Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle, #1)

Eragon stretched in the hall; he was stiff from sitting so long. Behind him, the Twins entered Ajihad’s study and closed the door. Eragon looked at Orik. “I’m sorry that you’re in trouble because of me,” he apologized.

“Don’t bother yourself,” grunted Orik, tugging on his beard. “Ajihad gave me what I wanted.”

Even Saphira was startled by the statement. “What do you mean?” said Eragon. “You can’t train or fight, and you’re stuck guarding me. How can that be what you wanted?”

The dwarf eyed him quietly. “Ajihad is a good leader. He understands how to keep the law yet remain just. I have been punished by his command, but I’m also one of Hrothgar’s subjects. Under his rule, I’m still free to do what I wish.”

Eragon realized it would be unwise to forget Orik’s dual loyalty and the split nature of power within Tronjheim. “Ajihad just placed you in a powerful position, didn’t he?”

Orik chuckled deeply. “That he did, and in such a way the Twins can’t complain about it. This’ll irritate them for sure. Ajihad’s a tricky one, he is. Come, lad, I’m sure you’re hungry. And we have to get your dragon settled in.”

Saphira hissed. Eragon said, “Her name is Saphira.”

Orik made a small bow to her. “My apologies, I’ll be sure to remember that.” He took an orange lamp from the wall and led them down the hallway.

“Can others in Farthen Dûr use magic?” asked Eragon, struggling to keep up with the dwarf’s brisk pace. He cradled Zar’roc carefully, concealing the symbol on the sheath with his arm.

“Few enough,” said Orik with a swift shrug under his mail. “And the ones we have can’t do much more than heal bruises. They’ve all had to tend to Arya because of the strength needed to heal her.”

“Except for the Twins.”

“Oeí,” grumbled Orik. “She wouldn’t want their help anyway; their arts are not for healing. Their talents lie in scheming and plotting for power—to everyone else’s detriment. Deynor, Ajihad’s predecessor, allowed them to join the Varden because he needed their support . . . you can’t oppose the Empire without spellcasters who can hold their own on the field of battle. They’re a nasty pair, but they do have their uses.”

They entered one of the four main tunnels that divided Tronjheim.

Clusters of dwarves and humans strolled through it, voices echoing loudly off the polished floor. The conversations stopped abruptly as they saw Saphira; scores of eyes fixed on her. Orik ignored the spectators and turned left, heading toward one of Tronjheim’s distant gates. “Where are we going?” asked Eragon.

“Out of these halls so Saphira can fly to the dragonhold above Isidar Mithrim, the Star Rose. The dragonhold doesn’t have a roof—Tronjheim’s peak is open to the sky, like that of Farthen Dûr—so she, that is, you, Saphira, will be able to glide straight down into the hold. It is where the Riders used to stay when they visited Tronjheim.”

“Won’t it be cold and damp without a roof?” asked Eragon.

“Nay.” Orik shook his head. “Farthen Dûr protects us from the elements. Neither rain nor snow intrude here. Besides, the hold’s walls are lined with marble caves for dragons. They provide all the shelter necessary. All you need fear are the icicles; when they fall they’ve been known to cleave a horse in two.”

I will be fine,assured Saphira.A marble cave is safer than any of the other places we’ve stayed.

Perhaps . . . Do you think Murtagh will be all right?

Ajihad strikes me as an honorable man. Unless Murtagh tries to escape, I doubt he will be harmed.

Eragon crossed his arms, unwilling to talk further. He was dazed by the change in circumstances from the day before. Their mad race from Gil’ead was finally over, but his body expected to continue running and riding. “Where are our horses?”

“In the stables by the gate. We can visit them before leaving Tronjheim.” They exited Tronjheim through the same gate they had entered. The gold griffins gleamed with colored highlights garnered from scores of lanterns. The sun had moved during Eragon’s talk with Ajihad—light no longer entered Farthen Dûr through the crater opening. Without those moted rays, the inside of the hollow mountain was velvety black. The only illumination came from Tronjheim, which sparkled brilliantly in the gloom. The city-mountain’s

radiance was enough to brighten the ground hundreds of feet away.

Orik pointed at Tronjheim’s white pinnacle. “Fresh meat and pure mountain water await you up there,” he told Saphira. “You may stay in any of the caves. Once you make your choice, bedding will be laid down in it and then no one will disturb you.”

“I thought we were going to go together. I don’t want to be separated,” protested Eragon.

Orik turned to him. “Rider Eragon, I will do everything to accommodate

you, but it would be best if Saphira waits in the dragonhold while you eat. The tunnels to the banquet halls aren’t large enough for her to accompany us.”

“Why can’t you just bring me food in the hold?”

“Because,” said Orik with a guarded expression, “the food is prepared down here, and it is a long way to the top. If you wish, a servant could be sent up to the hold with a meal for you. It will take some time, but you could eat with Saphira then.”

He actually means it,Eragon thought, astonished that they would do so much for him. But the way Orik said it made him wonder if the dwarf was testing him somehow.

I’m weary,said Saphira.And this dragonhold sounds to my liking. Go, have your meal, then come to me. It will be soothing to rest together without fear of wild animals or soldiers. We have suffered the hardships of the trail too long.

Eragon looked at her thoughtfully, then said to Orik, “I’ll eat down here.” The dwarf smiled, seeming satisfied. Eragon unstrapped Saphira’s saddle so she could lie down without discomfort.Would you take Zar’roc with you?

Yes,she said, gathering up the sword and saddle with her claws.But keep

your bow. We must trust these people, though not to the point of foolishness.

I know,he said, disquieted.

With an explosive leap Saphira swept off the ground and into the still air. The steady whoosh of her wings was the only sound in the darkness. As she disappeared over the rim of Tronjheim’s peak, Orik let out a long breath. “Ah boy, you have been blessed indeed. I find a sudden longing in my heart for open skies and soaring cliffs and the thrill of hunting like a hawk. Still, my feet are better on the ground—preferably under it.”

He clapped his hands loudly. “I neglect my duties as host. I know you’ve not dined since that pitiful dinner the Twins saw fit to give you, so come, let’s find the cooks and beg meat and bread from them!”

Eragon followed the dwarf back into Tronjheim and through a labyrinth of corridors until they came to a long room filled with rows of stone tables only high enough for dwarves. Fires blazed in soapstone ovens behind a long counter.

Orik spoke words in an unfamiliar language to a stout ruddy-faced dwarf, who promptly handed them stone platters piled with steaming mushrooms and fish. Then Orik took Eragon up several flights of stairs and into a small alcove carved out of Tronjheim’s outer wall, where they sat cross-legged. Eragon wordlessly reached for his food.

When their platters were empty, Orik sighed with contentment and

pulled out a long-stemmed pipe. He lit it, saying, “A worthy repast, though it needed a good draught of mead to wash it down properly.”

Eragon surveyed the ground below. “Do you farm in Farthen Dûr?”

“No, there’s only enough sunlight for moss, mushrooms, and mold. Tronjheim cannot survive without supplies from the surrounding valleys, which is one reason why many of us choose to live elsewhere in the Beor Mountains.”

“Then there are other dwarf cities?”

“Not as many as we would like. And Tronjheim is the greatest of them.” Leaning on an elbow, Orik took a deep pull on his pipe. “You have only seen the lower levels, so it hasn’t been apparent, but most of Tronjheim is deserted. The farther up you go, the emptier it gets. Entire floors have remained untouched for centuries. Most dwarves prefer to dwell under Tronjheim and Farthen Dûr in the caverns and passageways that riddle the rock. Through the centuries we have tunneled extensively under the Beor Mountains. It is possible to walk from one end of the mountain range to the other without ever setting foot on the surface.”

“It seems like a waste to have all that unused space in Tronjheim,” commented Eragon.

Orik nodded. “Some have argued for abandoning this place because of its drain on our resources, but Tronjheim does perform one invaluable task.”

“What’s that?”

“In times of misfortune it can house our entire nation. There have been only three instances in our history when we have been forced to that extreme, but each time it has saved us from certain and utter destruction. That is why we always keep it garrisoned, ready for use.”

“I’ve never seen anything as magnificent,” admitted Eragon.

Orik smiled around his pipe. “I’m glad you find it so. It took generations to build Tronjheim—and our lives are much longer than those of men. Unfortunately, because of the cursed Empire, few outsiders are allowed to see its glory.”

“How many Varden are here?” “Dwarves or humans?”

“Humans—I want to know how many have fled the Empire.”

Orik exhaled a long puff of smoke that coiled lazily around his head. “There are about four thousand of your kin here. But that’s a poor indicator of what you want to know. Only people who wish to fight come here. The rest of them are under King Orrin’s protection in Surda.”

So few?thought Eragon with a sinking feeling. The royal army alone numbered nearly sixteen thousand when it was fully marshaled, not counting

the Urgals. “Why doesn’t Orrin fight the Empire himself?” he asked.

“If he were to show open hostility,” said Orik, “Galbatorix would crush him. As it is, Galbatorix withholds that destruction because he considers Surda a minor threat, which is a mistake. It’s through Orrin’s assistance that the Varden have most of their weapons and supplies. Without him, there would be no resisting the Empire.

“Don’t despair over the number of humans in Tronjheim. There are many dwarves here—many more than you have seen—and all will fight when the time comes. Orrin has also promised us troops for when we battle Galbatorix. The elves pledged their help as well.”

Eragon absently touched Saphira’s mind and found her busy eating a bloody haunch with gusto. He noticed once more the hammer and stars engraved on Orik’s helm. “What does that mean? I saw it on the floor in Tronjheim.”

Orik lifted the iron-bound cap off his head and brushed a rough finger over the engraving. “It is the symbol of my clan. We are the Ingietum, metalworkers and master smiths. The hammer and stars are inlaid into Tronjheim’s floor because it was the personal crest of Korgan, our founder. One clan to rule, with twelve surrounding. King Hrothgar is Dûrgrimst Ingietum as well and has brought my house much glory, much honor.”

When they returned the platters to the cook, they passed a dwarf in the hall. He stopped before Eragon, bowed, and said respectfully, “Argetlam.”

The dwarf left Eragon fumbling for an answer, flushed with unease, yet also strangely pleased with the gesture. No one had bowed to him before. “What did he say?” he asked, leaning closer to Orik.

Orik shrugged, embarrassed. “It’s an elven word that was used to refer to the Riders. It means ‘silver hand.’ ” Eragon glanced at his gloved hand, thinking of the gedwëy ignasia that whitened his palm. “Do you wish to return to Saphira?”

“Is there somewhere I could bathe first? I haven’t been able to wash off the grime of the road for a long time. Also, my shirt is bloodstained and torn, and it stinks. I’d like to replace it, but I don’t have any money to buy a new one. Is there a way I could work for one?”

“Do you seek to insult Hrothgar’s hospitality, Eragon?” demanded Orik. “As long as you are in Tronjheim, you won’t have to buy a thing. You’ll pay for it in other ways—Ajihad and Hrothgar will see to that. Come. I’ll show you where to wash, then fetch you a shirt.”

He took Eragon down a long staircase until they were well below Tronjheim. The corridors were tunnels now—which cramped Eragon because they were only five feet high—and all the lanterns were red. “So the light

doesn’t blind you when you leave or enter a dark cavern,” explained Orik.

They entered a bare room with a small door on the far side. Orik pointed. “The pools are through there, along with brushes and soap. Leave your clothes here. I’ll have new ones waiting when you get out.”

Eragon thanked him and started to undress. It felt oppressive being alone underground, especially with the low rock ceiling. He stripped quickly and, cold, hurried through the door, into total darkness. He inched forward until his foot touched warm water, then eased himself into it.

The pool was mildly salty, but soothing and calm. For a moment he was afraid of drifting away from the door, into deeper water, but as he waded forward, he discovered the water reached only to his waist. He groped over a slippery wall until he found the soap and brushes, then scrubbed himself. Afterward he floated with his eyes closed, enjoying the warmth.

When he emerged, dripping, into the lighted room, he found a towel, a fine linen shirt, and a pair of breeches. The clothes fit him reasonably well. Satisfied, he went out into the tunnel.

Orik was waiting for him, pipe in hand. They climbed the stairs back up into Tronjheim, then exited the city-mountain. Eragon gazed at Tronjheim’s peak and called Saphira with his mind. As she flew down from the dragonhold, he asked, “How do you communicate with people at the top of Tronjheim?”

Orik chuckled. “That’s a problem we solved long ago. You didn’t notice, but behind the open arches that line each level is a single, unbroken staircase that spirals around the wall of Tronjheim’s central chamber. The stairs climb all the way to the dragonhold above Isidar Mithrim. We call it Vol Turin, The Endless Staircase. Running up or down it isn’t swift enough for an emergency, nor convenient enough for casual use. Instead, we use flashing lanterns to convey messages. There is another way too, though it is seldom used. When Vol Turin was constructed, a polished trough was cut next to it. The trough acts as a giant slide as high as a mountain.”

Eragon’s lips twitched with a smile. “Is it dangerous?”

“Do not think of trying it. The slide was built for dwarves and is too narrow for a man. If you slipped out of it, you could be thrown onto the stairs and against the arches, perhaps even into empty space.”

Saphira landed a spear’s throw away, her scales rustling dryly. As she greeted Eragon, humans and dwarves trickled out of Tronjheim, gathering around her with murmurs of interest. Eragon regarded the growing crowd uneasily. “You’d better go,” said Orik, pushing him forward. “Meet me by this gate tomorrow morning. I’ll be waiting.”

Eragon balked. “How will I know when it’s morning?”

“I’ll have someone wake you. Now go!” Without further protest, Eragon slipped through the jostling group that surrounded Saphira and jumped onto her back.

Before she could take off, an old woman stepped forward and grasped Eragon’s foot with a fierce grip. He tried to pull away, but her hand was like an iron talon around his ankle—he could not break her tenacious hold. The burning gray eyes she fixed on him were surrounded by a lifetime’s worth of wrinkles—the skin was folded in long creases down her sunken cheeks. A tattered bundle rested in the crook of her left arm.

Frightened, Eragon asked, “What do you want?”

The woman tilted her arm, and a cloth fell from the bundle, revealing a baby’s face. Hoarse and desperate, she said, “The child has no parents—there is no one to care for her but me, and I am weak. Bless her with your power, Argetlam. Bless her for luck!”

