Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle, #1)

“This way,” snapped the bald man. He stepped back, keeping the dagger pressed under Murtagh’s chin, then wheeled to the right, disappearing through an arched doorway. The warriors cautiously followed him, their attention centered on Eragon and Saphira. The horses were led into a different tunnel.

Dazed by the turn of events, Eragon started after Murtagh. He glanced at Saphira to confirm that Arya was still tied to her back.She has to get the antidote! he thought frantically, knowing that even then the Skilna Bragh was fulfilling its deadly purpose within her flesh.

He hurried through the arched doorway and down a narrow corridor after the bald man. The warriors kept their weapons pointed at him. They swept past a sculpture of a peculiar animal with thick quills. The corridor curved sharply to the left, then to the right. A door opened and they entered a bare room large enough for Saphira to move around with ease. There was a hollow boom as the door closed, followed by a loud scrape as a bolt was secured on the outside.

Eragon slowly examined his surroundings, Zar’roc tight in his hand. The walls, floor, and ceiling were made of polished white marble that reflected a ghost image of everyone, like a mirror of veined milk. One of the unusual lanterns hung in each corner. “There’s an injured—” he began, but a sharp gesture from the bald man cut him off.

“Do not speak! It must wait until you have been tested.” He shoved Murtagh over to one of the warriors, who pressed a sword against Murtagh’s neck. The bald man clasped his hands together softly. “Remove your weapons and slide them to me.” A dwarf unbuckled Murtagh’s sword and dropped it on the floor with a clank.

Loath to be parted with Zar’roc, Eragon unfastened the sheath and set it and the blade on the floor. He placed his bow and quiver next to them, then pushed the pile toward the warriors. “Now step away from your dragon and slowly approach me,” commanded the bald man.

Puzzled, Eragon moved forward. When they were a yard apart, the man said, “Stop there! Now remove the defenses from around your mind and prepare to let me inspect your thoughts and memories. If you try to hide anything from me, I will take what I want by force . . . which would drive you mad. If you don’t submit, your companion will be killed.”

“Why?” asked Eragon, aghast.

“To be sure you aren’t in Galbatorix’s service and to understand why

hundreds of Urgals are banging on our front door,” growled the bald man. His close-set eyes shifted from point to point with cunning speed. “No one may enter Farthen Dûr without being tested.”

“There isn’t time. We need a healer!” protested Eragon.

“Silence!” roared the man, pressing down his robe with thin fingers. “Until you are examined, your words are meaningless!”

“But she’s dying!” retorted Eragon angrily, pointing at Arya. They were in a precarious position, but he would let nothing else happen until Arya was cared for.

“It will have to wait! No one will leave this room until we have discovered the truth of this matter. Unless you wish—”

The dwarf who had saved Eragon from the lake jumped forward. “Are you blind, Egraz Carn? Can’t you see that’s an elf on the dragon? We cannot keep her here if she’s in danger. Ajihad and the king will have our heads if she’s allowed to die!”

The man’s eyes tightened with anger. After a moment he relaxed and said smoothly, “Of course, Orik, we wouldn’t want that to happen.” He snapped his fingers and pointed at Arya. “Remove her from the dragon.” Two human warriors sheathed their swords and hesitantly approached Saphira, who watched them steadily. “Quickly, quickly!”

The men unstrapped Arya from the saddle and lowered the elf to the floor. One of the men inspected her face, then said sharply, “It’s the dragon-egg courier, Arya!”

“What?” exclaimed the bald man. The dwarf Orik’s eyes widened with astonishment. The bald man fixed his steely gaze on Eragon and said flatly, “You have much explaining to do.”

Eragon returned the intense stare with all the determination he could muster. “She was poisoned with the Skilna Bragh while in prison. Only Túnivor’s Nectar can save her now.”

The bald man’s face became inscrutable. He stood motionless, except for his lips, which twitched occasionally. “Very well. Take her to the healers, and tell them what she needs. Guard her until the ceremony is completed. I will have new orders for you by then.” The warriors nodded curtly and carried Arya out of the room. Eragon watched them go, wishing that he could accompany her. His attention snapped back to the bald man as he said, “Enough of this, we have wasted too much time already. Prepare to be examined.”

Eragon did not want this hairless threatening man inside his mind, laying bare his every thought and feeling, but he knew that resistance would be useless. The air was strained. Murtagh’s gaze burned into his forehead.

Finally he bowed his head. “I am ready.” “Good, then—”

He was interrupted as Orik said abruptly, “You’d better not harm him, Egraz Carn, else the king will have words for you.”

