Chapter no 5 – TEA FOR TWO

Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle, #1)

Roran and Eragon parted at the outskirts of Carvahall. Eragon walked slowly to Brom’s house, engrossed in his thoughts. He stopped at the doorstep and raised his hand to knock.

A voice rasped, “What do you want, boy?”

He whirled around. Behind him Brom leaned on a twisted staff embellished with strange carvings. He wore a brown hooded robe like a friar. A pouch hung from the scuffed leather belt clasped around his waist. Above his white beard, a proud eagle nose hooked over his mouth and dominated his face. He peered at Eragon with deep-set eyes shadowed by a gnarled brow and waited for his reply.

“To get information,” Eragon said. “Roran is getting a chisel fixed and I had free time, so I came to see if you could answer a few questions.”

The old man grunted and reached for the door. Eragon noticed a gold ring on his right hand. Light glinted off a sapphire, highlighting a strange symbol carved on its face. “You might as well come in; we’ll be talking awhile. Your questions never seem to end.” Inside, the house was darker than charcoal, an acrid smell heavy in the air. “Now, for a light.” Eragon heard the old man move around, then a low curse as something crashed to the floor. “Ah, here we go.” A white spark flashed; a flame wavered into existence.

Brom stood with a candle before a stone fireplace. Stacks of books surrounded a high-backed, deeply carved wooden chair that faced the mantel; the four legs were shaped like eagle claws, and the seat and back were padded with leather embossed with a swirling rose pattern. A cluster of lesser chairs held piles of scrolls. Ink pots and pens were scattered across a writing desk. “Make room for yourself, but by the lost kings, becareful . This stuff is valuable.”

Eragon stepped over pages of parchment covered with angular runes. He gently lifted cracking scrolls off a chair and placed them on the floor. A cloud of dust flew into the air as he sat. He stifled a sneeze.

Brom bent down and lit the fire with his candle. “Good! Nothing like sitting by a fire for conversation.” He threw back his hood to reveal hair that was not white, but silver, then hung a kettle over the flames and settled into the high-backed chair.

“Now, what do you want?” He addressed Eragon roughly, but not unkindly.

“Well,” said Eragon, wondering how best to approach the subject, “I

keep hearing about the Dragon Riders and their supposed accomplishments. Most everyone seems to want them to return, but I’ve never heard tell of how they were started, where the dragons came from, or what made the Riders special—aside from the dragons.”

“A vast subject to tell about,” grumbled Brom. He peered at Eragon alertly. “If I told you their whole story, we would still be sitting here when winter comes again. It will have to be reduced to a manageable length. But before we start properly, I need my pipe.”

Eragon waited patiently as Brom tamped down the tobacco. He liked Brom. The old man was irascible at times, but he never seemed to mind taking time for Eragon. Eragon had once asked him where he came from, and Brom had laughed, saying, “A village much like Carvahall, only not quite as interesting.” Curiosity aroused, Eragon asked his uncle. But Garrow could only tell him that Brom had bought a house in Carvahall nearly fifteen years ago and had lived there quietly ever since.

Brom used a tinderbox to light the pipe. He puffed a few times, then said, “There . . . we won’t have to stop, except for the tea. Now, about the Riders, or the Shur’tugal, as they are called by the elves. Where to start? They spanned countless years and, at the height of their power, held sway over twice the Empire’s lands. Numerous stories have been told about them, most nonsense. If you believed everything said, you would expect them to have the powers of a lesser god. Scholars have devoted entire lives to separating these fictions from fact, but it’s doubtful any of them will succeed. However, it isn’t an impossible task if we confine ourselves to the three areas you specified: how the Riders began, why they were so highly regarded, and where dragons came from. I shall start with the last item.” Eragon settled back and listened to the man’s mesmerizing voice.

“Dragons have no beginning, unless it lies with the creation of Alagaësia itself. And if they have an end, it will be when this world perishes, for they suffer as the land does. They, the dwarves, and a few others are the true inhabitants of this land. They lived here before all others, strong and proud in their elemental glory. Their world was unchanging until the first elves sailed over the sea on their silver ships.”

“Where did the elves come from?” interrupted Eragon. “And why are they called the fair folk? Do they really exist?”

Brom scowled. “Do you want your original questions answered or not?

They won’t be if you want to explore every obscure piece of knowledge.” “Sorry,” said Eragon. He dipped his head and tried to look contrite.

“No, you’re not,” said Brom with some amusement. He shifted his gaze to the fire and watched it lick the underside of the kettle. “If you must know,

elves are not legends, and they are called the fair folk because they are more graceful than any of the other races. They come from what they call Alalea, though none but they know what, or even where, it is.