Eragon looked to Orik for help, but the dwarf only watched with a guarded expression. The small crowd fell silent, waiting for his response. The woman’s eyes were still fastened on him. “Bless her, Argetlam, bless her,” she insisted.

Eragon had never blessed anyone. It was not something done lightly in Alagaësia, as a blessing could easily go awry and prove to be more curse than boon—especially if it was spoken with ill intent or lack of conviction.Do I dare take that responsibility? he wondered.

“Bless her, Argetlam, bless her.”

Suddenly decided, he searched for a phrase or expression to use. Nothing came to mind until, inspired, he thought of the ancient language. This would be a true blessing, spoken with words of power, by one of power.

He bent down and tugged the glove off his right hand. Laying his palm on the babe’s brow, he intoned, “Atra gülai un ilian tauthr ono un atra ono waíse skölir frá rauthr.” The words left him unexpectedly weak, as if he had used magic. He slowly pulled the glove back on and said to the woman, “That is all I can do for her. If any words have the power to forestall tragedy, it will be those.”

“Thank you, Argetlam,” she whispered, bowing slightly. She started to cover the baby again, but Saphira snorted and twisted until her head loomed over the child. The woman grew rigid; her breath caught in her chest. Saphira lowered her snout and brushed the baby between the eyes with the tip of her nose, then smoothly lifted away.

A gasp ran through the crowd, for on the child’s forehead, where Saphira had touched her, was a star-shaped patch of skin as white and silvery as Eragon’s gedwëy ignasia. The woman stared at Saphira with a feverish gaze,

wordless thanks in her eyes.

Immediately Saphira took flight, battering the awestruck spectators with the wind from her powerful wing strokes. As the ground dwindled away, Eragon took a deep breath and hugged her neck tightly.What did you do? he asked softly.

I gave her hope. And you gave her a future.

Loneliness suddenly flowered within Eragon, despite Saphira’s presence. Their surroundings were so foreign—it struck him for the first time exactly how far he was from home. A destroyed home, but still where his heart lay.What have I become, Saphira? he asked.I’m only in the first year of manhood, yet I’ve consulted with the leader of the Varden, am pursued by Galbatorix, and have traveled with Morzan’s son—and now blessings are sought from me! What wisdom can I give people that they haven’t already learned? What feats can I achieve that an army couldn’t do better? It’s insanity! I should be back in Carvahall with Roran.

Saphira took a long time to answer, but her words were gentle when they came.A hatchling, that is what you are. A hatchling struggling into the world. I may be younger than you in years, but I am ancient in my thoughts. Do not worry about these things. Find peace in where and what you are. People often know what must be done. All you need do is show them the way—that is wisdom. As for feats, no army could have given the blessing you did.

But it was nothing,he protested.A trifle.

Nay, it wasn’t. What you saw was the beginning of another story, another legend. Do you think that child will ever be content to be a tavern keeper or a farmer when her brow is dragon-marked and your words hang over her? You underestimate our power and that of fate.

Eragon bowed his head.It’s overwhelming. I feel as if I am living in an illusion, a dream where all things are possible. Amazing things do happen, I know, but always to someone else, always in some far-off place and time. But I found your egg, was tutored by a Rider, and dueled a Shade—those can’t be the actions of the farm boy I am, or was. Something is changing me.

It is your wyrd that shapes you,said Saphira.Every age needs an icon— perhaps that lot has fallen to you. Farm boys are not named for the first Rider without cause. Your namesake was the beginning, and now you are the continuation. Or the end.

Ach,said Eragon, shaking his head.It’s like speaking in riddles. . . . But if all is foreordained, do our choices mean anything? Or must we just learn to accept our fate?

Saphira said firmly,Eragon, I chose you from within my egg. You have been given a chance most would die for. Are you unhappy with that? Clear

your mind of such thoughts. They cannot be answered and will make you no happier.

True,he said glumly.All the same, they continue to bounce around within my skull.

Things have been . . . unsettled . . . ever since Brom died. It has made me uneasy,acknowledged Saphira, which surprised him because she rarely seemed perturbed. They were above Tronjheim now. Eragon looked down through the opening in its peak and saw the floor of the dragonhold: Isidar Mithrim, the great star sapphire. He knew that beneath it was nothing but Tronjheim’s great central chamber. Saphira descended to the dragonhold on silent wings. She slipped over its rim and dropped to Isidar Mithrim, landing with the sharp clack of claws.

Won’t you scratch it?asked Eragon.

I think not. It’s no ordinary gem.Eragon slid off her back and slowly turned in a circle, absorbing the unusual sight. They were in a round roofless room sixty feet high and sixty feet across. The walls were lined with the dark openings of caves, which differed in size from grottoes no larger than a man to a gaping cavern larger than a house. Shiny rungs were set into the marble walls so that people could reach the highest caves. An enormous archway led out of the dragonhold.

Eragon examined the great gem under his feet and impulsively lay down on it. He pressed his cheek against the cool sapphire, trying to see through it. Distorted lines and wavering spots of color glimmered through the stone, but its thickness made it impossible to discern anything clearly on the floor of the chamber a mile below them.

Will I have to sleep apart from you?

Saphira shook her enormous head.No, there is a bed for you in my cave. Come see. She turned and, without opening her wings, jumped twenty feet into the air, landing in a medium-sized cave. He clambered up after her.

The cave was dark brown on the inside and deeper than he had expected. The roughly chiseled walls gave the impression of a natural formation. Near the far wall was a thick cushion large enough for Saphira to curl up on. Beside it was a bed built into the side of the wall. The cave was lit by a single red lantern equipped with a shutter so its glow could be muted.

I like this,said Eragon.It feels safe.

Yes.Saphira curled up on the cushion, watching him. With a sigh he sank onto the mattress, weariness seeping through him.

Saphira, you haven’t said much while we’ve been here. What do you think of Tronjheim and Ajihad?

We shall see. . . . It seems, Eragon, that we are embroiled in a new type

of warfare here. Swords and claws are useless, but words and alliances may have the same effect. The Twins dislike us—we should be on our guard for any duplicities they might attempt. Not many of the dwarves trust us. The elves didn’t want a human Rider, so there will be opposition from them as well. The best thing we can do is identify those in power and befriend them. And quickly, too.

Do you think it’s possible to remain independent of the different leaders?

She shuffled her wings into a more comfortable position.Ajihad supports our freedom, but we may be unable to survive without pledging our loyalty to one group or another. We’ll soon know either way.


The blankets were bunched underneath Eragon when he woke, but he was still warm. Saphira was asleep on her cushion, her breath coming in steady gusts.

For the first time since entering Farthen Dûr, Eragon felt secure and hopeful. He was warm and fed and had been able to sleep as long as he liked. Tension unknotted inside him—tension that had been accumulating since Brom’s death and, even before, since leaving Palancar Valley.

I don’t have to be afraid anymore. But what about Murtagh?No matter the Varden’s hospitality, Eragon could not accept it in good conscience, knowing that—intentionally or not—he had led Murtagh to his imprisonment. Somehow the situation had to be resolved.

His gaze roamed the cave’s rough ceiling as he thought of Arya. Chiding himself for daydreaming, he tilted his head and looked out at the dragonhold. A large cat sat on the edge of the cave, licking a paw. It glanced at him, and he saw a flash of slanted red eyes.

Solembum?he asked incredulously.

Obviously.The werecat shook his rough mane and yawned languorously, displaying his long fangs. He stretched, then jumped out of the cave, landing with a solid thump on Isidar Mithrim, twenty feet below.Coming?

Eragon looked at Saphira. She was awake now, watching him motionlessly.Go. I will be fine, she murmured. Solembum was waiting for him under the arch that led to the rest of Tronjheim.

The moment Eragon’s feet touched Isidar Mithrim, the werecat turned with a flick of his paws and disappeared through the arch. Eragon chased after him, rubbing the sleep from his face. He stepped through the archway and found himself standing at the top of Vol Turin, The Endless Staircase. There was nowhere else to go, so he descended to the next level.

He stood in an open arcade that curved gently to the left and encircled Tronjheim’s central chamber. Between the slender columns supporting the

arches, Eragon could see Isidar Mithrim sparkling brilliantly above him, as well as the city-mountain’s distant base. The circumference of the central chamber increased with each successive level. The staircase cut through the arcade’s floor to an identical level below and descended through scores of arcades until it disappeared in the distance. The sliding trough ran along the outside curve of the stairs. At the top of Vol Turin was a pile of leather squares to slide on. To Eragon’s right, a dusty corridor led to that level’s rooms and apartments. Solembum padded down the hall, flipping his tail.

Wait,said Eragon.

He tried to catch up with Solembum, but glimpsed him only fleetingly in the abandoned passageways. Then, as Eragon rounded a corner, he saw the werecat stop before a door and yowl. Seemingly of its own accord, the door slid inward. Solembum slipped inside, then the door shut. Eragon halted in front of it, perplexed. He raised his hand to knock, but before he did, the door opened once more, and warm light spilled out. After a moment’s indecision he stepped inside.

He entered an earthy two-room suite, lavishly decorated with carved wood and clinging plants. The air was warm, fresh, and humid. Bright lanterns hung on the walls and from the low ceiling. Piles of intriguing items cluttered the floor, obscuring the corners. A large four-poster bed, curtained by even more plants, was in the far room.

In the center of the main room, on a plush leather chair, sat the fortuneteller and witch, Angela. She smiled brightly.

“What are you doing here?” blurted Eragon.

Angela folded her hands in her lap. “Well, why don’t you sit on the floor and I’ll tell you? I’d offer you a chair, but I’m sitting on the only one.” Questions buzzed through Eragon’s mind as he settled between two flasks of acrid bubbling green potions.

“So!” exclaimed Angela, leaning forward. “Youare a Rider. I suspected as much, but I didn’t know for certain until yesterday. I’m sure Solembum knew, but he never told me. I should have figured it out the moment you mentioned Brom. Saphira . . . I like the name—fitting for a dragon.”

“Brom’s dead,” said Eragon abruptly. “The Ra’zac killed him.”

Angela was taken aback. She twirled a lock of her dense curls. “I’m sorry. I truly am,” she said softly.

Eragon smiled bitterly. “But not surprised, are you? You foretold his death, after all.”

“I didn’t know whose death it would be,” she said, shaking her head. “But no . . . I’m not surprised. I met Brom once or twice. He didn’t care for my ‘frivolous’ attitude toward magic. It irritated him.”

Eragon frowned. “In Teirm you laughed at his fate and said that it was something of a joke. Why?”

Angela’s face tightened momentarily. “In retrospect, it was in rather bad taste, but I didn’t know what would befall him. How do I put this? . . . Brom was cursed in a way. It was his wyrd to fail at all of his tasks except one, although through no fault of his own. He was chosen as a Rider, but his dragon was killed. He loved a woman, but it was his affection that was her undoing. And he was chosen, I assume, to guard and train you, but in the end he failed at that as well. The only thing he succeeded at was killing Morzan, and a better deed he couldn’t have done.”

“Brom never mentioned a woman to me,” retorted Eragon.

Angela shrugged carelessly. “I heard it from one who couldn’t have lied. But enough of this talk! Life goes on, and we should not trouble the dead with our worries.” She scooped a pile of reeds from the floor and deftly started plaiting them together, closing the subject to discussion.

Eragon hesitated, then gave in. “All right. So why are you in Tronjheim instead of Teirm?”

“Ah, at last an interesting question,” said Angela. “After hearing Brom’s name again during your visit, I sensed a return of the past in Alagaësia. People were whispering that the Empire was hunting a Rider. I knew then that the Varden’s dragon egg must have hatched, so I closed my shop and set out to learn more.”

“You knew about the egg?”

“Of course I did. I’m not an idiot. I’ve been around much longer than you would believe. Very little happens that I don’t know about.” She paused and concentrated on her weaving. “Anyway, I knew I had to get to the Varden as fast as possible. I’ve been here for nearly a month now, though I really don’t care for this place—it’s far too musty for my taste. And everyone in Farthen Dûr isso serious and noble. They’re probably all doomed to tragic deaths anyway.” She gave a long sigh, a mocking expression on her face. “And the dwarves are just a superstitious bunch of ninnies content to hammer rocks all their lives. The only redeeming aspect of this place is all the mushrooms and fungi that grow inside Farthen Dûr.”

“Then why stay?” asked Eragon, smiling.

“Because I like to be wherever important events are occurring,” said Angela, cocking her head. “Besides, if I had stayed in Teirm, Solembum would have left without me, and I enjoy his company. But tell me, what adventures have befallen you since last we talked?”

For the next hour, Eragon summarized his experiences of the last two and a half months. Angela listened quietly, but when he mentioned Murtagh’s

name she sputtered, “Murtagh!”

Eragon nodded. “He told me who he is. But let me finish my story before you make any judgments.” He continued with his tale. When it was complete, Angela leaned back in her chair thoughtfully, her reeds forgotten. Without warning, Solembum jumped out of a hiding place and landed in her lap. He curled up, eyeing Eragon haughtily.

Angela petted the werecat. “Fascinating. Galbatorix allied with the Urgals, and Murtagh finally out in the open. . . . I’d warn you to be careful with Murtagh, but you’re obviously aware of the danger.”

“Murtagh has been a steadfast friend and an unwavering ally,” said Eragon firmly.

“All the same, be careful.” Angela paused, then said distastefully, “And then there’s the matter of this Shade, Durza. I think he’s the greatest threat to the Varden right now, aside from Galbatorix. Iloathe Shades—they practice the most unholy magic, after necromancy. I’d like to dig his heart out with a dull hairpin and feed it to a pig!”

Eragon was startled by her sudden vehemence. “I don’t understand. Brom told me that Shades were sorcerers who used spirits to accomplish their will, but why does that make them so evil?”

Angela shook her head. “It doesn’t. Ordinary sorcerers are just that, ordinary—neither better nor worse than the rest of us. They use their magical strength to control spirits and the spirits’ powers. Shades, however, relinquish that control in their search for greater power and allow their bodies to be controlledby spirits. Unfortunately, only the evilest spirits seek to possess humans, and once ensconced they never leave. Such possession can happen by accident if a sorcerer summons a spirit stronger than himself. The problem is, once a Shade is created, it’s terribly difficult to kill. As I’m sure you know, only two people, Laetri the Elf and Irnstad the Rider, ever survived that feat.”