The bald man looked at him irritably, then faced Eragon with a small smile. “Only if he resists.” He bowed his head and chanted several inaudible words.

Eragon gasped with pain and shock as a mental probe clawed its way into his mind. His eyes rolled up into his head, and he automatically began throwing up barriers around his consciousness. The attack was incredibly powerful.

Don’t do that!cried Saphira. Her thoughts joined his, filling him with strength.You’re putting Murtagh at risk! Eragon faltered, gritted his teeth, then forced himself to remove his shielding, exposing himself to the ravening probe. Disappointment emanated from the bald man. His battering intensified. The force coming from his mind felt decayed and unwholesome; there was something profoundly wrong about it.

He wants me to fight him!cried Eragon as a fresh wave of pain racked him. A second later it subsided, only to be replaced by another. Saphira did her best to suppress it, but even she could not block it entirely.

Give him what he wants,she said quickly,but protect everything else. I’ll help you. His strength is no match for mine; I’m already shielding our words from him.

Then why does it still hurt? The pain comes from you.

Eragon winced as the probe dug in farther, hunting for information, like a nail being driven through his skull. The bald man roughly seized his childhood memories and began sifting through them.He doesn’t need those— get him out of there! growled Eragon angrily.

I can’t, not without endangering you,said Saphira.I can conceal things from his view, but it must be done before he reaches them. Think quickly, and tell me what you want hidden!

Eragon tried to concentrate through the pain. He raced through his memories, starting from when he had found Saphira’s egg. He hid sections of his discussions with Brom, including all the ancient words he had been taught. Their travels through Palancar Valley, Yazuac, Daret, and Teirm he left mostly untouched. But he had Saphira conceal everything he remembered of Angela’s fortunetelling and Solembum. He skipped from their burglary at Teirm, to Brom’s death, to his imprisonment in Gil’ead, and lastly to Murtagh’s revelation of his true identity.

Eragon wanted to hide that as well, but Saphira balked.The Varden have a right to know who they shelter under their roof, especially if it’s a son of the Forsworn!

Just do it,he said tightly, fighting another wave of agony.I won’t be the one to unmask him, at least not to this man.

It’ll be discovered as soon as Murtagh is scanned,warned Saphira sharply.

Just do it.

With the most important information hidden, there was nothing else for Eragon to do but wait for the bald man to finish his inspection. It was like sitting still while his fingernails were extracted with rusty tongs. His entire body was rigid, jaw locked tightly. Heat radiated from his skin, and a line of sweat rolled down his neck. He was acutely aware of each second as the long minutes crept by.

The bald man wound through his experiences sluggishly, like a thorny vine pushing its way toward the sunlight. He paid keen attention to many things Eragon considered irrelevant, such as his mother, Selena, and seemed to linger on purpose so as to prolong the suffering. He spent a long time examining Eragon’s recollections of the Ra’zac, and then later the Shade. It was not until his adventures had been exhaustively analyzed that the bald man began to withdraw from Eragon’s mind.

The probe was extracted like a splinter being removed. Eragon shuddered, swayed, then fell toward the floor. Strong arms caught him at the last second, lowering him to the cool marble. He heard Orik exclaim from behind him, “You went too far! He wasn’t strong enough for this.”

“He’ll live. That’s all that is needed,” answered the bald man curtly. There was an angry grunt. “What did you find?”


“Well, is he to be trusted or not?”

The words came reluctantly. “He . . . is not your enemy.” There were audible sighs of relief throughout the room.

Eragon’s eyes fluttered open. He gingerly pushed himself upright. “Easy now,” said Orik, wrapping a thick arm around him and helping him to his feet. Eragon wove unsteadily, glaring at the bald man. A low growl rumbled in Saphira’s throat.

The bald man ignored them. He turned to Murtagh, who was still being held at sword point. “It’s your turn now.”

Murtagh stiffened and shook his head. The sword cut his neck slightly.

Blood dripped down his skin. “No.”

“You will not be protected here if you refuse.”

“Eragon has been declared trustworthy, so you cannot threaten to kill him to influence me. Since you can’t do that, nothing you say or do will convince me to open my mind.”

Sneering, the bald man cocked what would have been an eyebrow, if he had any. “What of your own life? I can still threaten that.”

“It won’t do any good,” said Murtagh stonily and with such conviction that it was impossible to doubt his word.

The bald man’s breath exploded angrily. “You don’t have a choice!” He stepped forward and placed his palm on Murtagh’s brow, clenching his hand to hold him in place. Murtagh stiffened, face growing as hard as iron, fists clenched, neck muscles bulging. He was obviously fighting the attack with all his strength. The bald man bared his teeth with fury and frustration at the resistance; his fingers dug mercilessly into Murtagh.