“Now,” he glared from under his bushy eyebrows to make sure there would be no more interruptions, “the elves were a proud race then, and strong in magic. At first they regarded dragons as mere animals. From that belief rose a deadly mistake. A brash elven youth hunted down a dragon, as he would a stag, and killed it. Outraged, the dragons ambushed and slaughtered the elf. Unfortunately, the bloodletting did not stop there. The dragons massed together and attacked the entire elven nation. Dismayed by the terrible misunderstanding, the elves tried to end the hostilities, but couldn’t find a way to communicate with the dragons.

“Thus, to greatly abbreviate a complicated series of occurrences, there was a very long and very bloody war, which both sides later regretted. At the beginning the elves fought only to defend themselves, for they were reluctant to escalate the fighting, but the dragons’ ferocity eventually forced them to attack for their own survival. This lasted for five years and would have continued for much longer if an elf called Eragon hadn’t found a dragon egg.” Eragon blinked in surprise. “Ah, I see you didn’t know of your namesake,” said Brom.

“No.” The teakettle whistled stridently.Why was I named after an elf?

“Then you should find this all the more interesting,” said Brom. He hooked the kettle out of the fire and poured boiling water into two cups. Handing one to Eragon, he warned, “These leaves don’t need to steep long, so drink it quickly before it gets too strong.” Eragon tried a sip, but scalded his tongue. Brom set his own cup aside and continued smoking the pipe.

“No one knows why that egg was abandoned. Some say the parents were killed in an elven attack. Others believe the dragons purposefully left it there. Either way, Eragon saw the value of raising a friendly dragon. He cared for it secretly and, in the custom of the ancient language, named him Bid’Daum. When Bid’Daum had grown to a good size, they traveled together among the dragons and convinced them to live in peace with the elves. Treaties were formed between the two races. To ensure that war would never break out again, they decided that it was necessary to establish the Riders.

“At first the Riders were intended merely as a means of communication between the elves and dragons. However, as time passed, their worth was recognized and they were given ever more authority. Eventually they took the island Vroengard for their home and built a city on it—Dorú Areaba. Before Galbatorix overthrew them, the Riders held more power than all the kings in Alagaësia. Now I believe I have answered two of your questions.”

“Yes,” said Eragon absently. It seemed like an incredible coincidence that he had been named after the first Rider. For some reason his name did not feel the same anymore. “What doesEragon mean?”

“I don’t know,” said Brom. “It’s very old. I doubt anyone remembers except the elves, and fortune would have to smile greatly before you talked with one. It is a good name to have, though; you should be proud of it. Not everyone has one so honorable.”

Eragon brushed the matter from his mind and focused on what he had learned from Brom; there was something missing. “I don’t understand. Where were we when the Riders were created?”

“We?” asked Brom, raising an eyebrow.

“You know, all of us.” Eragon waved his hands vaguely. “Humans in general.”

Brom laughed. “We are no more native to this land than the elves. It took our ancestors another three centuries to arrive here and join the Riders.”

“That can’t be,” protested Eragon. “We’ve always lived in Palancar Valley.”

“That might be true for a few generations, but beyond that, no. It isn’t even true for you, Eragon,” said Brom gently. “Though you consider yourself part of Garrow’s family, and rightly so, your sire was not from here. Ask around and you’ll find many people who haven’t been here that long. This valley is old and hasn’t always belonged to us.”

Eragon scowled and gulped at the tea. It was still hot enough to burn his throat. This was his home, regardless of who his father was! “What happened to the dwarves after the Riders were destroyed?”

“No one really knows. They fought with the Riders through the first few battles, but when it became clear Galbatorix was going to win, they sealed all the known entrances to their tunnels and disappeared underground. As far as I know, not one has been seen since.”

“And the dragons?” he asked. “What of them? Surely they weren’t all killed.”

Brom answered sorrowfully, “That is the greatest mystery in Alagaësia nowadays: How many dragons survived Galbatorix’s murderous slaughter? He spared those who agreed to serve him, but only the twisted dragons of the Forsworn would assist his madness. If any dragons aside from Shruikan are still alive, they have hidden themselves so they will never be found by the Empire.”

So wheredidmy dragon come from?wondered Eragon. “Were the Urgals here when the elves came to Alagaësia?” he asked.

“No, they followed the elves across the sea, like ticks seeking blood.

They were one of the reasons the Riders became valued for their battle prowess and ability to keep the peace. . . . Much can be learned from this history. It’s a pity the king makes it a delicate subject,” reflected Brom.

“Yes, I heard your story the last time I was in town.”

“Story!” roared Brom. Lightning flashed in his eyes. “If it is a story, then the rumors of my death are true and you are speaking with a ghost! Respect the past; you never know how it may affect you.”

Eragon waited until Brom’s face mellowed before he dared ask, “How big were the dragons?”

A dark plume of smoke swirled above Brom like a miniature thunderstorm. “Larger than a house. Even the small ones had wingspans over a hundred feet; they never stopped growing. Some of the ancient ones, before the Empire killed them, could have passed for large hills.”