“I’ve heard the stories.” Eragon gestured at the room. “Why are you living so high up in Tronjheim? Isn’t it inconvenient being this isolated? And how did you get all this stuff up here?”

Angela threw back her head and laughed wryly. “Truthfully? I’m in hiding. When I first came to Tronjheim, I had a few days of peace—until one of guards who let me into Farthen Dûr blabbed about who I was. Then all the magic users here, though theybarely rate the term, pestered me to join their secret group. Especially those drajl Twins who control it. Finally, I threatened to turn the lot of them into toads, excuse me, frogs, but when that didn’t deter them, I sneaked up here in the middle of the night. It was less work than you might imagine, especially for one with my skills.”

“Did you have to let the Twins into your mind before you were allowed

into Farthen Dûr?” asked Eragon. “I was forced to let them sift through my memories.”

A cold gleam leapt into Angela’s eye. “The Twins wouldn’t dare probe me, for fear of what I might do to them. Oh, they’d love to, but they know the effort would leave them broken and gibbering nonsense. I’ve been coming here long before the Varden began examining people’s minds . . . and they’re not about to start on me now.”

She peered into the other room and said, “Well! This has been an enlightening talk, but I’m afraid you have to go now. My brew of mandrake root and newt’s tongue is about to boil, and it needs attending. Do come back again when you have the time. Andplease don’t tell anyone that I’m here. I’d hate to have to move again. It would make me very . . .irritated. And you don’t want to see me irritated!”

“I’ll keep your secret,” assured Eragon, getting up.

Solembum jumped off Angela’s lap as she stood. “Good!” she exclaimed.

Eragon said farewell and left the room. Solembum guided him back to the dragonhold, then dismissed him with a twitch of his tail before sauntering away.


Adwarf was waiting for Eragon in the dragonhold. After bowing and muttering, “Argetlam,” the dwarf said with a thick accent, “Good. Awake. Knurla Orik waits for you.” He bowed again and scurried away. Saphira jumped out of her cave, landing next to Eragon. Zar’roc was in her claws.

What’s that for?he asked, frowning.

She tilted her head.Wear it. You are a Rider and should bear a Rider’s sword. Zar’roc may have a bloody history, but that should not shape your actions. Forge a new history for it, and carry it with pride.

Are you sure?Remember Ajihad’s counsel.

Saphira snorted, and a puff of smoke rose from her nostrils.Wear it, Eragon. If you wish to remain above the forces here, do not let anyone’s disapproval dictate your actions.

As you wish,he said reluctantly, buckling on the sword. He clambered onto her back, and Saphira flew out of Tronjheim. There was enough light in Farthen Dûr now that the hazy mass of the crater walls—five miles away in each direction—was visible. While they spiraled down to the city-mountain’s base, Eragon told Saphira about his meeting with Angela.

As soon as they landed by one of Tronjheim’s gates, Orik ran to Saphira’s side. “My king, Hrothgar, wishes to see both of you. Dismount

quickly. We must hurry.”

Eragon trotted after the dwarf into Tronjheim. Saphira easily kept pace beside them. Ignoring stares from people within the soaring corridor, Eragon asked, “Where will we meet Hrothgar?”

Without slowing, Orik said, “In the throne room beneath the city. It will be a private audience as an act of otho—of ‘faith.’ You do not have to address him in any special manner, but speak to him respectfully. Hrothgar is quick to anger, but he is wise and sees keenly into the minds of men, so think carefully before you speak.”

Once they entered Tronjheim’s central chamber, Orik led the way to one of the two descending stairways that flanked the opposite hall. They started down the right-hand staircase, which gently curved inward until it faced the direction they had come from. The other stairway merged with theirs to form a broad cascade of dimly lit steps that ended, after a hundred feet, before two granite doors. A seven-pointed crown was carved across both doors.

Seven dwarves stood guard on each side of the portal. They held burnished mattocks and wore gem-encrusted belts. As Eragon, Orik, and Saphira approached, the dwarves pounded the floor with the mattocks’ hafts. A deep boom rolled back up the stairs. The doors swung inward.

A dark hall lay before them, a good bowshot long. The throne room was a natural cave; the walls were lined with stalagmites and stalactites, each thicker than a man. Sparsely hung lanterns cast a moody light. The brown floor was smooth and polished. At the far end of the hall was a black throne with a motionless figure upon it.

Orik bowed. “The king awaits you.” Eragon put his hand on Saphira’s side, and the two of them continued forward. The doors closed behind them, leaving them alone in the dim throne room with the king.

Their footsteps echoed through the hall as they advanced toward the throne. In the recesses between the stalagmites and stalactites rested large statues. Each sculpture depicted a dwarf king crowned and sitting on a throne; their sightless eyes gazed sternly into the distance, their lined faces set in fierce expressions. A name was chiseled in runes beneath each set of feet.

Eragon and Saphira strode solemnly between the two rows of long-dead monarchs. They passed more than forty statues, then only dark and empty alcoves awaiting future kings. They stopped before Hrothgar at the end of the hall.

The dwarf king himself sat like a statue upon a raised throne carved from

a single piece of black marble. It was blocky, unadorned, and cut with unyielding precision. Strength emanated from the throne, strength that harked back to ancient times when dwarves had ruled in Alagaësia without

opposition from elves or humans. A gold helm lined with rubies and diamonds rested on Hrothgar’s head in place of a crown. His visage was grim, weathered, and hewn of many years’ experience. Beneath a craggy brow glinted deep-set eyes, flinty and piercing. Over his powerful chest rippled a shirt of mail. His white beard was tucked under his belt, and in his lap he held a mighty war hammer with the symbol of Orik’s clan embossed on its head.

Eragon bowed awkwardly and knelt. Saphira remained upright. The king stirred, as if awakening from a long sleep, and rumbled, “Rise, Rider, you need not pay tribute to me.”

Straightening, Eragon met Hrothgar’s impenetrable eyes. The king inspected him with a hard gaze, then said gutturally, “Âz knurl deimi lanok.‘Beware, the rock changes’—an old dictum of ours. . . . And nowadays the rock changes very fast indeed.” He fingered the war hammer. “I could not meet with you earlier, as Ajihad did, because I was forced to deal with my enemies within the clans. They demanded that I deny you sanctuary and expel you from Farthen Dûr. It has taken much work on my part to convince them otherwise.”

“Thank you,” said Eragon. “I didn’t anticipate how much strife my arrival would cause.”

The king accepted his thanks, then lifted a gnarled hand and pointed. “See there, Rider Eragon, where my predecessors sit upon their graven thrones. One and forty there are, with I the forty-second. When I pass from this world into the care of the gods, my hírna will be added to their ranks. The first statue is the likeness of my ancestor Korgan, who forged this mace, Volund. For eight millennia—since the dawn of our race—dwarves have ruled under Farthen Dûr. We are the bones of the land, older than both the fair elves and the savage dragons.” Saphira shifted slightly.

Hrothgar leaned forward, his voice gravelly and deep. “I am old, human

—even by our reckoning—old enough to have seen the Riders in all their fleeting glory, old enough to have spoken with their last leader, Vrael, who paid tribute to me within these very walls. Few are still alive who can claim that much. I remember the Riders and how they meddled in our affairs. I also remember the peace they kept that made it possible to walk unharmed from Tronjheim to Narda.

“And now you stand before me—a lost tradition revived. Tell me, and speak truly in this, why have you come to Farthen Dûr? I know of the events that made you flee the Empire, but what is your intent now?”

“For now, Saphira and I merely want to recuperate in Tronjheim,” Eragon replied. “We are not here to cause trouble, only to find sanctuary from the dangers we’ve faced for many months. Ajihad may send us to the elves,

but until he does, we have no wish to leave.”

“Then was it only the desire for safety that drove you?” asked Hrothgar. “Do you just seek to live here and forget your troubles with the Empire?”

Eragon shook his head, his pride rejecting that statement. “If Ajihad told you of my past, you should know that I have grievances enough to fight the Empire until it is nothing but scattered ashes. More than that, though . . . I want to aid those who cannot escape Galbatorix, including my cousin. I have the strength to help, so I must.”

The king seemed satisfied by his answer. He turned to Saphira and asked, “Dragon, what think you in this matter? For what reason have you come?”

Saphira lifted the edge of her lip to growl.Tell him that I thirst for the blood of our enemies and eagerly await the day when we ride to battle against Galbatorix. I’ve no love or mercy for traitors and egg breakers like that false king. He held me for over a century and, even now, still has two of my brethren, whom I would free if possible. And tell Hrothgar I think you ready for this task.

Eragon grimaced at her words, but dutifully relayed them. The corner of Hrothgar’s mouth lifted in a hint of grim amusement, deepening his wrinkles. “I see that dragons have not changed with the centuries.” He rapped the throne with a knuckle. “Do you know why this seat was quarried so flat and angular? So that no one would sit comfortably on it. I have not, and will relinquish it without regret when my time comes. What is there to remind you of your obligations, Eragon? If the Empire falls, will you take Galbatorix’s place and claim his kingship?”

“I don’t seek to wear the crown or rule,” said Eragon, troubled. “Being a Rider is responsibility enough. No, I would not take the throne in Urû’baen . .

. not unless there was no one else willing or competent enough to take it.” Hrothgar warned gravely, “Certainly you would be a kinder king than

Galbatorix, but no race should have a leader who does not age or leave the throne. The time of the Riders has passed, Eragon. They will never rise again

—not even if Galbatorix’s other eggs were to hatch.”

A shadow crossed his face as he gazed at Eragon’s side. “I see that you carry an enemy’s sword; I was told of this, and that you travel with a son of the Forsworn. It does not please me to see this weapon.” He extended a hand. “I would like to examine it.”

Eragon drew Zar’roc and presented it to the king, hilt first. Hrothgar grasped the sword and ran a practiced eye over the red blade. The edge caught the lantern light, reflecting it sharply. The dwarf king tested the point with his palm, then said, “A masterfully forged blade. Elves rarely choose to make

swords—they prefer bows and spears—but when they do, the results are unmatched. This is an ill-fated blade; I am not glad to see it within my realm. But carry it if you will; perhaps its luck has changed.” He returned Zar’roc, and Eragon sheathed it. “Has my nephew proved helpful during your time here?”


Hrothgar raised a tangled eyebrow. “Orik, my youngest sister’s son. He’s been serving under Ajihad to show my support for the Varden. It seems that he has been returned to my command, however. I was gratified to hear that you defended him with your words.”

Eragon understood that this was another sign of otho, of “faith,” on Hrothgar’s part. “I couldn’t ask for a better guide.”

“That is good,” said the king, clearly pleased. “Unfortunately, I cannot speak with you much longer. My advisors wait for me, as there are matters I must deal with. I will say this, though: If you wish the support of the dwarves within my realm, you must first prove yourself to them. We have long memories and do not rush to hasty decisions. Words will decide nothing, only deeds.”

“I will keep that in mind,” said Eragon, bowing again. Hrothgar nodded regally. “You may go, then.”

Eragon turned with Saphira, and they proceeded out of the hall of the mountain king. Orik was waiting for them on the other side of the stone doors, an anxious expression on his face. He fell in with them as they climbed back up to Tronjheim’s main chamber. “Did all go well? Were you received favorably?”

“I think so. But your king is cautious,” said Eragon. “That is how he has survived this long.”

I would not want Hrothgar angry at us,observed Saphira.

Eragon glanced at her.No, I wouldn’t either. I’m not sure what he thought of you—he seems to disapprove of dragons, though he didn’t say it outright.

That seemed to amuse Saphira.In that he is wise, especially since he’s barely knee-high to me.

In Tronjheim’s center, under the sparkling Isidar Mithrim, Orik said, “Your blessing yesterday has stirred up the Varden like an overturned beehive. The child Saphira touched has been hailed as a future hero. She and her guardian have been quartered in the finest rooms. Everyone is talking about your ‘miracle.’ All the human mothers seem intent on finding you and getting the same for their children.”

Alarmed, Eragon furtively looked around. “What should we do?”

“Aside from taking back your actions?” asked Orik dryly. “Stay out of

sight as much as possible. Everyone will be kept out of the dragonhold, so you won’t be disturbed there.”

Eragon did not want to return to the dragonhold yet. It was early in the day, and he wanted to explore Tronjheim with Saphira. Now that they were out of the Empire, there was no reason for them to be apart. But he wanted to avoid attention, which would be impossible with her at his side.Saphira, what do you want to do?

She nosed him, scales brushing his arm.I’ll return to the dragonhold.

There’s someone there I want to meet. Wander around as long as you like.

All right,he said,but who do you want to meet? Saphira only winked a large eye at him before padding down one of Tronjheim’s four main tunnels.

Eragon explained to Orik where she was going, then said, “I’d like some breakfast. And then I’d like to see more of Tronjheim; it’s such an incredible place. I don’t want to go to the training grounds until tomorrow, as I’m still not fully recovered.”

Orik nodded, his beard bobbing on his chest. “In that case, would you like to visit Tronjheim’s library? It’s quite old and contains many scrolls of great value. You might find it interesting to read a history of Alagaësia that hasn’t been tainted by Galbatorix’s hand.”

With a pang, Eragon remembered how Brom had taught him to read. He wondered if he still had the skill. A long time had passed since he had seen any written words. “Yes, let’s do that.”

“Very well.”

After they ate, Orik guided Eragon through myriad corridors to their destination. When they reached the library’s carved arch, Eragon stepped through it reverently.

The room reminded him of a forest. Rows of graceful colonnades branched up to the dark, ribbed ceiling five stories above. Between the pillars, black-marble bookcases stood back to back. Racks of scrolls covered the walls, interspersed with narrow walkways reached by three twisting staircases. Placed at regular intervals around the walls were pairs of facing stone benches. Between them were small tables whose bases flowed seamlessly into the floor.

Countless books and scrolls were stored in the room. “This is the true legacy of our race,” said Orik. “Here reside the writings of our greatest kings and scholars, from antiquity to the present. Also recorded are the songs and stories composed by our artisans. This library may be our most precious possession. It isn’t all our work, though—there are human writings here as well. Yours is a short-lived—but prolific—race. We have little or nothing of the elves’. They guard their secrets jealously.”

“How long may I stay?” asked Eragon, moving toward the shelves. “As long as you want. Come to me if you have any questions.”