Eragon winced in sympathy, knowing the battle that raged between them.Can’t you help him? he asked Saphira.

No,she said softly.He will allow no one into his mind.

Orik scowled darkly as he watched the combatants. “Ilf carnz orodüm,” he muttered, then leapt forward and cried, “That is enough!” He grabbed the bald man’s arm and tore him away from Murtagh with strength disproportional to his size.

The bald man stumbled back, then turned on Orik furiously. “How dare you!” he shouted. “You questioned my leadership, opened the gates without permission, and now this! You’ve shown nothing but insolence and treachery. Do you think your king will protect you now?”

Orik bristled. “You would have let them die! If I had waited any longer, the Urgals would have killed them.” He pointed at Murtagh, whose breath came in great heaves. “We don’t have any right to torture him for information! Ajihad won’t sanction it. Not after you’ve examined the Rider and found him free of fault.And they’ve brought us Arya.”

“Would you allow him to enter unchallenged? Are you so great a fool as to put us all at risk?” demanded the bald man. His eyes were feral with loosely chained rage; he looked ready to tear the dwarf into pieces.

“Can he use magic?” “That is—”

“Can he use magic?” roared Orik, his deep voice echoing in the room. The bald man’s face suddenly grew expressionless. He clasped his hands behind his back.


“Then what do you fear? It’s impossible for him to escape, and he can’t work any devilry with all of us here, especially if your powers are as great as

you say. But don’t listen to me; ask Ajihad what he wants done.”

The bald man stared at Orik for a moment, his face indecipherable, then looked at the ceiling and closed his eyes. A peculiar stiffness set into his shoulders while his lips moved soundlessly. An intense frown wrinkled the pale skin above his eyes, and his fingers clenched, as if they were throttling an invisible enemy. For several minutes he stood thus, wrapped in silent communication.

When his eyes opened, he ignored Orik and snapped at the warriors, “Leave, now!” As they filed through the doorway, he addressed Eragon coldly, “Because I was unable to complete my examination, you and . . . your friend will remain here for the night. He will be killed if he attempts to leave.” With those words he turned on his heel and stalked out of the room, pale scalp gleaming in the lantern light.

“Thank you,” whispered Eragon to Orik.

The dwarf grunted. “I’ll make sure some food is brought.” He muttered a string of words under his breath, then left, shaking his head. The bolt was secured once again on the outside of the door.

Eragon sat, feeling strangely dreamy from the day’s excitement and their forced march. His eyelids were heavy. Saphira settled next to him.We must be careful. It seems we have as many enemies here as we did in the Empire. He nodded, too tired to talk.

Murtagh, eyes glazed and empty, leaned against the far wall and slid to the shiny floor. He held his sleeve against the cut on his neck to stop the bleeding. “Are you all right?” asked Eragon. Murtagh nodded jerkily. “Did he get anything from you?”


“How were you able to keep him out? He’s so strong.”

“I’ve . . . I’ve been well trained.” There was a bitter note to his voice.

Silence enshrouded them. Eragon’s gaze drifted to one of the lanterns hanging in a corner. His thoughts meandered until he abruptly said, “I didn’t let them know who you are.”

Murtagh looked relieved. He bowed his head. “Thank you for not betraying me.”

“They didn’t recognize you.” “No.”

“And you still say that you are Morzan’s son?” “Yes,” he sighed.

Eragon started to speak, but stopped when he felt hot liquid splash onto his hand. He looked down and was startled to see a drop of dark blood roll off his skin. It had fallen from Saphira’s wing.I forgot. You’re injured! he

exclaimed, getting up with an effort.I’d better heal you.

Be careful. It’s easy to make mistakes when you’re this tired.

I know.Saphira unfolded one of her wings and lowered it to the floor. Murtagh watched as Eragon ran his hands over the warm blue membrane, saying, “Waíse heill,” whenever he found an arrow hole. Luckily, all the wounds were relatively easy to heal, even those on her nose.

Task completed, Eragon slumped against Saphira, breathing hard. He could feel her great heart beating with the steady throb of life. “I hope they bring food soon,” said Murtagh.

Eragon shrugged; he was too exhausted to be hungry. He crossed his arms, missing Zar’roc’s weight by his side. “Why are you here?”


“If you really are Morzan’s son, Galbatorix wouldn’t let you wander around Alagaësia freely. How is it that you managed to find the Ra’zac by yourself? Why is it I’ve never heard of any of the Forsworn having children? And what are you doing here?” His voice rose to a near shout at the end.

