating about the elf and Shade. As he started to drink, he noticed that the water had a faint odor, as if it contained a few drops of rancid perfume. Grimacing, he set the pitcher down.The drug must be in there and maybe in the food as well! He remembered that when the Ra’zac had drugged him, it had taken hours to wear off.If I can keep from drinking and eating for long enough, I should be able to use magic. Then I can rescue the elf. . . . The thought made him smile. He sat in a corner, dreaming about how it could be done.

The portly jailer entered the cell an hour later with a tray of food. Eragon waited until he departed, then carried the tray to the window. The meal was composed only of bread, cheese, and an onion, but the smell made his stomach grumble hungrily. Resigning himself to a miserable day, he shoved the food out the window and onto the street, hoping that no one would notice.

Eragon devoted himself to overcoming the drug’s effects. He had difficulty concentrating for any length of time, but as the day progressed, his mental acuity increased. He began to remember several of the ancient words, though nothing happened when he uttered them. He wanted to scream with frustration.

When lunch was delivered, he pushed it out the window after his breakfast. His hunger was distracting, but it was the lack of water that taxed him most. The back of his throat was parched. Thoughts of drinking cool water tortured him as each breath dried his mouth and throat a bit more. Even so, he forced himself to ignore the pitcher.

He was diverted from his discomfort by a commotion in the hall. A man argued in a loud voice, “You can’t go in there! The orders were clear: no one is to see him!”

“Really? Will you be the one to die stopping me, Captain?” cut in a smooth voice.

There was a subdued, “No . . . but the king—”

Iwill handle the king,” interrupted the second person. “Now, unlock the door.”

After a pause, keys jangled outside Eragon’s cell. He tried to adopt a languorous expression.I have to act like I don’t understand what’s going on. I can’t show surprise, no matter what this person says.

The door opened. His breath caught as he looked into the Shade’s face. It was like gazing at a death mask or a polished skull with skin pulled over it to give the appearance of life. “Greetings,” said the Shade with a cold smile, showing his filed teeth. “I’ve waited a long time to meet you.”

“Who—who’re you?” asked Eragon, slurring his words.

“No one of consequence,” answered the Shade, his maroon eyes alight

with controlled menace. He sat with a flourish of his cloak. “My name does not matter to one in your position. It wouldn’t mean a thing to you anyway. It’s you that I’m interested in. Who are you?”

The question was posed innocently enough, but Eragon knew there had to be a catch or trap in it, though it eluded him. He pretended to struggle over the question for a while, then slowly said, frowning, “I’m not sure. . . . M’name’s Eragon, but that’s not all I am, is it?”

The Shade’s narrow lips stretched tautly over his mouth as he laughed sharply. “No, it isn’t. You have an interesting mind, my young Rider.” He leaned forward. The skin on his forehead was thin and translucent. “It seems I must be more direct. What is your name?”

“Era—”

“No! Not that one.” The Shade cut him off with a wave of his hand. “Don’t you have another one, one that you use only rarely?”

He wants my true name so he can control me!realized Eragon.But I can’t tell him. I don’t even know it myself. He thought quickly, trying to invent a deception that would conceal his ignorance.What if I made up a name? He hesitated—it could easily give him away—then raced to create a name that would withstand scrutiny. As he was about to utter it, he decided to take a chance and try to scare the Shade. He deftly switched a few letters, then nodded foolishly and said, “Brom told it to me once. It was . . .” The pause stretched for a few seconds, then his face brightened as he appeared to remember. “It was Du Súndavar Freohr.” Which meant almost literally “death of the shadows.”

A grim chill settled over the cell as the Shade sat motionless, eyes veiled. He seemed to be deep in thought, pondering what he had learned. Eragon wondered if he had dared too much. He waited until the Shade stirred before asking ingenuously, “Why are you here?”

The Shade looked at him with contempt in his red eyes and smiled. “To gloat, of course. What use is a victory if one cannot enjoy it?” There was confidence in his voice, but he seemed uneasy, as if his plans had been disrupted. He stood suddenly. “I must attend to certain matters, but while I am gone you would do well to think on who you would rather serve: a Rider who betrayed your own order or a fellow man like me, though one skilled in arcane arts. When the time comes to choose, there will be no middle ground.” He turned to leave, then glanced at Eragon’s water pitcher and stopped, his face granite hard. “Captain!” he snapped.

A broad-shouldered man rushed into the cell, sword in hand. “What is it, my lord?” he asked, alarmed.

“Put that toy away,” instructed the Shade. He turned to Eragon and said

in a deadly quiet voice, “The boy hasn’t been drinking his water. Why is that?”

“I talked with the jailer earlier. Every bowl and plate was scraped clean.” “Very well,” said the Shade, mollified. “But make sure that he starts drinking again.” He leaned toward the captain and murmured into his ear. Eragon caught the last few words, “. . . extra dose, just in case.” The captain nodded. The Shade returned his attention to Eragon. “We will talk again tomorrow when I am not so pressed for time. You should know, I have an endless fascination for names. I will greatly enjoy discussing yours inmuch

greater detail.”

The way he said it gave Eragon a sinking feeling.

Once they left, he lay on the cot and closed his eyes. Brom’s lessons proved their worth now; he relied on them to keep himself from panicking and to reassure himself.Everything has been provided for me; I only have to take advantage of it. His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of approaching soldiers.

Apprehensive, he went to the door and saw two soldiers dragging the elf down the hallway. When he could see her no more, Eragon slumped to the floor and tried to touch the magic again. Oaths flew from his lips when it eluded his grasp.

He looked out at the city and ground his teeth. It was only midafternoon.

Taking a calming breath, he tried to wait patiently.

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