Eragon browsed through the volumes with delight, reaching eagerly for those with interesting titles or covers. Surprisingly, dwarves used the same runes to write as humans. He was somewhat disheartened by how hard reading was after months of neglect. He skipped from book to book, slowly working his way deep into the vast library. Eventually he became immersed in a translation of poems by Dóndar, the tenth dwarf king.

As he scanned the graceful lines, unfamiliar footsteps approached from behind the bookcase. The sound startled him, but he berated himself for being silly—he could not be the only person in the library. Even so, he quietly replaced the book and slipped away, senses alert for danger. He had been ambushed too many times to ignore such feelings. He heard the footsteps again; only now there were two sets of them. Apprehensive, he darted across an opening, trying to remember exactly where Orik was sitting. He sidestepped around a corner and started as he found himself face to face with the Twins.

The Twins stood together, their shoulders meeting, a blank expression on their smooth faces. Their black snake eyes bored into him. Their hands, hidden within the folds of their purple robes, twitched slightly. They both bowed, but the movement was insolent and derisive.

“We have been searching for you,” one said. His voice was uncomfortably like the Ra’zac’s.

Eragon suppressed a shiver. “What for?” He reached out with his mind and contacted Saphira. She immediately joined thoughts with him.

“Ever since you met with Ajihad, we have wanted to . . . apologize for our actions.” The words were mocking, but not in a way Eragon could challenge. “We have come to pay homage to you.” Eragon flushed angrily as they bowed again.

Careful!warned Saphira.

He pushed back his rising temper. He could not afford to be riled by this confrontation. An idea came to him, and he said with a small smile, “Nay, it is I who pay homage to you. Without your approval I never could have gained entrance to Farthen Dûr.” He bowed to them in turn, making the movement as insulting as he could.

There was a flicker of irritation in the Twins’ eyes, but they smiled and said, “We are honored that one so . . . important . . . as yourself thinks so highly of us. We are in your debt for your kind words.”

Now it was Eragon’s turn to be irritated. “I will remember that when I’m in need.”

Saphira intruded sharply in his thoughts.You’re overdoing it.Don’t say anything you’ll regret. They will remember every word they can use against you.

This is difficult enough without you making comments!he snapped. She subsided with an exasperated grumble.

The Twins moved closer, the hems of their robes brushing softly over the floor. Their voices became more pleasant. “We have searched for you for another reason as well, Rider. The few magic users who live in Tronjheim have formed a group. We call ourselves Du Vrangr Gata, or the—”

“The Wandering Path, I know,” interrupted Eragon, remembering what Angela had said about it.

“Your knowledge of the ancient language is impressive,” said a Twin smoothly. “As we were saying, Du Vrangr Gata has heard of your mighty feats, and we have come to extend an invitation of membership. We would be honored to have one of your stature as a member. And I suspect that we might be able to assist you as well.”


The other Twin said, “The two of us have garnered much experience in magical matters. We could guide you . . . show you spells we’ve discovered and teach you words of power. Nothing would gladden us more than if we could assist, in some small way, your path to glory. No repayment would be necessary, though if you saw fit to share some scraps of your own knowledge, we would be satisfied.”

Eragon’s face hardened as he realized what they were asking for. “Do you think I’m a half-wit?” he demanded harshly. “I won’t apprentice myself to you so you can learn the words Brom taught me! It must have angered you when you couldn’t steal them from my mind.”

The Twins abruptly dropped their facade of smiles. “We are not to be trifled with, boy! We are the ones who will test your abilities with magic. And that could bemost unpleasant. Remember, it only takes one misconceived spell to kill someone. You may be a Rider, but the two of us are still stronger than you.”

Eragon kept his face expressionless, even as his stomach knotted painfully. “I will consider your offer, but it may—”

“Then we will expect your answer tomorrow. Make sure that it is the right one.” They smiled coldly and stalked deeper into the library.

Eragon scowled.I’m not going to join Du Vrangr Gata, no matter what they do.

You should talk to Angela,said Saphira.She’s dealt with the Twins before. Perhaps she could be there when they test you. That might prevent them from

harming you.

That’s a good idea.Eragon wound through the bookcases until he found Orik sitting on a bench, busily polishing his war ax. “I’d like to return to the dragonhold.”

The dwarf slid the haft of the ax through a leather loop at his belt, then escorted Eragon to the gate where Saphira waited. People had already gathered around her. Ignoring them, Eragon scrambled onto Saphira’s back, and they escaped to the sky.

This problem must be resolved quickly. You cannot let the Twins intimidate you,Saphira said as she landed on Isidar Mithrim.

I know. But I hope we can avoid angering them.They could be dangerous enemies.He dismounted quickly, keeping a hand on Zar’roc.

So can you. Do you want them as allies?

He shook his head.Not really . . . I’ll tell them tomorrow that I won’t join Du Vrangr Gata.

Eragon left Saphira in her cave and wandered out of the dragonhold. He wanted to see Angela, but he didn’t remember how to find her hiding place, and Solembum was not there to guide him. He roamed the deserted corridors, hoping to meet Angela by chance.

When he grew tired of staring at empty rooms and endless gray walls, he retraced his footsteps to the hold. As he neared it, he heard someone speaking within the room. He halted and listened, but the clear voice fell silent.Saphira?Who’s in there?

A female . . . She has an air of command. I’ll distract her while you come in.Eragon loosened Zar’roc in its sheath.Orik said that intruders would be kept out of the dragonhold, so who could this be? He steadied his nerves, then stepped into the hold, his hand on the sword.

A young woman stood in the center of the room, looking curiously at Saphira, who had stuck her head out of the cave. The woman appeared to be about seventeen years old. The star sapphire cast a rosy light on her, accentuating skin the same deep shade as Ajihad’s. Her velvet dress was wine red and elegantly cut. A jeweled dagger, worn with use, hung from her waist in a tooled leather sheath.

Eragon crossed his arms, waiting for the woman to notice him. She continued to look at Saphira, then curtsied and asked sweetly, “Please, could you tell me where Rider Eragon is?” Saphira’s eyes sparkled with amusement.

With a small smile, Eragon said, “I am here.”

The woman whirled to face him, hand flying to her dagger. Her face was striking, with almond-shaped eyes, wide lips, and round cheekbones. She relaxed and curtsied again. “I am Nasuada,” she said.

Eragon inclined his head. “You obviously know who I am, but what do you want?”

Nasuada smiled charmingly. “My father, Ajihad, sent me here with a message. Would you like to hear it?”

The Varden’s leader had not struck Eragon as one inclined to marriage and fatherhood. He wondered who Nasuada’s mother was—she must have been an uncommon woman to have attracted Ajihad’s eye. “Yes, I would.”

Nasuada tossed her hair back and recited: “He is pleased that you are doing well, but he cautions you against actions like your benediction yesterday. They create more problems than they solve. Also, he urges you to proceed with the testing as soon as possible—he needs to know how capable you are before he communicates with the elves.”

“Did you climb all the way up here just to tell me that?” Eragon asked, thinking of Vol Turin’s length.

Nasuada shook her head. “I used the pulley system that transports goods to the upper levels. We could have sent the message with signals, but I decided to bring it myself and meet you in person.”

“Would you like to sit down?” asked Eragon. He motioned toward Saphira’s cave.

Nasuada laughed lightly. “No, I am expected elsewhere. You should also know, my father decreed that you may visit Murtagh, if you wish.” A somber expression disturbed her previously smooth features. “I met Murtagh earlier. .

. . He’s anxious to speak with you. He seemed lonely; you should visit him.” She gave Eragon directions to Murtagh’s cell.

Eragon thanked her for the news, then asked, “What about Arya? Is she better? Can I see her? Orik wasn’t able to tell me much.”

She smiled mischievously. “Arya is recovering swiftly, as all elves do. No one is allowed to see her except my father, Hrothgar, and the healers. They have spent much time with her, learning all that occurred during her imprisonment.” She swept her eyes over Saphira. “I must go now. Is there anything you would have me convey to Ajihad on your behalf?”

“No, except a desire to visit Arya. And give him my thanks for the hospitality he’s shown us.”

“I will take your words directly to him. Farewell, Rider Eragon. I hope we shall soon meet again.” She curtsied and exited the dragonhold, head held high.

If she really came all the way up Tronjheim just to meet me—pulleys or no pulleys—there was more to this meeting than idle chatter,remarked Eragon.

Aye,said Saphira, withdrawing her head into the cave. Eragon climbed up

to her and was surprised to see Solembum curled up in the hollow at the base of her neck. The werecat was purring deeply, his black-tipped tail flicking back and forth. The two of them looked at Eragon impudently, as if to ask, “What?”

Eragon shook his head, laughing helplessly.Saphira, is Solembum who you wanted to meet?

They both blinked at him and answered,Yes.

Just wondering,he said, mirth still bubbling inside him. It made sense that they would befriend each other—their personalities were similar, and they were both creatures of magic. He sighed, releasing some of the day’s tension as he unbuckled Zar’roc.Solembum, do you know where Angela is? I couldn’t find her, and I need her advice.

Solembum kneaded his paws against Saphira’s scaled back.She is somewhere in Tronjheim.

When will she return? Soon.

How soon?he asked impatiently.I need to talk to her today. Not that soon.

The werecat refused to say more, despite Eragon’s persistent questions. He gave up and nestled against Saphira. Solembum’s purring was a low thrum above his head.I have to visit Murtagh tomorrow, he thought, fingering Brom’s ring.


On the morning of their third day in Tronjheim, Eragon rolled out of bed refreshed and energized. He belted Zar’roc to his waist and slung his bow and half-full quiver across his back. After a leisurely flight inside Farthen Dûr with Saphira, he met Orik by one of Tronjheim’s four main gates. Eragon asked him about Nasuada.

“An unusual girl,” answered Orik, glancing disapprovingly at Zar’roc. “She’s totally devoted to her father and spends all her time helping him. I think she does more for Ajihad than he knows—there have been times when she’s maneuvered his enemies without ever revealing her part in it.”

“Who is her mother?”

“That I don’t know. Ajihad was alone when he brought Nasuada to Farthen Dûr as a newborn child. He’s never said where he and Nasuada came from.”

So she too grew up without knowing her mother.He shook off the thought. “I’m restless. It’ll be good to use my muscles. Where should I go for this ‘testing’ of Ajihad’s?”

Orik pointed out into Farthen Dûr. “The training field is half a mile from

Tronjheim, though you can’t see it from here because it’s behind the city-mountain. It’s a large area where both dwarves and humans practice.”

I’m coming as well,stated Saphira.

Eragon told Orik, and the dwarf tugged on his beard. “That might not be a good idea. There are many people at the training field; you will be sure to attract attention.”

Saphira growled loudly.I will come! And that settled the matter.

The unruly clatter of fighting reached them from the field: the loud clang of steel clashing on steel, the solid thump of arrows striking padded targets, the rattle and crack of wooden staves, and the shouts of men in mock battle. The noise was confusing, yet each group had a unique rhythm and pattern.

The bulk of the training ground was occupied by a crooked block of foot soldiers struggling with shields and poleaxes nearly as tall as themselves. They drilled as a group in formations. Practicing beside them were hundreds of individual warriors outfitted with swords, maces, spears, staves, flails, shields of all shapes and sizes, and even, Eragon saw, someone with a pitchfork. Nearly all the fighters wore armor, usually chain mail and a helmet; plate armor was not as common. There were as many dwarves as humans, though the two kept mainly to themselves. Behind the sparring warriors, a broad line of archers fired steadily at gray sackcloth dummies.

Before Eragon had time to wonder what he was supposed to do, a bearded man, his head and blocky shoulders covered by a mail coif, strode over to them. The rest of him was protected by a rough oxhide suit that still had hair on it. A huge sword—almost as long as Eragon—hung across his broad back. He ran a quick eye over Saphira and Eragon, as if evaluating how dangerous they were, then said gruffly, “Knurla Orik. You’ve been gone too long. There’s nobody left for me to spar with.”

Orik smiled. “Oeí, that’s because you bruise everyone from head to toe with your monster sword.”

“Everyone except you,” he corrected.

“That’s because I’m faster than a giant like you.”

The man looked at Eragon again. “I’m Fredric. I’ve been told to find out what you can do. How strong are you?”

“Strong enough,” answered Eragon. “I have to be in order to fight with magic.”

Fredric shook his head; the coif clinked like a bag of coins. “Magic has no place in what we do here. Unless you’ve served in an army, I doubt any fights you’ve been in lasted more than a few minutes. What we’re concerned about is how you’ll be able to hold up in a battle that may drag on for hours, or even weeks if it’s a siege. Do you know how to use any weapons besides

that sword and bow?”

Eragon thought about it. “Only my fists.”

“Good answer!” laughed Fredric. “Well, we’ll start you off with the bow and see how you do. Then once some space has cleared up on the field, we’ll try—” He broke off suddenly and stared past Eragon, scowling angrily.

The Twins stalked toward them, their bald heads pale against their purple robes. Orik muttered something in his own language as he slipped his war ax out of his belt. “I told you two to stay away from the training area,” said Fredric, stepping forward threateningly. The Twins seemed frail before his bulk.

They looked at him arrogantly. “We were ordered by Ajihad to test Eragon’s proficiency with magic—beforeyou exhaust him banging on pieces of metal.”

Fredric glowered. “Why can’t someone else test him?”

“No one else is powerful enough,” sniffed the Twins. Saphira rumbled deeply and glared at them. A line of smoke trickled from her nostrils, but they ignored her. “Come with us,” they ordered, and strode to an empty corner of the field.

Shrugging, Eragon followed with Saphira. Behind him he heard Fredric say to Orik, “We have to stop them from going too far.”

“I know,” answered Orik in a low voice, “but I can’t interfere again. Hrothgar made it clear he won’t be able to protect me the next time it happens.”

Eragon forced back his growing apprehension. The Twins might know more techniques and words. . . . Still, he remembered what Brom had told him: Riders were stronger in magic than ordinary men. But would that be enough to resist the combined power of the Twins?

Don’t worry so much; I will help you,said Saphira.There are two of us as


He touched her gently on the leg, relieved by her words. The Twins

looked at Eragon and asked, “And how do you answer us, Eragon?” Overlooking the puzzled expressions of his companions, he said flatly,


Sharp lines appeared at the corners of the Twins’ mouths. They turned so they faced Eragon obliquely and, bending at the waists, drew a large pentagram on the ground. They stepped in the middle of it, then said harshly, “We begin now. You will attempt to complete the tasks we assign you . . . that is all.”