Murtagh ran his hands over his face. “It’s a long story.” “We’re not going anywhere,” rebutted Eragon.

“It’s too late to talk.”

“There probably won’t be time for it tomorrow.”

Murtagh wrapped his arms around his legs and rested his chin on his knees, rocking back and forth as he stared at the floor. “It’s not a—” he said, then interrupted himself. “I don’t want to stop . . . so make yourself comfortable. My story will take a while.” Eragon shifted against Saphira’s side and nodded. Saphira watched both of them intently.

Murtagh’s first sentence was halting, but his voice gained strength and confidence as he spoke. “As far as I know . . . I am the only child of the Thirteen Servants, or the Forsworn as they’re called. There may be others, for the Thirteen had the skill to hide whatever they wanted, but I doubt it, for reasons I’ll explain later.

“My parents met in a small village—I never learned where—while my father was traveling on the king’s business. Morzan showed my mother some small kindness, no doubt a ploy to gain her confidence, and when he left, she accompanied him. They traveled together for a time, and as is the nature of these things, she fell deeply in love with him. Morzan was delighted to discover this not only because it gave him numerous opportunities to torment her but also because he recognized the advantage of having a servant who wouldn’t betray him.

“Thus, when Morzan returned to Galbatorix’s court, my mother became the tool he relied upon most. He used her to carry his secret messages, and he

taught her rudimentary magic, which helped her remain undiscovered and, on occasion, extract information from people. He did his best to protect her from the rest of the Thirteen—not out of any feelings for her, but because they would have used her against him, given the chance For three years things

proceeded in this manner, until my mother became pregnant.”

Murtagh paused for a moment, fingering a lock of his hair. He continued in a clipped tone, “My father was, if nothing else, a cunning man. He knew that the pregnancy put both him and my mother in danger, not to mention the baby—that is, me. So, in the dead of night, he spirited her away from the palace and took her to his castle. Once there, he laid down powerful spells that prevented anyone from entering his estate except for a few chosen servants. In this way the pregnancy was kept secret from everyone but Galbatorix.

“Galbatorix knew the intimate details of the Thirteen’s lives: their plots, their fights—and most importantly—their thoughts. He enjoyed watching them battle each other and often helped one or the other for his own amusement. But for some reason he never revealed my existence.

“I was born in due time and given to a wet nurse so my mother could return to Morzan’s side. She had no choice in the matter. Morzan allowed her to visit me every few months, but otherwise we were kept apart. Another three years passed like this, during which time he gave me the scar on my

back.” Murtagh brooded a minute before continuing.

“I would have grown to manhood in this fashion if Morzan hadn’t been summoned away to hunt for Saphira’s egg. As soon as he departed, my mother, who had been left behind, vanished. No one knows where she went, or why. The king tried to hunt her down, but his men couldn’t find her trail— no doubt because of Morzan’s training.

“At the time of my birth, only five of the Thirteen were still alive. By the time Morzan left, that number had been reduced to three; when he finally faced Brom in Gil’ead, he was the only one remaining. The Forsworn died through various means: suicide, ambush, overuse of magic . . . but it was mostly the work of the Varden. I’m told that the king was in a terrible rage because of those losses.

“However, before word of Morzan’s and the others’ deaths reached us, my mother returned. Many months had passed since she had disappeared. Her health was poor, as if she had suffered a great illness, and she grew steadily worse. Within a fortnight, she died.”

“What happened then?” prompted Eragon.

Murtagh shrugged. “I grew up. The king brought me to the palace and arranged for my upbringing. Aside from that, he left me alone.”

“Then why did you leave?”

A hard laugh broke from Murtagh. “Escaped is more like it. At my last birthday, when I turned eighteen, the king summoned me to his quarters for a private dinner. The message surprised me because I had always distanced myself from the court and had rarely met him. We’d talked before, but always within earshot of eavesdropping nobles.

“I accepted the offer, of course, aware that it would be unwise to refuse. The meal was sumptuous, but throughout it his black eyes never left me. His gaze was disconcerting; it seemed that he was searching for something hidden in my face. I didn’t know what to make of it and did my best to provide polite conversation, but he refused to talk, and I soon ceased my efforts.

“When the meal was finished, he finally began to speak. You’ve never heard his voice, so it’s hard for me to make you understand what it was like. His words were entrancing, like a snake whispering gilded lies into my ears. A more convincing and frightening man I’ve never heard. He wove a vision: a fantasy of the Empire as he imagined it. There would be beautiful cities built across the country, filled with the greatest warriors, artisans, musicians, and philosophers. The Urgals would finally be eradicated. And the Empire would expand in every direction until it reached the four corners of Alagaësia. Peace and prosperity would flourish, but more wondrous yet, the Riders would be brought back to gently govern over Galbatorix’s fiefdoms.