Dismay swept through Eragon.How can I hide my dragon in the years to come? He raged silently, but kept his voice calm. “When did they mature?”

“Well,” said Brom, scratching his chin, “they couldn’t breathe fire until they were around five to six months old, which was about when they could mate. The older a dragon was, the longer it could breathe fire. Some of them could keep at it for minutes.” Brom blew a smoke ring and watched it float up to the ceiling.

“I heard that their scales shone like gems.”

Brom leaned forward and growled, “You heard right. They came in every color and shade. It was said that a group of them looked like a living rainbow, constantly shifting and shimmering. But who told you that?”

Eragon froze for a second, then lied, “A trader.”

“What was his name?” asked Brom. His tangled eyebrows met in a thick white line; the wrinkles deepened on his forehead. Unnoticed, the pipe smoldered out.

Eragon pretended to think. “I don’t know. He was talking in Morn’s, but I never found out who he was.”

“I wish you had,” muttered Brom.

“He also said a Rider could hear his dragon’s thoughts,” said Eragon quickly, hoping that the fictitious trader would protect him from suspicion.

Brom’s eyes narrowed. Slowly he took out a tinderbox and struck the flint. Smoke rose, and he took a long pull from the pipe, exhaling slowly. In a flat voice he said, “He was wrong. It isn’t in any of the stories, and I know them all. Did he say anything else?”

Eragon shrugged. “No.” Brom was too interested in the trader for him to continue the falsehood. Casually he inquired, “Did dragons live very long?”

Brom did not respond at once. His chin sank to his chest while his

fingers tapped the pipe thoughtfully, light reflecting off his ring. “Sorry, my mind was elsewhere. Yes, a dragon will live for quite a while, forever, in fact, as long as it isn’t killed and its Rider doesn’t die.”

“How does anyone know that?” objected Eragon. “If dragons die when their Riders do, they could only live to be sixty or seventy. You said during your . . . narration that Riders lived for hundreds of years, but that’s impossible.” It troubled him to think of outliving his family and friends.

A quiet smile curled Brom’s lips as he said slyly, “What is possible is subjective. Some would say that you cannot travel through the Spine and live, yet you do. It’s a matter of perspective. You must be very wise to know so much at such a young age.” Eragon flushed, and the old man chuckled. “Don’t be angry; you can’t be expected to know such things. You forget that the dragons were magical—they affected everything around them in strange ways. The Riders were closest to them and experienced this the most. The most common side effect was an extended life. Our king has lived long enough to make that apparent, but most people attribute it to his own magical abilities. There were also other, less noticeable changes. All the Riders were stronger of body, keener of mind, and truer of sight than normal men. Along with this, a human Rider would slowly acquire pointed ears, though they were never as prominent as an elf’s.”

Eragon had to stop his hand from reaching up to feel the tips of his

ears.How else will this dragon change my life? Not only has it gotten inside my head, but it’s altering my body as well! “Were dragons very smart?”

“Didn’t you pay attention to what I told you earlier!” demanded Brom. “How could the elves form agreements and peace treaties with dumb brutes? They were as intelligent as you or I.”

“But they were animals,” persisted Eragon.

Brom snorted. “They were no more animals than we are. For some reason people praise everything the Riders did, yet ignore the dragons, assuming that they were nothing more than an exotic means to get from one town to another. They weren’t. The Riders’ great deeds were only possible because of the dragons. How many men would draw their swords if they knew a giant fire-breathing lizard—one with more natural cunning and wisdom than even a king could hope for—would soon be there to stop the violence? Hmm?” He blew another smoke ring and watched it waft away.

“Did you ever see one?”

“Nay,” said Brom, “it was long before my time.”

And now for a name.“I’ve been trying to recall the name of a certain dragon, but it keeps eluding me. I think I heard it when the traders were in Carvahall, but I’m not sure. Could you help me?”

Brom shrugged and quickly listed a stream of names. “There was Jura, Hírador, and Fundor—who fought the giant sea snake. Galzra, Briam, Ohen the Strong, Gretiem, Beroan, Roslarb . . .” He added many others. At the very end, he uttered so softly Eragon almost did not hear, “. . . and Saphira.” Brom quietly emptied his pipe. “Was it any of those?”

“I’m afraid not,” said Eragon. Brom had given him much to think about, and it was getting late. “Well, Roran’s probably finished with Horst. I should get back, though I’d rather not.”

Brom raised an eyebrow. “What, is that it? I expected to be answering your questions until he came looking for you. No queries about dragon battle tactics or requests for descriptions of breathtaking aerial combat? Are we done?”

“For now,” laughed Eragon. “I learned what I wanted to and more.” He stood and Brom followed.

“Very well, then.” He ushered Eragon to the door. “Goodbye. Take care.

And don’t forget, if you remember who that trader was, tell me.”

“I will. Thank you.” Eragon stepped into the glaring winter sunlight, squinting. He slowly paced away, pondering what he had heard.

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