One of the Twins reached into his robe, produced a polished rock the size of Eragon’s fist, and set it on the ground. “Lift it to eye level.”

That’s easy enough,commented Eragon to Saphira. “Stenr reisa!” The rock wobbled, then smoothly rose from the ground. Before it went more than a foot, an unexpected resistance halted it in midair. A smile touched the Twins’ lips. Eragon stared at them, enraged—they were trying to make him fail! If he became exhausted now, it would be impossible to complete the harder tasks. Obviously they were confident that their combined strength could easily wear him down.

But I’m not alone either,snarled Eragon to himself.Saphira, now! Her mind melded with his, and the rock jerked through the air to stop, quivering, at eye level. The Twins’ eyes narrowed cruelly.

“Very . . . good,” they hissed. Fredric looked unnerved by the display of magic. “Now move the stone in a circle.” Again Eragon struggled against their efforts to stop him, and again—to their obvious anger—he prevailed. The exercises quickly increased in complexity and difficulty until Eragon was forced to think carefully about which words to use. And each time, the Twins fought him bitterly, though the strain never showed on their faces.

It was only with Saphira’s support that Eragon was able to hold his ground. In a break between two of the tasks, he asked her,Why do they continue this testing? Our abilities were clear enough from what they saw in my mind. She cocked her head thoughtfully.You know what? he said grimly as comprehension came to him.They’re using this as an opportunity to figure out what ancient words I know and perhaps learn new ones themselves.

Speak softly then, so that they cannot hear you, and use the simplest words possible.

From then on, Eragon used only a handful of basic words to complete the tasks. But finding ways to make them perform in the same manner as a long sentence or phrase stretched his ingenuity to the limit. He was rewarded by the frustration that contorted the Twins’ faces as he foiled them again and again. No matter what they tried, they could not get him to use any more words in the ancient language.

More than an hour passed, but the Twins showed no sign of stopping. Eragon was hot and thirsty, but refrained from asking for a reprieve—he would continue as long as they did. There were many tests: manipulating water, casting fire, scrying, juggling rocks, hardening leather, freezing items, controlling the flight of an arrow, and healing scratches. He wondered how long it would take for the Twins to run out of ideas.

Finally the Twins raised their hands and said, “There is only one thing left to do. It is simple enough—anycompetent user of magic should find this easy.” One of them removed a silver ring from his finger and smugly handed it to Eragon. “Summon the essence of silver.”

Eragon stared at the ring in confusion. What was he supposed to do? The essence of silver, what was that? And how was it to be summoned? Saphira had no idea, and the Twins were not going to help. He had never learned silver’s name in the ancient language, though he knew it had to be part ofargetlam. In desperation he combined the only word that might work,ethgrí, or “invoke,” witharget.

Drawing himself upright, he gathered together what power he had left and parted his lips to deliver the invocation. Suddenly a clear, vibrant voice split the air.


The word rushed over Eragon like cool water—the voice was strangely familiar, like a half-remembered melody. The back of his neck tingled. He slowly turned toward its source.

A lone figure stood behind them: Arya. A leather strip encircled her brow, restraining her voluminous black hair, which tumbled behind her shoulders in a lustrous cascade. Her slender sword was at her hip, her bow on her back. Plain black leather clothed her shapely frame, poor raiment for one so fair. She was taller than most men, and her stance was perfectly balanced and relaxed. An unmarked face reflected none of the horrific abuse she had endured.

Arya’s blazing emerald eyes were fixed on the Twins, who had turned pale with fright. She approached on silent footsteps and said in soft, menacing tones, “Shame! Shame to ask of him what only a master can do. Shame that you should use such methods. Shame that you told Ajihad you didn’t know Eragon’s abilities. He is competent. Now leave!” Arya frowned dangerously, her slanted eyebrows meeting like lightning bolts in a sharp V, and pointed at the ring in Eragon’s hand. “Arget!” she exclaimed thunderously.

The silver shimmered, and a ghostly image of the ring materialized next to it. The two were identical except that the apparition seemed purer and glowed white-hot. At the sight of it, the Twins spun on their heels and fled, robes flapping wildly. The insubstantial ring vanished from Eragon’s hand, leaving the circlet of silver behind. Orik and Fredric were on their feet, eyeing Arya warily. Saphira crouched, ready for action.

The elf surveyed them all. Her angled eyes paused on Eragon. Then she turned and strode toward the heart of the training field. The warriors ceased their sparring and looked at her with wonder. Within a few moments the entire field fell silent in awe of her presence.

Eragon was inexorably dragged forward by his own fascination. Saphira spoke, but he was oblivious to her comments. A large circle formed around Arya. Looking only at Eragon, she proclaimed, “I claim the right of trial by

arms. Draw your sword.”

She means to duel me!

But not, I think, to harm you,replied Saphira slowly. She nudged him with her nose.Go and acquit yourself well. I will watch.

Eragon reluctantly stepped forward. He did not want to do this when he was exhausted from magic use and when there were so many people watching. Besides, Arya could be in no shape for sparring. It had only been two days since she had received Túnivor’s Nectar.I will soften my blows so I don’t hurt her, he decided.

They faced each other across the circle of warriors. Arya drew her sword with her left hand. The weapon was thinner than Eragon’s, but just as long and sharp. He slid Zar’roc out of its polished sheath and held the red blade point-down by his side. For a long moment they stood motionless, elf and human watching each other. It flashed through Eragon’s mind that this was how many of his fights with Brom had started.

He moved forward cautiously. With a blur of motion Arya jumped at him, slashing at his ribs. Eragon reflexively parried the attack, and their swords met in a shower of sparks. Zar’roc was batted aside as if it were no more than a fly. The elf did not take advantage of the opening, however, but spun to her right, hair whipping through the air, and struck at his other side. He barely stopped the blow and backpedaled frantically, stunned by her ferocity and speed.

Belatedly, Eragon remembered Brom’s warning that even the weakest elf could easily overpower a human. He had about as much chance of defeating Arya as he did Durza. She attacked again, swinging at his head. He ducked under the razor-sharp edge. But then why was she . . .toying with him? For a few long seconds he was too busy warding her off to think about it, then he realized,She wants to know how proficient I am.

Understanding that, he began the most complicated series of attacks he knew. He flowed from one pose to another, recklessly combining and modifying them in every possible way. But no matter how inventive he was, Arya’s sword always stopped his. She matched his actions with effortless grace.

Engaged in a fiery dance, their bodies were linked and separated by the flashing blades. At times they nearly touched, taut skin only a hair’s breadth away, but then momentum would whirl them apart, and they would withdraw for a second, only to join again. Their sinuous forms wove together like twisting ropes of windblown smoke.

Eragon could never remember how long they fought. It was timeless, filled with nothing but action and reaction. Zar’roc grew leaden in his hand;

his arm burned ferociously with each stroke. At last, as he lunged forward, Arya nimbly sidestepped, sweeping the point of her sword up to his jawbone with supernatural speed.

Eragon froze as the icy metal touched his skin. His muscles trembled from the exertion. Dimly he heard Saphira bugle and the warriors cheering raucously around them. Arya lowered her sword and sheathed it. “You have passed,” she said quietly amid the noise.

Dazed, he slowly straightened. Fredric was beside him now, thumping his back enthusiastically. “That was incredible swordsmanship! I even learned some new moves from watching the two of you. And the elf—stunning!”

But I lost,he protested silently. Orik praised his performance with a broad smile, but all Eragon noticed was Arya, standing alone and silent. She motioned slightly with a finger, no more than a twitch, toward a knoll about a mile from the practice field, then turned and walked away. The crowd melted before her. A hush fell over the men and dwarves as she passed.

Eragon turned to Orik. “I have to go. I’ll return to the dragonhold soon.” With a swift jab, Eragon sheathed Zar’roc and pulled himself onto Saphira. She took off over the training field, which turned into a sea of faces as everyone looked at her.

As they soared toward the knoll, Eragon saw Arya running below them with clean, easy strides. Saphira commented,You find her form pleasing, do you not?

Yes,he admitted, blushing.

Her face does have more character than that of most humans,she sniffed.But it’s long, like a horse’s, and overall she’s rather shapeless.

Eragon looked at Saphira with amazement.You’re jealous, aren’t you! Impossible. I never get jealous,she said, offended.

You are now, admit it!he laughed.

She snapped her jaws together loudly.I am not! He smiled and shook his head, but let her denial stand. She landed heavily on the knoll, jostling him roughly. He jumped down without remarking on it.

Arya was close behind them. Her fleet stride carried her faster than any runner Eragon had seen. When she reached the top of the knoll, her breathing was smooth and regular. Suddenly tongue-tied, Eragon dropped his gaze. She strode past him and said to Saphira, “Skulblaka, eka celöbra ono un mulabra ono un onr Shur’tugal né haina. Atra nosu waíse fricai.”

Eragon did not recognize most of the words, but Saphira obviously understood the message. She shuffled her wings and surveyed Arya curiously. Then she nodded, humming deeply. Arya smiled. “I am glad that you recovered,” Eragon said. “We didn’t know if you would live or not.”

“That is why I came here today,” said Arya, facing him. Her rich voice was accented and exotic. She spoke clearly, with a hint of trill, as if she were about to sing. “I owe you a debt that must be repaid. You saved my life. That can never be forgotten.”

“It—it was nothing,” said Eragon, fumbling with the words and knowing they were not true, even as he spoke them. Embarrassed, he changed the subject. “How did you come to be in Gil’ead?”

Pain shadowed Arya’s face. She looked away into the distance. “Let us walk.” They descended from the knoll and meandered toward Farthen Dûr. Eragon respected Arya’s silence as they walked. Saphira padded quietly beside them. Finally Arya lifted her head and said with the grace of her kind, “Ajihad told me you were present when Saphira’s egg appeared.”

“Yes.” For the first time, Eragon thought about the energy it must have taken to transport the egg over the dozens of leagues that separated Du Weldenvarden from the Spine. To even attempt such a feat was courting disaster, if not death.

Her next words were heavy. “Then know this: at the moment you first beheld it, I was captured by Durza.” Her voice filled with bitterness and grief. “It was he who led the Urgals that ambushed and slew my companions, Faolin and Glenwing. Somehow he knew where to wait for us—we had no warning. I was drugged and transported to Gil’ead. There, Durza was charged by Galbatorix to learn where I had sent the egg and all I knew of Ellesméra.”

She stared ahead icily, jaw clenched. “He tried for months without success. His methods were . . . harsh. When torture failed, he ordered his soldiers to use me as they would. Fortunately, I still had the strength to nudge their minds and make them incapable. At last Galbatorix ordered that I was to be brought to Urû’baen. Dread filled me when I learned this, as I was weary in both mind and body and had no strength to resist him. If it were not for you, I would have stood before Galbatorix in a week’s time.”

Eragon shuddered inwardly. It was amazing what she had survived. The memory of her injuries was still vivid in his mind. Softly, he asked, “Why do you tell me all this?”

“So that you know what I was saved from. Do not presume I can ignore your deed.”

Humbled, he bowed his head. “What will you do now—return to Ellesméra?”

“No, not yet. There is much that must be done here. I cannot abandon the Varden—Ajihad needs my help. I’ve seen you tested in both arms and magic today. Brom taught you well. You are ready to proceed in your training.”

“You mean for me to go to Ellesméra?”


Eragon felt a flash of irritation. Did he and Saphira have no say in the matter? “When?”

“That is yet to be decided, but not for some weeks.”

At least they gave us that much time,thought Eragon. Saphira mentioned something to him, and he in turn asked Arya, “What did the Twins want me to do?”

Arya’s sculpted lip curled with disgust. “Something not even they can accomplish. It is possible to speak the name of an object in the ancient language and summon its true form. It takes years of work and great discipline, but the reward is complete control over the object. That is why one’s true name is always kept hidden, for if it were known by any with evil in their hearts, they could dominate you utterly.”

“It’s strange,” said Eragon after a moment, “but before I was captured at Gil’ead, I had visions of you in my dreams. It was like scrying—and I was able to scry you later—but it was always during my sleep.”

Arya pursed her lips pensively. “There were times I felt as if another presence was watching me, but I was often confused and feverish. I’ve never heard of anyone, either in lore or legend, being able to scry in their sleep.”

“I don’t understand it myself,” said Eragon, looking at his hands. He twirled Brom’s ring around his finger. “What does the tattoo on your shoulder mean? I didn’t mean to see it, but when I was healing your wounds . . . it couldn’t be helped. It’s just like the symbol on this ring.”

“You have a ring with the yawë on it?” she asked sharply. “Yes. It was Brom’s. See?”

He held out the ring. Arya examined the sapphire, then said, “This is a token given only to the most valued elf-friends—so valued, in fact, it has not been used in centuries. Or so I thought. I never knew that Queen Islanzadi thought so highly of Brom.”

“I shouldn’t wear it, then,” said Eragon, afraid that he had been presumptuous.

“No, keep it. It will give you protection if you meet my people by chance, and it may help you gain favor with the queen. Tell no one of my tattoo. It should not be revealed.”

“Very well.”

He enjoyed talking with Arya and wished their conversation could have lasted longer. When they parted, he wandered through Farthen Dûr, conversing with Saphira. Despite his prodding, she refused to tell him what Arya had said to her. Eventually his thoughts turned to Murtagh and then to Nasuada’s advice.I’ll get something to eat, then go see him, he decided.Will

you wait for me so I can return to the dragonhold with you?

I will wait—go,said Saphira.

With a grateful smile, Eragon dashed to Tronjheim, ate in an obscure corner of a kitchen, then followed Nasuada’s instructions until he reached a small gray door guarded by a man and a dwarf. When he requested entrance, the dwarf banged on the door three times, then unbolted it. “Just holler when you want to leave,” said the man with a friendly smile.

The cell was warm and well lit, with a washbasin in one corner and a writing desk—equipped with quills and ink—in another. The ceiling was extensively carved with lacquered figures; the floor was covered with a plush rug. Murtagh lay on a stout bed, reading a scroll. He looked up in surprise and exclaimed cheerily, “Eragon! I’d hoped you would come!”