“Entranced, I listened to him for what must have been hours. When he stopped, I eagerly asked how the Riders would be reinstated, for everyone knew there were no dragon eggs left. Galbatorix grew still then and stared at me thoughtfully. For a long time he was silent, but then he extended his hand and asked, ‘Will you, O son of my friend, serve me as I labor to bring about this paradise?’

“Though I knew the history behind his and my father’s rise to power, the dream he had painted for me was too compelling, too seductive to ignore. Ardor for this mission filled me, and I fervently pledged myself to him. Obviously pleased, Galbatorix gave me his blessing, then dismissed me, saying, ‘I shall call upon you when the need arises.’

“Several months passed before he did. When the summons came, I felt all of my old excitement return. We met in private as before, but this time he was not pleasant or charming. The Varden had just destroyed three brigades in the south, and his wrath was out in full force. He charged me in a terrible voice to take a detachment of troops and destroy Cantos, where rebels were known to hide occasionally. When I asked what we should do with the people there and how we would know if they were guilty, he shouted, ‘They’re all traitors! Burn them at the stake and bury their ashes with dung!’ He continued

to rant, cursing his enemies and describing how he would scourge the land of everyone who bore him ill will.

“His tone was so different from what I had encountered before; it made me realize he didn’t possess the mercy or foresight to gain the people’s loyalty, and he ruled only through brute force guided by his own passions. It was at that moment I determined to escape him and Urû’baen forever.

“As soon as I was free of his presence, I and my faithful servant, Tornac, made ready for flight. We left that very night, but somehow Galbatorix anticipated my actions, for there were soldiers waiting for us outside the gates. Ah, my sword was bloody, flashing in the dim lantern glow. We defeated the men . . . but in the process Tornac was killed.

“Alone and filled with grief, I fled to an old friend who sheltered me in his estate. While I hid, I listened carefully to every rumor, trying to predict Galbatorix’s actions and plan my future. During that time, talk reached me that the Ra’zac had been sent to capture or kill someone. Remembering the king’s plans for the Riders, I decided to find and follow the Ra’zac, just in case theydid discover a dragon. And that’s how I found you. . . . I have no more secrets.”

We still don’t know if he’s telling the truth,warned Saphira.

I know,said Eragon,but why would he lie to us? He might be mad.

I doubt it.Eragon ran a finger over Saphira’s hard scales, watching the light reflect off them. “So why don’t you join the Varden? They’ll distrust you for a time, but once you prove your loyalty they’ll treat you with respect. And aren’t they in a sense your allies? They strive to end the king’s reign. Isn’t that what you want?”

“Must I spell everything out for you?” demanded Murtagh. “I don’t want Galbatorix to learn where I am, which is inevitable if people start saying that I’ve sided with his enemies, which I’ve never done. These,” he paused, then said with distaste, “rebelsare trying not only to overthrow the king but to destroy the Empire . . . and I don’t want that to happen. It would sow mayhem and anarchy. The king is flawed, yes, but the system itself is sound. As for earning the Varden’s respect: Ha! Once I am exposed, they’ll treat me like a criminal or worse. Not only that, suspicion will fall upon you because we traveled together!”

He’s right,said Saphira.

Eragon ignored her. “It isn’t that bad,” he said, trying to sound optimistic. Murtagh snorted derisively and looked away. “I’m sure that they won’t be—” His words were cut short as the door opened a hand’s breadth and two bowls were pushed through the space. A loaf of bread and a hunk of

raw meat followed, then the door was shut again.

“Finally!” grumbled Murtagh, going to the food. He tossed the meat to Saphira, who snapped it out of the air and swallowed it whole. Then he tore the loaf in two, gave half to Eragon, picked up his bowl, and retreated to a corner.

They ate silently. Murtagh jabbed at his food. “I’m going to sleep,” he announced, putting down his bowl without another word.

“Good night,” said Eragon. He lay next to Saphira, his arms under his head. She curled her long neck around him, like a cat wrapping its tail around itself, and laid her head alongside his. One of her wings extended over him like a blue tent, enveloping him in darkness.

Good night, little one.

A small smile lifted Eragon’s lips, but he was already asleep. T HEGLORY


Eragon jolted upright as a growl sounded in his ear. Saphira was still asleep, her eyes wandering sightlessly under her eyelids, and her upper lip trembled, as if she were going to snarl. He smiled, then jerked as she growled again.

She must be dreaming,he realized. He watched her for a minute, then carefully slid out from under her wing. He stood and stretched. The room was cool, but not unpleasantly so. Murtagh lay on his back in the far corner, his eyes closed.

As Eragon stepped around Saphira, Murtagh stirred. “Morning,” he said quietly, sitting up.

“How long have you been awake?” asked Eragon in a hushed voice. “Awhile. I’m surprised Saphira didn’t wake you sooner.”

“I was tired enough to sleep through a thunderstorm,” said Eragon wryly. He sat by Murtagh and rested his head against the wall. “Do you know what time it is?”

“No. It’s impossible to tell in here.” “Has anyone come to see us?” “Not yet.”

They sat together without moving or speaking. Eragon felt oddly bound to Murtagh.I’ve been carrying his father’s sword, which would have been his .

. . his inheritance. We’re alike in many ways, yet our outlook and upbringing are totally different. He thought of Murtagh’s scar and shivered.What man could do that to a child?

Saphira lifted her head and blinked to clear her eyes. She sniffed the air, then yawned expansively, her rough tongue curling at the tip.Has anything

happened? Eragon shook his head.I hope they give me more food than that snack last night. I’m hungry enough to eat a herd of cows.

They’ll feed you,he assured her.

They’d better.She positioned herself near the door and settled down to wait, tail flicking. Eragon closed his eyes, enjoying the rest. He dozed awhile, then got up and paced around. Bored, he examined one of the lanterns. It was made of a single piece of teardrop-shaped glass, about twice the size of a lemon, and filled with soft blue light that neither wavered nor flickered. Four slim metal ribs wrapped smoothly around the glass, meeting at the top to form a small hook and again at the bottom where they melded together into three graceful legs. The whole piece was quite attractive.

Eragon’s inspection was interrupted by voices outside the room. The door opened, and a dozen warriors marched inside. The first man gulped when he saw Saphira. They were followed by Orik and the bald man, who declared, “You have been summoned to Ajihad, leader of the Varden. If you must eat, do so while we march.” Eragon and Murtagh stood together, watching him warily.

“Where are our horses? And can I have my sword and bow back?” asked Eragon.

The bald man looked at him with disdain. “Your weapons will be returned to you when Ajihad sees fit, not before. As for your horses, they await you in the tunnel. Now come!”

As he turned to leave, Eragon asked quickly, “How is Arya?”

The bald man hesitated. “I do not know. The healers are still with her.” He exited the room, accompanied by Orik.

One of the warriors motioned. “You go first.” Eragon went through the doorway, followed by Saphira and Murtagh. They returned through the corridor they had traversed the night before, passing the statue of the quilled animal. When they reached the huge tunnel through which they had first entered the mountain, the bald man was waiting with Orik, who held Tornac’s and Snowfire’s reins.

“You will ride single file down the center of the tunnel,” instructed the bald man. “If you attempt to go anywhere else, you will be stopped.” When Eragon started to climb onto Saphira, the bald man shouted, “No! Ride your horse until I tell you otherwise.”

Eragon shrugged and took Snowfire’s reins. He swung into the saddle, guided Snowfire in front of Saphira, and told her,Stay close in case I need your help.

Of course,she said.

Murtagh mounted Tornac behind Saphira. The bald man examined their

small line, then gestured at the warriors, who divided in half to surround them, giving Saphira as wide a berth as possible. Orik and the bald man went to the head of the procession.

After looking them over once more, the bald man clapped twice and started walking forward. Eragon tapped Snowfire lightly on his flanks. The entire group headed toward the heart of the mountain. Echoes filled the tunnel as the horses’ hooves struck the hard floor, the sounds amplified in the deserted passageway. Doors and gates occasionally disturbed the smooth walls, but they were always closed.

Eragon marveled at the sheer size of the tunnel, which had been mined with incredible skill—the walls, floor, and ceiling were crafted with flawless precision. The angles at the bases of the walls were perfectly square, and as far as he could tell, the tunnel itself did not vary from its course by even an inch.

As they proceeded, Eragon’s anticipation about meeting Ajihad

increased. The leader of the Varden was a shadowy figure to the people within the Empire. He had risen to power nearly twenty years ago and since then had waged a fierce war against King Galbatorix. No one knew where he came from or even what he looked like. It was rumored that he was a master strategist, a brutal fighter. With such a reputation, Eragon worried about how they would be received. Still, knowing that Brom had trusted the Varden enough to serve them helped to allay his fears.

Seeing Orik again had brought forth new questions in his mind. The tunnel was obviously dwarf work—no one else could mine with such skill— but were the dwarves part of the Varden, or were they merely sheltering them? And who was the king that Orik had mentioned? Was it Ajihad? Eragon understood now that the Varden had been able to escape discovery by hiding underground, but what about the elves? Where were they?