“How did . . . I mean I thought—”

“You thought I was stuck in some rat hole chewing on hardtack,” said Murtagh, rolling upright with a grin. “Actually, I expected the same thing, but Ajihad lets me have all this as long as I don’t cause trouble. And they bring me huge meals, as well as anything I want from the library. If I’m not careful, I’ll turn into a fat scholar.”

Eragon laughed, and with a wondering smile seated himself next to Murtagh. “But aren’t you angry? You’re still a prisoner.”

“Oh, I was at first,” said Murtagh with a shrug. “But the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that this is really the best place for me. Even if Ajihad gave me my freedom, I would stay in my room most of the time anyway.”

“But why?”

“You know well enough. No one would be at ease around me, knowing my true identity, and there would always be people who wouldn’t limit themselves to harsh looks or words. But enough of that, I’m eager to know what’s new. Come, tell me.”

Eragon recounted the events of the past two days, including his encounter with the Twins in the library. When he finished, Murtagh leaned back reflectively. “I suspect,” he said, “that Arya is more important than either of us thought. Consider what you’ve learned: she is a master of the sword, powerful in magic, and, most significantly, was chosen to guard Saphira’s egg. She cannot be ordinary, even among the elves.”

Eragon agreed.

Murtagh stared at the ceiling. “You know, I find this imprisonment oddly peaceful. For once in my life I don’t have to be afraid. I know I ought to be . .

. yet something about this place puts me at ease. A good night’s sleep helps, too.”

“I know what you mean,” said Eragon wryly. He moved to a softer place on the bed. “Nasuada said that she visited you. Did she say anything interesting?”

Murtagh’s gaze shifted into the distance, and he shook his head. “No, she only wanted to meet me. Doesn’t she look like a princess? And the way she carries herself! When she first entered through that doorway, I thought she was one of the great ladies of Galbatorix’s court. I’ve seen earls and counts who had wives that, compared to her, were more fitted for life as a hog than of nobility.”

Eragon listened to his praise with growing apprehension.It may mean nothing, he reminded himself.You’re leaping to conclusions. Yet the foreboding would not leave him. Trying to shake off the feeling, he asked, “How long are you going to remain imprisoned, Murtagh? You can’t hide forever.”

Murtagh shrugged carelessly, but there was weight behind his words. “For now I’m content to stay and rest. There’s no reason for me to seek shelter elsewhere nor submit myself to the Twins’ examination. No doubt I’ll tire of this eventually, but for now . . . I am content.”


Saphira woke Eragon with a sharp rap of her snout, bruising him with her hard jaw. “Ouch!” he exclaimed, sitting upright. The cave was dark except for a faint glow emanating from the shuttered lantern. Outside in the dragonhold, Isidar Mithrim glittered with a thousand different colors, illuminated by its girdle of lanterns.

An agitated dwarf stood in the entrance to the cave, wringing his hands. “You must come, Argetlam! Great trouble—Ajihad summons you. There is no time!”

“What’s wrong?” asked Eragon.

The dwarf only shook his head, beard wagging. “Go, you must! Carkna bragha! Now!”

Eragon belted on Zar’roc, grabbed his bow and arrows, then strapped the saddle onto Saphira.So much for a good night’s sleep, she groused, crouching low to the floor so he could clamber onto her back. He yawned loudly as Saphira launched herself from the cave.

Orik was waiting for them with a grim expression when they landed at Tronjheim’s gates. “Come, the others are waiting.” He led them through Tronjheim to Ajihad’s study. On the way, Eragon plied him with questions, but Orik would only say, “I don’t know enough myself—wait until you hear Ajihad.”

The large study door was opened by a pair of burly guards. Ajihad stood behind his desk, bleakly inspecting a map. Arya and a man with wiry arms were there as well. Ajihad looked up. “Good, you’re here, Eragon. Meet Jörmundur, my second in command.”

They acknowledged each other, then turned their attention to Ajihad. “I roused the five of you because we are all in grave danger. About half an hour ago a dwarf ran out of an abandoned tunnel under Tronjheim. He was bleeding and nearly incoherent, but he had enough sense left to tell the dwarves what was pursuing him: an army of Urgals, maybe a day’s march from here.”

Shocked silence filled the study. Then Jörmundur swore explosively and began asking questions at the same time Orik did. Arya remained silent. Ajihad raised his hands. “Quiet! There is more. The Urgals aren’t approachingover land, butunder it. They’re in the tunnels . . . we’re going to be attacked from below.”

Eragon raised his voice in the din that followed. “Why didn’t the dwarves know about this sooner? How did the Urgals find the tunnels?”

“We’re lucky to know about it this early!” bellowed Orik. Everyone stopped talking to hear him. “There are hundreds of tunnels throughout the Beor Mountains, uninhabited since the day they were mined. The only dwarves who go in them are eccentrics who don’t want contact with anyone. We could have just as easily received no warning at all.”

Ajihad pointed at the map, and Eragon moved closer. The map depicted the southern half of Alagaësia, but unlike Eragon’s, it showed the entire Beor Mountain range in detail. Ajihad’s finger was on the section of the Beor Mountains that touched Surda’s eastern border. “This,” he said, “is where the dwarf claimed to have come from.”

“Orthíad!” exclaimed Orik. At Jörmundur’s puzzled inquiry, he explained, “It’s an ancient dwelling of ours that was deserted when Tronjheim was completed. During its time it was the greatest of our cities. But no one’s lived there for centuries.”

“And it’s old enough for some of the tunnels to have collapsed,” said Ajihad. “That’s how we surmise it was discovered from the surface. I suspect that Orthíad is now being called Ithrö Zhâda. That’s where the Urgal column that was chasing Eragon and Saphira was supposed to go, and I’m sure it’s where the Urgals have been migrating all year. From Ithrö Zhâda they can travel anywhere they want in the Beor Mountains. They have the power to destroy both the Varden and the dwarves.”

Jörmundur bent over the map, eyeing it carefully. “Do you know how many Urgals there are? Are Galbatorix’s troops with them? We can’t plan a

defense without knowing how large their army is.”

Ajihad replied unhappily, “We’re unsure about both those things, yet our survival rests on that last question. If Galbatorix has augmented the Urgals’ ranks with his own men, we don’t stand a chance. But if he hasn’t—because he still doesn’t want his alliance with the Urgals revealed, or for some other reason—it’s possible we can win. Neither Orrin nor the elves can help us at this late hour. Even so, I sent runners to both of them with news of our plight. At the very least they won’t be caught by surprise if we fall.”

He drew a hand across his coal-black brow. “I’ve already talked with Hrothgar, and we’ve decided on a course of action. Our only hope is to contain the Urgals in three of the larger tunnels and channel them into Farthen Dûr so they don’t swarm inside Tronjheim like locusts.

“I need you, Eragon and Arya, to help the dwarves collapse extraneous tunnels. The job is too big for normal means. Two groups of dwarves are already working on it: one outside Tronjheim, the other beneath it. Eragon, you’re to work with the group outside. Arya, you’ll be with the one underground; Orik will guide you to them.”

“Why not collapse all the tunnels instead of leaving the large ones untouched?” asked Eragon.

“Because,” said Orik, “that would force the Urgals to clear away the rubble, and they might decide to go in a direction we don’t want them to. Plus, if we cut ourselves off, they could attack other dwarf cities—which we wouldn’t be able to assist in time.”

“There’s also another reason,” said Ajihad. “Hrothgar warned me that Tronjheim sits on such a dense network of tunnels that if too many are weakened, sections of the city will sink into the ground under their own weight. We can’t risk that.”

Jörmundur listened intently, then asked, “So there won’t be any fighting inside Tronjheim? You said the Urgals would be channeled outside the city, into Farthen Dûr.”

Ajihad responded quickly, “That’s right. We can’t defend Tronjheim’s entire perimeter—it’s too big for our forces—so we’re going to seal all the passageways and gates leading into it. That will force the Urgals out onto the flats surrounding Tronjheim, where there’s plenty of maneuvering room for our armies. Since the Urgals have access to the tunnels, we cannot risk an extended battle. As long as they are here, we will be in constant danger of them quarrying up through Tronjheim’s floor. If that happens, we’ll be trapped, attacked from both the outside and inside. We have to prevent the Urgals from taking Tronjheim. If they secure it, it’s doubtful we will have the strength to roust them.”

“And what of our families?” asked Jörmundur. “I won’t see my wife and son murdered by Urgals.”

The lines deepened on Ajihad’s face. “All the women and children are being evacuated into the surrounding valleys. If we are defeated, they have guides who will take them to Surda. That’s all I can do, under the circumstances.”

Jörmundur struggled to hide his relief. “Sir, is Nasuada going as well?” “She is not pleased, but yes.” All eyes were on Ajihad as he squared his

shoulders and announced, “The Urgals will arrive in a matter of hours. We know their numbers are great, but wemust hold Farthen Dûr. Failure will mean the dwarves’ downfall, death to the Varden—and eventual defeat for Surda and the elves. This is one battle we cannot lose. Now go and complete your tasks! Jörmundur, ready the men to fight.”

They left the study and scattered: Jörmundur to the barracks, Orik and Arya to the stairs leading underground, and Eragon and Saphira down one of Tronjheim’s four main halls. Despite the early hour, the city-mountain swarmed like an anthill. People were running, shouting messages, and carrying bundles of belongings.

Eragon had fought and killed before, but the battle that awaited them sent stabs of fear into his chest. He had never had a chance to anticipate a fight. Now that he did, it filled him with dread. He was confident when facing only a few opponents—he knew he could easily defeat three or four Urgals with Zar’roc and magic—but in a large conflict, anything could happen.

They exited Tronjheim and looked for the dwarves they were supposed to help. Without the sun or moon, the inside of Farthen Dûr was dark as lampblack, punctuated by glittering lanterns bobbing jerkily in the crater.Perhaps they’re on the far side of Tronjheim, suggested Saphira. Eragon agreed and swung onto her back.

They glided around Tronjheim until a clump of lanterns came into sight. Saphira angled toward them, then with no more than a whisper landed beside a group of startled dwarves who were busy digging with pickaxes. Eragon quickly explained why he was there. A sharp-nosed dwarf told him, “There’s a tunnel about four yards directly underneath us. Any help you could give us would be appreciated.”

“If you clear the area over the tunnel, I’ll see what I can do.” The sharp-nosed dwarf looked doubtful, but ordered the diggers off the site.

Breathing slowly, Eragon prepared to use magic. It might be possible to actually move all the dirt off the tunnel, but he needed to conserve his strength for later. Instead, he would try to collapse the tunnel by applying force to weak sections of its ceiling.

“Thrysta deloi,” he whispered and sent tentacles of power into the soil. Almost immediately they encountered rock. He ignored it and reached farther down until he felt the hollow emptiness of the tunnel. Then he began searching for flaws in the rock. Every time he found one, he pushed on it, elongating and widening it. It was strenuous work, but no more than it would have been to split the stone by hand. He made no visible progress—a fact that was not lost on the impatient dwarves.

Eragon persevered. Before long he was rewarded by a resounding crack that could be heard clearly on the surface. There was a persistent screech, then the ground slid inward like water draining from a tub, leaving a gaping hole seven yards across.

As the delighted dwarves walled off the tunnel with rubble, the sharp-nosed dwarf led Eragon to the next tunnel. This one was much more difficult to collapse, but he managed to duplicate the feat. Over the next few hours, he collapsed over a half-dozen tunnels throughout Farthen Dûr, with Saphira’s help.

Light crept into the small patch of sky above them as he worked. It was

not enough to see by, but it bolstered Eragon’s confidence. He turned away from the crumpled ruins of the latest tunnel and surveyed the land with interest.

A mass exodus of women and children, along with the Varden’s elders, streamed out of Tronjheim. Everyone carried loads of provisions, clothes, and belongings. A small group of warriors, predominantly boys and old men, accompanied them.

Most of the activity, however, was at the base of Tronjheim, where the Varden and dwarves were assembling their army, which was divided into three battalions. Each section bore the Varden’s standard: a white dragon holding a rose above a sword pointing downward on a purple field.

The men were silent, ironfisted. Their hair flowed loosely from under their helmets. Many warriors had only a sword and a shield, but there were several ranks of spear- and pikemen. In the rear of the battalions, archers tested their bowstrings.

The dwarves were garbed in heavy battle gear. Burnished steel hauberks hung to their knees, and thick roundshields, stamped with the crests of their clan, rested on their left arms. Short swords were sheathed at their waists, while in their right hands they carried mattocks or war axes. Their legs were covered with extra-fine mail. They wore iron caps and brass-studded boots.

A small figure detached itself from the far battalion and hurried toward Eragon and Saphira. It was Orik, clad like the other dwarves. “Ajihad wants you to join the army,” he said. “There are no more tunnels to cave in. Food is

waiting for both of you.”

Eragon and Saphira accompanied Orik to a tent, where they found bread and water for Eragon and a pile of dried meat for Saphira. They ate it without complaint; it was better than going hungry.

When they finished, Orik told them to wait and disappeared into the battalion’s ranks. He returned, leading a line of dwarves burdened with tall piles of plate armor. Orik lifted a section of it and handed it to Eragon.

“What is this?” asked Eragon, fingering the polished metal. The armor was intricately wrought with engraving and gold filigree. It was an inch thick in places and very heavy. No man could fight under that much weight. And there were far too many pieces for one person.

“A gift from Hrothgar,” said Orik, looking pleased with himself. “It has lain so long among our other treasures that it was almost forgotten. It was forged in another age, before the fall of the Riders.”

“But what’s itfor ?” asked Eragon.

“Why, it’s dragon armor, of course! You don’t think that dragons went into battle unprotected? Complete sets are rare because they took so long to make and because dragons were always growing. Still, Saphira isn’t too big yet, so this should fit her reasonably well.”

Dragon armor!As Saphira nosed one of the pieces, Eragon asked,What do you think?

Let’s try it on,she said, a fierce gleam in her eye.

After a good deal of struggling, Eragon and Orik stepped back to admire the result. Saphira’s entire neck—except for the spikes along its ridge—was covered with triangular scales of overlapping armor. Her belly and chest were protected by the heaviest plates, while the lightest ones were on her tail. Her legs and back were completely encased. Her wings were left bare. A single molded plate lay on top of her head, leaving her lower jaw free to bite and snap.