For nearly an hour the bald man led them through the tunnel, never straying nor turning.We’ve probably already gone a league, Eragon realized.Maybe they’re taking us all the way through the mountain! At last a soft white glow became visible ahead of them. He strained his eyes, trying to discern its source, but it was still too far away to make out any details. The glow increased in strength as they neared it.

Now he could see thick marble pillars laced with rubies and amethysts standing in rows along the walls. Scores of lanterns hung between the pillars, suffusing the air with liquid brilliance. Gold tracery gleamed from the pillars’ bases like molten thread. Arching over the ceiling were carved raven heads, their beaks open in mid-screech. At the end of the hallway rested two colossal black doors, accented by shimmering silver lines that depicted a seven-

pointed crown that spanned both sides.

The bald man stopped and raised a hand. He turned to Eragon. “You will ride upon your dragon now. Do not attempt to fly away. There will be people watching, so remember who and what you are.”

Eragon dismounted Snowfire, and then clambered onto Saphira’s back.I think they want to show us off, she said as he settled into the saddle.

We’ll see. I wish I had Zar’roc,he replied, tightening the straps around his legs.

It might be better that you aren’t wearing Morzan’s sword when the Varden first see you.

True.“I’m ready,” Eragon said, squaring his shoulders.

“Good,” said the bald man. He and Orik retreated to either side of Saphira, staying far enough back so she was clearly in the lead. “Now walk to the doors, and once they open, follow the path. Go slowly.”

Ready?asked Eragon.

Of course.Saphira approached the doors at a measured pace. Her scales sparkled in the light, sending glints of color dancing over the pillars. Eragon took a deep breath to steady his nerves.

Without warning, the doors swung outward on hidden joints. As the rift widened between them, rays of sunlight streamed into the tunnel, falling on Saphira and Eragon. Temporarily blinded, Eragon blinked and squinted. When his eyes adjusted to the light, he gasped.

They were inside a massive volcanic crater. Its walls narrowed to a small ragged opening so high above that Eragon could not judge the distance—it might have been more than a dozen miles. A soft beam of light fell through the aperture, illuminating the crater’s center, though it left the rest of the cavernous expanse in hushed twilight.

The crater’s far side, hazy blue in the distance, looked to be nearly ten miles away. Giant icicles hundreds of feet thick and thousands of feet long hung leagues above them like glistening daggers. Eragon knew from his experience in the valley that no one, not even Saphira, could reach those lofty points. Farther down the crater’s inner walls, dark mats of moss and lichen covered the rock.

He lowered his gaze and saw a wide cobblestone path extending from the doors’ threshold. The path ran straight to the center of the crater, where it ended at the base of a snowy-white mountain that glittered like an uncut gem with thousands of colored lights. It was less than a tenth of the height of the crater that loomed over and around it, but its diminutive appearance was deceiving, for it was slightly higher than a mile.

Long as it was, the tunnel had only taken them through one side of the

crater wall. As Eragon stared, he heard Orik say deeply, “Look well, human, for no Rider has set eyes upon this for nigh over a hundred years. The airy peak under which we stand is Farthen Dûr—discovered thousands of years ago by the father of our race, Korgan, while he tunneled for gold. And in the center stands our greatest achievement: Tronjheim, the city-mountain built from the purest marble.” The doors grated to a halt.

A city!

Then Eragon saw the crowd. He had been so engrossed by the sights that he had failed to notice a dense sea of people clustered around the tunnel’s entrance. They lined the cobblestone pathway—dwarves and humans packed together like trees in a thicket. There were hundreds . . . thousands of them. Every eye, every face was focused on Eragon. And every one of them was silent.

Eragon gripped the base of one of Saphira’s neck spikes. He saw children in dirty smocks, hardy men with scarred knuckles, women in homespun dresses, and stout, weathered dwarves who fingered their beards. All of them bore the same taut expression—that of an injured animal when a predator is nearby and escape is impossible.

A bead of sweat rolled down Eragon’s face, but he dared not move to wipe it away.What should I do? he asked frantically.

Smile, raise your hand, anything!replied Saphira sharply.

Eragon tried to force out a smile, but his lips only twitched. Gathering his courage, he pushed a hand into the air, jerking it in a little wave. When nothing happened, he flushed with embarrassment, lowered his arm, and ducked his head.

A single cheer broke the silence. Someone clapped loudly. For a brief second the crowd hesitated, then a wild roar swept through it, and a wave of sound crashed over Eragon.

“Very good,” said the bald man from behind him. “Now start walking.” Relieved, Eragon sat straighter and playfully asked Saphira,Shall we go?

She arched her neck and stepped forward. As they passed the first row of people, she glanced to each side and exhaled a puff of smoke. The crowd quieted and shrank back, then resumed cheering, their enthusiasm only intensified.

Show-off,chided Eragon. Saphira flicked her tail and ignored him. He stared curiously at the jostling crowd as she proceeded along the path. Dwarves greatly outnumbered humans . . . and many of them glared at him resentfully. Some even turned their backs and walked away with stony faces.

The humans were hard, tough people. All the men had daggers or knives at their waists; many were armed for war. The women carried themselves

proudly, but they seemed to conceal a deep-abiding weariness. The few children and babies stared at Eragon with large eyes. He felt certain that these people had experienced much hardship and that they would do whatever was necessary to defend themselves.

The Varden had found the perfect hiding place. Farthen Dûr’s walls were too high for a dragon to fly over, and no army could break through the entranceway, even if it managed to find the hidden doors.

The crowd followed close behind them, giving Saphira plenty of room. Gradually the people quieted, though their attention remained on Eragon. He looked back and saw Murtagh riding stiffly, his face pale.

They neared the city-mountain, and Eragon saw that the white marble of Tronjheim was highly polished and shaped into flowing contours, as if it had been poured into place. It was dotted with countless round windows framed by elaborate carvings. A colored lantern hung in each window, casting a soft glow on the surrounding rock. No turrets or smokestacks were visible. Directly ahead, two thirty-foot-high gold griffins guarded a massive timber gate—recessed twenty yards into the base of Tronjheim—which was shadowed by thick trusses that supported an arched vault far overhead.

When they reached Tronjheim’s base, Saphira paused to see if the bald man had any instructions. When none were forthcoming, she continued to the gate. The walls were lined with fluted pillars of blood-red jasper. Between the pillars hulked statues of outlandish creatures, captured forever by the sculptor’s chisel.

The heavy gate rumbled open before them as hidden chains slowly raised the mammoth beams. A four-story-high passageway extended straight toward the center of Tronjheim. The top three levels were pierced by rows of archways that revealed gray tunnels curving off into the distance. Clumps of people filled the arches, eagerly watching Eragon and Saphira. On ground level, however, the archways were barred by stout doors. Rich tapestries hung between the different levels, embroidered with heroic figures and tumultuous battle scenes.

A cheer rang in their ears as Saphira stepped into the hall and paraded down it. Eragon raised his hand, eliciting another roar from the throng, though many of the dwarves did not join the welcoming shout.

The mile-long hall ended in an arch flanked by black onyx pillars. Yellow zircons three times the size of a man capped the dark columns, coruscating piercing gold beams along the hall. Saphira stepped through the opening, then stopped and craned back her neck, humming deeply in her chest.

They were in a circular room, perhaps a thousand feet across, that

reached up to Tronjheim’s peak a mile overhead, narrowing as it rose. The walls were lined with arches—one row for each level of the city-mountain— and the floor was made of polished carnelian, upon which was etched a hammer girdled by twelve silver pentacles, like on Orik’s helm.

The room was a nexus for four hallways—including the one they had just exited—that divided Tronjheim into quarters. The halls were identical except for the one opposite Eragon. To the right and left of that hall were tall arches that opened to descending stairs, which mirrored each other as they curved underground.

The ceiling was capped by a dawn-red star sapphire of monstrous size. The jewel was twenty yards across and nearly as thick. Its face had been carved to resemble a rose in full bloom, and so skilled was the craftsmanship, the flower almost seemed to be real. A wide belt of lanterns wrapped around the edge of the sapphire, which cast striated bands of blushing light over everything below. The flashing rays of the star within the gem made it appear as if a giant eye gazed down at them.

Eragon could only gape with wonder. Nothing had prepared him for this. It seemed impossible that Tronjheim had been built by mortal beings. The city-mountain shamed everything he had seen in the Empire. He doubted if even Urû’baen could match the wealth and grandeur displayed here. Tronjheim was a stunning monument to the dwarves’ power and perseverance.

The bald man walked in front of Saphira and said, “You must go on foot from here.” There was scattered booing from the crowd as he spoke. A dwarf took Tornac and Snowfire away. Eragon dismounted Saphira but stayed by her side as the bald man led them across the carnelian floor to the right-hand hallway.

They followed it for several hundred feet, then entered a smaller corridor. Their guards remained despite the cramped space. After four sharp turns, they came to a massive cedar door, stained black with age. The bald man pulled it open and conducted everyone but the guards inside.

You'll Also Like