Saphira arched her neck experimentally, and the armor flexed smoothly with her.This will slow me down, but it’ll help stop the arrows. How do I look?

Very intimidating,replied Eragon truthfully. That pleased her.

Orik picked up the remaining items from the ground. “I brought you armor as well, though it took much searching to find your size. We rarely forge arms for men or elves. I don’t know who this was made for, but it has never been used and should serve you well.”

Over Eragon’s head went a stiff shirt of leather-backed mail that fell to his knees like a skirt. It rested heavily on his shoulders and clinked when he moved. He belted Zar’roc over it, which helped keep the mail from swinging.

On his head went a leather cap, then a mail coif, and finally a gold-and-silver helm. Bracers were strapped to his forearms, and greaves to his lower legs. For his hands there were mail-backed gloves. Last, Orik handed him a broad shield emblazoned with an oak tree.

Knowing that what he and Saphira had been given was worth several fortunes, Eragon bowed and said, “Thank you for these gifts. Hrothgar’s presents are greatly appreciated.”

“Don’t give thanks now,” said Orik with a chuckle. “Wait until the armor saves your life.”

The warriors around them began marching away. The three battalions were repositioning themselves in different parts of Farthen Dûr. Unsure of what they should do, Eragon looked at Orik, who shrugged and said, “I suppose we should accompany them.” They trailed behind a battalion as it headed toward the crater wall. Eragon asked about the Urgals, but Orik only knew that scouts had been posted underground in the tunnels and that nothing had been seen or heard yet.

The battalion halted at one of the collapsed tunnels. The dwarves had piled the rubble so that anyone inside the tunnel could easily climb out.This must be one of the places they’re going to force the Urgals to surface, Saphira pointed out.

Hundreds of lanterns were fixed atop poles and stuck into the ground. They provided a great pool of light that glowed like an evening sun. Fires blazed along the rim of the tunnel’s roof, huge cauldrons of pitch heating over them. Eragon looked away, fighting back revulsion. It was a terrible way to kill anyone, even an Urgal.

Rows of sharpened saplings were being pounded into the ground to provide a thorny barrier between the battalion and the tunnel. Eragon saw an opportunity to help and joined a group of men digging trenches between the saplings. Saphira assisted as well, scooping out the dirt with her giant claws. While they labored, Orik left to supervise the construction of a barricade to shield the archers. Eragon drank gratefully from the wineskin whenever it was passed around. After the trenches were finished and filled with pointed stakes, Saphira and Eragon rested.

Orik returned to find them seated together. He wiped his brow. “All the men and dwarves are on the battlefield. Tronjheim has been sealed off. Hrothgar has taken charge of the battalion to our left. Ajihad leads the one ahead of us.”

“Who commands this one?”

“Jörmundur.” Orik sat with a grunt and placed his war ax on the ground. Saphira nudged Eragon.Look. His hand tightened on Zar’roc as he saw

Murtagh, helmed, carrying a dwarven shield and his hand-and-a-half sword, approaching with Tornac.

Orik cursed and leapt to his feet, but Murtagh said quickly, “It’s all right; Ajihad released me.”

“Why would he do that?” demanded Orik.

Murtagh smiled wryly. “He said this was an opportunity to prove my good intentions. Apparently, he doesn’t think I would be able to do much damage even if I did turn on the Varden.”

Eragon nodded in welcome, relaxing his grip. Murtagh was an excellent and merciless fighter—exactly whom Eragon wanted by his side during battle.

“How do we know you’re not lying?” asked Orik.

“Because I say so,” announced a firm voice. Ajihad strode into their midst, armed for battle with a breastplate and an ivory-handled sword. He put a strong hand on Eragon’s shoulder and drew him away where the others could not hear. He cast an eye over Eragon’s armor. “Good, Orik outfitted you.”

“Yes . . . has anything been seen in the tunnels?”

“Nothing.” Ajihad leaned on his sword. “One of the Twins is staying in Tronjheim. He’s going to watch the battle from the dragonhold and relay information through his brother to me. I know you can speak with your mind. I need you to tell the Twins anything,anything, unusual that you see while fighting. Also, I’ll relay orders to you through them. Do you understand?”

The thought of being linked to the Twins filled Eragon with loathing, but he knew it was necessary. “I do.”

Ajihad paused. “You’re not a foot soldier or horseman, nor any other type of warrior I’m used to commanding. Battle may prove differently, but I think you and Saphira will be safer on the ground. In the air, you’ll be a choice target for Urgal archers. Will you fight from Saphira’s back?”

Eragon had never been in combat on horseback, much less on Saphira. “I’m not sure what we’ll do. When I’m on Saphira, I’m up too high to fight all but a Kull.”

“There will be plenty of Kull, I’m afraid,” said Ajihad. He straightened, pulling his sword out of the ground. “The only advice I can give you is to avoid unnecessary risks. The Varden cannot afford to lose you.” With that, he turned and left.

Eragon returned to Orik and Murtagh and hunkered next to Saphira, leaning his shield against his knees. The four of them waited in silence like the hundreds of warriors around them. Light from Farthen Dûr’s opening waned as the sun crept below the crater rim.

Eragon turned to scan the encampment and froze, heart jolting. About thirty feet away sat Arya with her bow in her lap. Though he knew it was unreasonable, he had hoped she might accompany the other women out of Farthen Dûr. Concerned, he hastened to her. “You will fight?”

“I do what I must,” Arya said calmly. “But it’s too dangerous!”

Her face darkened. “Do not pamper me, human. Elves train both their men and women to fight. I am not one of your helpless females to run away whenever there is danger. I was given the task of protecting Saphira’s egg . . . which I failed. My breoal is dishonored and would be further shamed if I did not guard you and Saphira on this field. You forget that I am stronger with magic than any here, including you. If the Shade comes, who can defeat him but me? And who else has the right?”

Eragon stared at her helplessly, knowing she was right and hating the fact. “Then stay safe.” Out of desperation, he added in the ancient language, “Wiol pömnuria ilian.” For my happiness.

Arya turned her gaze away uneasily, the fringe of her hair obscuring her face. She ran a hand along her polished bow, then murmured, “It is my wyrd to be here. The debt must be paid.”

He abruptly retreated to Saphira. Murtagh looked at him curiously. “What did she say?”


Wrapped in their own thoughts, the defenders sank into a brooding silence as the hours crawled by. Farthen Dûr’s crater again grew black, except for the sanguine lantern glow and the fires heating the pitch. Eragon alternated between myopically examining the links of his mail and spying on Arya. Orik repeatedly ran a whetstone over the blade of his ax, periodically eyeing the edge between strokes; the rasp of metal on stone was irritating. Murtagh just stared into the distance.

Occasionally, messengers ran through the encampment, causing the warriors to surge to their feet. But it always proved to be a false alarm. The men and dwarves became strained; angry voices were often heard. The worst part about Farthen Dûr was the lack of wind—the air was dead, motionless. Even when it grew warm and stifling and filled with smoke, there was no reprieve.

As the night dragged on, the battlefield stilled, silent as death. Muscles stiffened from the waiting. Eragon stared blankly into the darkness with heavy eyelids. He shook himself to alertness and tried to focus through his stupor.

Finally Orik said, “It’s late. We should sleep. If anything happens, the

others will wake us.” Murtagh grumbled, but Eragon was too tired to complain. He curled up against Saphira, using his shield as a pillow. As his eyes closed, he saw that Arya was still awake, watching over them.

His dreams were confused and disturbing, full of horned beasts and unseen menaces. Over and over he heard a deep voice ask, “Are you ready?” But he never had an answer. Plagued by such visions, his sleep was shallow and uneasy until something touched his arm. He woke with a start.


“It has begun,” Arya said with a sorrowful expression. The troops in the encampment stood alertly with their weapons drawn. Orik swung his ax to make sure he had enough room. Arya nocked an arrow and held it ready to shoot.

“A scout ran out of a tunnel a few minutes ago,” said Murtagh to Eragon. “The Urgals are coming.”

Together they watched the dark mouth of the tunnel through the ranks of men and sharpened stakes. A minute dragged by, then another . . . and another. Without taking his eyes from the tunnel, Eragon hoisted himself into Saphira’s saddle, Zar’roc in his hand, a comfortable weight. Murtagh mounted Tornac beside him. Then a man cried, “I hear them!”

The warriors stiffened; grips tightened on weapons. No one moved . . . no one breathed. Somewhere a horse nickered.

Harsh Urgal shouts shattered the air as dark shapes boiled upward in the tunnel’s opening. At a command, the cauldrons of pitch were tilted on their sides, pouring the scalding liquid into the tunnel’s hungry throat. The monsters howled in pain, arms flailing. A torch was thrown onto the bubbling pitch, and an orange pillar of greasy flames roared up in the opening, engulfing the Urgals in an inferno. Sickened, Eragon looked across Farthen Dûr at the other two battalions and saw similar fires by each. He sheathed Zar’roc and strung his bow.

More Urgals soon tamped the pitch down and clambered out of the tunnels over their burned brethren. They clumped together, presenting a solid wall to the men and dwarves. Behind the palisade Orik had helped build, the first row of archers pulled on their bows and fired. Eragon and Arya added their arrows to the deadly swarm and watched the shafts eat through the Urgals’ ranks.

The Urgal line wavered, threatening to break, but they covered themselves with their shields and weathered the attack. Again the archers fired, but the Urgals continued to stream onto the surface at a ferocious rate.

Eragon was dismayed by their numbers. They were supposed to kill

every single one? It seemed a madman’s task. His only encouragement was that he saw none of Galbatorix’s troops with the Urgals. Not yet, at least.

The opposing army formed a solid mass of bodies that seemed to stretch endlessly. Tattered and sullen standards were raised in the monsters’ midst. Baleful notes echoed through Farthen Dûr as war horns sounded. The entire group of Urgals charged with savage war cries.

They dashed against the rows of stakes, covering them with slick blood and limp corpses as the ranks at the vanguard were crushed against the posts. A cloud of black arrows flew over the barrier at the crouched defenders. Eragon ducked behind his shield, and Saphira covered her head. Arrows rattled harmlessly against her armor.

Momentarily foiled by the pickets, the Urgal horde milled with confusion. The Varden bunched together, waiting for the next attack. After a pause, the war cries were raised again as the Urgals surged forward. The assault was bitter. Its momentum carried the Urgals through the stakes, where a line of pikemen jabbed frantically at their ranks, trying to repel them. The pikemen held briefly, but the ominous tide of Urgals could not be halted, and they were overwhelmed.

The first lines of defense breached, the main bodies of the two forces collided for the first time. A deafening roar burst from the men and dwarves as they rushed into the conflict. Saphira bellowed and leapt toward the fight, diving into a whirlwind of noise and blurred action.

With her jaws and talons, Saphira tore through an Urgal. Her teeth were as lethal as any sword, her tail a giant mace. From her back, Eragon parried a hammer blow from an Urgal chief, protecting her vulnerable wings. Zar’roc’s crimson blade seemed to gleam with delight as blood spurted along its length. From the corner of his eye, Eragon saw Orik hewing Urgal necks with mighty blows of his ax. Beside the dwarf was Murtagh on Tornac, his face disfigured by a vicious snarl as he swung his sword angrily, cutting through every defense. Then Saphira spun around, and Eragon saw Arya leap past the

lifeless body of an opponent.

An Urgal bowled over a wounded dwarf and hacked at Saphira’s front right leg. His sword skated off her armor with a burst of sparks. Eragon smote him on the head, but Zar’roc stuck in the monster’s horns and was yanked from his grasp. With a curse he dived off Saphira and tackled the Urgal, smashing his face with the shield. He jerked Zar’roc out of the horns, then dodged as another Urgal charged him.

Saphira, I need you!he shouted, but the battle’s tide had separated them. Suddenly a Kull jumped at him, club raised for a blow. Unable to lift his shield in time, Eragon uttered, “Jierda!” The Kull’s head snapped back with a

sharp report as his neck broke. Four more Urgals succumbed to Zar’roc’s thirsty bite, then Murtagh rode up beside Eragon, driving the press of Urgals backward.

“Come on!” he shouted, and reached down from Tornac, pulling Eragon onto the horse. They rushed toward Saphira, who was embroiled in a mass of enemies. Twelve spear-wielding Urgals encircled her, needling her with their lances. They had already managed to prick both of her wings. Her blood splattered the ground. Every time she rushed at one of the Urgals, they bunched together and jabbed at her eyes, forcing her to retreat. She tried to sweep the spears away with her talons, but the Urgals jumped back and evaded her.

The sight of Saphira’s blood enraged Eragon. He swung off Tornac with a wild cry and stabbed the nearest Urgal through the chest, withholding nothing in his frenzied attempt to help Saphira. His attack provided the distraction she needed to break free. With a kick, she sent an Urgal flying, then barreled to him. Eragon grabbed one of her neck spikes and pulled himself back into her saddle. Murtagh raised his hand, then charged into another knot of Urgals.

By unspoken consent, Saphira took flight and rose above the struggling armies, seeking a respite from the madness. Eragon’s breath trembled. His muscles were clenched, ready to ward off the next attack. Every fiber of his being thrilled with energy, making him feel more alive than ever before.

Saphira circled long enough for them to recover their strength, then descended toward the Urgals, skimming the ground to avoid detection. She approached the monsters from behind, where their archers were gathered.

Before the Urgals realized what was happening, Eragon lopped off the heads of two archers, and Saphira disemboweled three others. She took off again as alarms sounded, quickly soaring out of bow range.

They repeated the tactic on a different flank of the army. Saphira’s stealth and speed, combined with the dim lighting, made it nearly impossible for the Urgals to predict where she would strike next. Eragon used his bow whenever Saphira was in the air, but he quickly ran out of arrows. Soon the only thing left in his quiver was magic, which he wanted to keep in reserve until it was desperately needed.

Saphira’s flights over the combatants gave Eragon a unique understanding of how the battle was progressing. There were three separate fights raging in Farthen Dûr, one by each open tunnel. The Urgals were disadvantaged by the dispersal of their forces and their inability to get all of their army out of the tunnels at once. Even so, the Varden and dwarves could not keep the monsters from advancing and were slowly being driven back

toward Tronjheim. The defenders seemed insignificant against the mass of Urgals, whose numbers continued to increase as they poured out of the tunnels.

The Urgals had organized themselves around several standards, each representing a clan, but it was unclear who commanded them overall. The clans paid no attention to each other, as if they were receiving orders from elsewhere. Eragon wished he knew who was in charge so he and Saphira could kill him.

Remembering Ajihad’s orders, he began relaying information to the Twins. They were interested by what he had to say about the Urgals’ apparent lack of a leader and questioned him closely. The exchange was smooth, if brief. The Twins told him,You’re ordered to assist Hrothgar; the fight goes badly for him.

Understood,Eragon responded.

Saphira swiftly flew to the besieged dwarves, swooping low over Hrothgar. Arrayed in golden armor, the dwarf king stood at the fore of a small knot of his kin, wielding Volund, the hammer of his ancestors. His white beard caught the lantern light as he looked up at Saphira. Admiration glinted in his eyes.

Saphira landed beside the dwarves and faced the oncoming Urgals. Even the bravest Kull quailed before her ferocity, allowing the dwarves to surge forward. Eragon tried to keep Saphira safe. Her left flank was protected by the dwarves, but to her front and right raged a sea of enemies. He showed no mercy on those and took every advantage he could, using magic whenever Zar’roc could not serve him. A spear bounced off his shield, denting it and leaving him with a bruised shoulder. Shaking off the pain, he cleaved open an Urgal’s skull, mixing brains with metal and bone.

He was in awe of Hrothgar—who, though he was ancient by both the standards of men and dwarves, was still undiminished on the battlefield. No Urgal, Kull or not, could stand before the dwarf king and his guards and live. Every time Volund struck, it sounded the gong of death for another enemy. After a spear downed one of his warriors, Hrothgar grabbed the spear himself and, with astounding strength, hurled it completely through its owner twenty yards away. Such heroism emboldened Eragon to ever greater risks, seeking to hold his own with the mighty king.

Eragon lunged at a giant Kull nearly out of reach and almost fell from Saphira’s saddle. Before he could recover, the Kull darted past Saphira’s defenses and swung his sword. The brunt of the blow caught Eragon on the side of his helm, throwing him backward and making his vision flicker and his ears ring thunderously.

Stunned, he tried to pull himself upright, but the Kull had already prepared for another blow. As the Kull’s arm descended, a slim steel blade suddenly sprouted from his chest. Howling, the monster toppled to the side. In his place stood Angela.

The witch wore a long red cape over outlandish flanged armor enameled black and green. She bore a strange two-handed weapon—a long wooden shaft with a sword blade attached to each end. Angela winked at Eragon mischievously, then dashed away, spinning her staff-sword like a dervish. Close behind her was Solembum in the form of a young shaggy-haired boy. He held a small black dagger, sharp teeth bared in a feral snarl.

Still dazed from his battering, Eragon managed to straighten himself in the saddle. Saphira jumped into the air and wheeled high above, letting him recuperate. He scanned Farthen Dûr’s plains and saw, to his dismay, that all three battles were going badly. Neither Ajihad, Jörmundur, nor Hrothgar could stop the Urgals. There were simply too many.

Eragon wondered how many Urgals he could kill at once with magic. He knew his limits fairly well. If he were to kill enough to make a difference . . . it would probably be suicide. That might be what it took to win.

The fighting continued for one endless hour after another. The Varden and dwarves were exhausted, but the Urgals remained fresh with reinforcements.

It was a nightmare for Eragon. Though he and Saphira fought their hardest, there was always another Urgal to take the place of the one just killed. His whole body hurt—especially his head. Every time he used magic he lost a little more energy. Saphira was in better condition, though her wings were punctured with small wounds.

As he parried a blow, the Twins contacted him urgently.There are loud noises under Tronjheim. It sounds like Urgals are trying to dig into the city! We need you and Arya to collapse any tunnels they’re excavating.

Eragon dispatched his opponent with a sword thrust.We’ll be right there. He looked for Arya and saw her engaged with a knot of struggling Urgals. Saphira quickly forged a path to the elf, leaving a pile of crumpled bodies in her wake. Eragon extended his hand and said, “Get on!”

Arya jumped onto Saphira’s back without hesitation. She wrapped her right arm around Eragon’s waist, wielding her bloodstained sword with the other. As Saphira crouched to take off, an Urgal ran at her, howling, then lifted an ax and smashed her in the chest.

Saphira roared with pain and lurched forward, feet leaving the ground. Her wings snapped open, straining to keep them from crashing as she veered wildly to one side, right wingtip scraping the ground. Below them, the Urgal

pulled back his arm to throw the ax. But Arya raised her palm, shouting, and an emerald ball of energy shot from her hand, killing the Urgal. With a colossal heave of her shoulders, Saphira righted herself, barely making it over the heads of the warriors. She pulled away from the battlefield with powerful wing strokes and rasping breath.

Are you all right?asked Eragon, concerned. He could not see where she had been struck.

I’ll live,she said grimly,but the front of my armor has been crushed together.It hurts my chest, and I’m having trouble moving.

Can you get us to the dragonhold?

. . . We’ll see.

Eragon explained Saphira’s condition to Arya. “I’ll stay and help Saphira when we land,” she offered. “Once she is free of the armor, I will join you.”

“Thank you,” he said. The flight was laborious for Saphira; she glided whenever she could. When they reached the dragonhold, she dropped heavily to Isidar Mithrim, where the Twins were supposed to be watching the battle, but it was empty. Eragon jumped to the floor and winced as he saw the damage the Urgal had done. Four of the metal plates on Saphira’s chest had been hammered together, restricting her ability to bend and breathe. “Stay well,” he said, putting a hand on her side, then ran out the archway.

He stopped and swore. He was at the top of Vol Turin, The Endless Staircase. Because of his worry for Saphira, he had not considered how he would get to Tronjheim’s base—where the Urgals were breaking in. There was no time to climb down. He looked at the narrow trough to the right of the stairs, then grabbed one of the leather pads and threw himself down on it.

The stone slide was smooth as lacquered wood. With the leather underneath him, he accelerated almost instantly to a frightening speed, the walls blurring and the curve of the slide pressing him high against the wall. Eragon lay completely flat so he would go faster. The air rushed past his helm, making it vibrate like a weather vane in a gale. The trough was too confined for him, and he was perilously close to flying out, but as long as he kept his arms and legs still, he was safe.

It was a swift descent, but it still took him nearly ten minutes to reach the bottom. The slide leveled out at the end and sent him skidding halfway across the huge carnelian floor.

When he finally came to a stop, he was too dizzy to walk. His first attempt to stand made him nauseated, so he curled up, head in his hands, and waited for things to stop spinning. When he felt better, he stood and warily looked around.

The great chamber was completely deserted, the silence unsettling. Rosy

light filtered down from Isidar Mithrim. He faltered—Where was he supposed to go?—and cast out his mind for the Twins. Nothing. He froze as loud knocking echoed through Tronjheim.

An explosion split the air. A long slab of the chamber floor buckled and blew thirty feet up. Needles of rocks flew outward as it crashed down. Eragon stumbled back, stunned, groping for Zar’roc. The twisted shapes of Urgals clambered out of the hole in the floor.

Eragon hesitated. Should he flee? Or should he stay and try to close the tunnel? Even if he managed to seal it before the Urgals attacked him, what if Tronjheim was already breached elsewhere? He could not find all the places in time to prevent the city-mountain from being captured.But if I run to one of Tronjheim’s gates and blast it open, the Varden could retake Tronjheim without having to siege it. Before he could decide, a tall man garbed entirely in black armor emerged from the tunnel and looked directly at him.

It was Durza.

The Shade carried his pale blade marked with the scratch from Ajihad. A black roundshield with a crimson ensign rested on his arm. His dark helmet was richly decorated, like a general’s, and a long snakeskin cloak billowed around him. Madness burned in his maroon eyes, the madness of one who enjoys power and finds himself in the position to use it.

Eragon knew he was neither fast enough nor strong enough to escape the fiend before him. He immediately warned Saphira, though he knew it was impossible for her to rescue him. He dropped into a crouch and quickly reviewed what Brom had told him about fighting another magic user. It was not encouraging. And Ajihad had said that Shades could only be destroyed by a thrust through the heart.

Durza gazed at him contemptuously and said, “Kaz jtierl trazhid! Otrag bagh.” The Urgals eyed Eragon suspiciously and formed a circle around the perimeter of the room. Durza slowly approached Eragon with a triumphant expression. “So, my young Rider, we meet again. You were foolish to escape from me in Gil’ead. It will only make things worse for you in the end.”

“You’ll never capture me alive,” growled Eragon.

“Is that so?” asked the Shade, raising an eyebrow. The light from the star sapphire gave his skin a ghastly tint. “I don’t see your ‘friend’ Murtagh around to help you. You can’t stop me now. No one can!”

Fear touched Eragon.How does he know about Murtagh? Putting all the derision he could into his voice, he jeered, “How did you like being shot?”

Durza’s face tightened momentarily. “I will be repaid in blood for that.

Now tell me where your dragon is hiding.” “Never.”

The Shade’s countenance darkened. “Then I will force it from you!” His sword whistled through the air. The moment Eragon caught the blade on his shield, a mental probe spiked deep into his thoughts. Fighting to protect his consciousness, he shoved Durza back and attacked with his own mind.

Eragon battered with all his strength against the iron-hard defenses surrounding Durza’s mind, but to no avail. He swung Zar’roc, trying to catch Durza off guard. The Shade knocked the blow aside effortlessly, then stabbed in return with lightning speed.

The point of the sword caught Eragon in the ribs, piercing his mail and driving out his breath. The mail slipped, though, and the blade missed his side by the width of a wire. The distraction was all Durza needed to break into Eragon’s mind and begin taking control.

“No!” cried Eragon, throwing himself at the Shade. His face contorted as he grappled with Durza, yanking on his sword arm. Durza tried to cut Eragon’s hand, but it was protected by the mail-backed glove, which sent the blade glancing downward. As Eragon kicked his leg, Durza snarled and swept his black shield around, knocking him to the floor. Eragon tasted blood in his mouth; his neck throbbed. Ignoring his injuries, he rolled over and hurled his shield at Durza. Despite the Shade’s superior speed, the heavy shield clipped him on the hip. As Durza stumbled, Eragon caught him on the upper arm with Zar’roc. A line of blood traced down the Shade’s arm.

Eragon thrust at the Shade with his mind and drove through Durza’s weakened defenses. A flood of images suddenly engulfed him, rushing through his consciousness—

Durza as a young boy living as a nomad with his parents on the empty plains. The tribe abandoned them and called his father “oathbreaker.” Only it was not Durza then, but Carsaib—the name his mother crooned while combing his hair. . . .

The Shade reeled wildly, face twisted in pain. Eragon tried to control the torrent of memories, but the force of them was overwhelming.

Standing on a hill over the graves of his parents, weeping that the men had not killed him as well. Then turning and stumbling blindly away, into the desert. . . .

Durza faced Eragon. Terrible hatred flowed from his maroon eyes.

Eragon was on one knee—almost standing—struggling to seal his mind.

How the old man looked when he first saw Carsaib lying near death on a sand dune. The days it had taken Carsaib to recover and the fear he felt upon discovering that his rescuer was a sorcerer. How he had pleaded to be taught the control of spirits. How Haeg had finally agreed. Called him “Desert Rat.”. . .

Eragon was standing now. Durza charged . . . sword raised . . . shield ignored in his fury.

The days spent training under the scorching sun, always alert for the lizards they caught for food. How his power slowly grew, giving him pride and confidence. The weeks spent nursing his sick master after a failed spell. His joy when Haeg recovered . . .

There was not enough time to react . . . not enough time. . . .

The bandits who attacked during the night, killing Haeg. The rage Carsaib had felt and the spirits he had summoned for vengeance. But the spirits were stronger than he expected. They turned on him, possessing mind and body. He had screamed. He was—I AM DURZA!

The sword smote heavily across Eragon’s back, cutting through both mail and skin. He screamed as pain blasted through him, forcing him to his knees. Agony bowed his body in half and obliterated all thought. He swayed, barely conscious, hot blood running down the small of his back. Durza said something he could not hear.

In anguish, Eragon raised his eyes to the heavens, tears streaming down his cheeks. Everything had failed. The Varden and dwarves were destroyed. He was defeated. Saphira would give herself up for his sake—she had done it before—and Arya would be recaptured or killed. Why had it ended like this? What justice could this be? All was for nothing.

As he looked at Isidar Mithrim far above his tortured frame, a flash of light erupted in his eyes, blinding him. A second later, the chamber rang with a deafening report. Then his eyes cleared, and he gaped with disbelief.

The star sapphire had shattered. An expanding torus of huge dagger-like pieces plummeted toward the distant floor—the shimmering shards near the walls. In the center of the chamber, hurtling downward headfirst, was Saphira. Her jaws were open and from between them erupted a great tongue of flame, bright yellow and tinged with blue. On her back was Arya: hair billowing wildly, arm uplifted, palm glowing with a nimbus of green magic.

Time seemed to slow as Eragon saw Durza tilt his head toward the ceiling. First shock, then anger contorted the Shade’s face. Sneering defiantly, he raised his hand and pointed at Saphira, a word forming on his lips.

A hidden reserve of strength suddenly welled up inside Eragon, dredged from the deepest part of his being. His fingers curled around the hilt of his sword. He plunged through the barrier in his mind and took hold of the magic. All his pain and rage focused on one word:


Zar’roc blazed with bloody light, heatless flames running along it . . . He lunged forward . . .

And stabbed Durza in the heart.

Durza looked down with shock at the blade protruding from his breast. His mouth was open, but instead of words, an unearthly howl burst from him. His sword dropped from nerveless fingers. He grasped Zar’roc as if to pull it out, but it was lodged firmly in him.

Then Durza’s skin turned transparent. Under it was neither flesh nor bone, but swirling patterns of darkness. He shrieked even louder as the darkness pulsated, splitting his skin. With one last cry, Durza was rent from head to toe, releasing the darkness, which separated into three entities who flew through Tronjheim’s walls and out of Farthen Dûr. The Shade was gone.

Bereft of strength, Eragon fell back with arms outstretched. Above him, Saphira and Arya had nearly reached the floor—it looked as if they were going to smash into it with the deadly remains of Isidar Mithrim. As his sight faded, Saphira, Arya, the myriad fragments—all seemed to stop falling and hang motionless in the air.

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