Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle, #1)

Breakfast was cold, but the tea was hot. Ice inside the windows had melted with the morning fire and soaked into the wood floor, staining it with dark puddles. Eragon looked at Garrow and Roran by the kitchen stove and reflected that this would be the last time he saw them together for many months.

Roran sat in a chair, lacing his boots. His full pack rested on the floor next to him. Garrow stood between them with his hands stuck deep into his pockets. His shirt hung loosely; his skin looked drawn. Despite the young men’s cajoling, he refused to go with them. When pressed for a reason, he only said that it was for the best.

“Do you have everything?” Garrow asked Roran. “Yes.”

He nodded and took a small pouch from his pocket. Coins clinked as he handed it to Roran. “I’ve been saving this for you. It isn’t much, but if you wish to buy some bauble or trinket, it will suffice.”

“Thank you, but I won’t be spending my money on trifles,” said Roran. “Do what you will; it is yours,” said Garrow. “I’ve nothing else to give

you, except a father’s blessing. Take it if you wish, but it is worth little.” Roran’s voice was thick with emotion. “I would be honored to receive


“Then do, and go in peace,” said Garrow, and kissed him on the

forehead. He turned and said in a louder voice, “Do not think that I have forgotten you, Eragon. I have words for both of you. It’s time I said them, as you are entering the world. Heed them and they will serve you well.” He bent his gaze sternly on them. “First, let no one rule your mind or body. Take special care that your thoughts remain unfettered. One may be a free man and yet be bound tighter than a slave. Give men your ear, but not your heart. Show respect for those in power, but don’t follow them blindly. Judge with logic and reason, but comment not.

“Consider none your superior, whatever their rank or station in life. Treat all fairly or they will seek revenge. Be careful with your money. Hold fast to your beliefs and others will listen.” He continued at a slower pace, “Of the affairs of love . . . my only advice is to be honest. That’s your most powerful tool to unlock a heart or gain forgiveness. That is all I have to say.” He seemed slightly self-conscious of his speech.

He hoisted Roran’s pack. “Now you must go. Dawn is approaching, and

Dempton will be waiting.”

Roran shouldered the pack and hugged Garrow. “I will return as soon as I can,” he said.

“Good!” replied Garrow. “But now go and don’t worry about us.”

They parted reluctantly. Eragon and Roran went outside, then turned and waved. Garrow raised a bony hand, his eyes grave, and watched as they trudged to the road. After a long moment he shut the door. As the sound carried through the morning air, Roran halted.

Eragon looked back and surveyed the land. His eyes lingered on the lone buildings. They looked pitifully small and fragile. A thin finger of smoke trailing up from the house was the only proof that the snowbound farm was inhabited.

“There is our whole world,” Roran observed somberly.

Eragon shivered impatiently and grumbled, “A good one too.” Roran nodded, then straightened his shoulders and headed into his new future. The house disappeared from view as they descended the hill.

It was still early when they reached Carvahall, but they found the smithy doors already open. The air inside was pleasantly warm. Baldor slowly worked two large bellows attached to the side of a stone forge filled with sparkling coals. Before the forge stood a black anvil and an iron-bound barrel filled with brine. From a line of neck-high poles protruding from the walls hung rows of items: giant tongs, pliers, hammers in every shape and weight, chisels, angles, center punches, files, rasps, lathes, bars of iron and steel waiting to be shaped, vises, shears, picks, and shovels. Horst and Dempton stood next to a long table.

Dempton approached with a smile beneath his flamboyant red mustache. “Roran! I’m glad you came. There’s going to be more work than I can handle with my new grindstones. Are you ready to go?”

Roran hefted his pack. “Yes. Do we leave soon?”

“I’ve a few things to take care of first, but we’ll be off within the hour.” Eragon shifted his feet as Dempton turned to him, tugging at the corner of his mustache. “You must be Eragon. I would offer you a job too, but Roran got the only one. Maybe in a year or two, eh?”

Eragon smiled uneasily and shook his hand. The man was friendly. Under other circumstances Eragon would have liked him, but right then, he sourly wished that the miller had never come to Carvahall. Dempton huffed. “Good, very good.” He returned his attention to Roran and started to explain how a mill worked.

“They’re ready to go,” interrupted Horst, gesturing at the table where several bundles rested. “You can take them whenever you want to.” They

shook hands, then Horst left the smithy, beckoning to Eragon on the way out.

Interested, Eragon followed. He found the smith standing in the street with his arms crossed. Eragon thrust his thumb back toward the miller and asked, “What do you think of him?”

Horst rumbled, “A good man. He’ll do fine with Roran.” He absently brushed metal filings off his apron, then put a massive hand on Eragon’s shoulder. “Lad, do you remember the fight you had with Sloan?”

“If you’re asking about payment for the meat, I haven’t forgotten.”

“No, I trust you, lad. What I wanted to know is if you still have that blue stone.”

Eragon’s heart fluttered.Why does he want to know? Maybe someone saw Saphira! Struggling not to panic, he said, “I do, but why do you ask?”

“As soon as you return home, get rid of it.” Horst overrode Eragon’s exclamation. “Two men arrived here yesterday. Strange fellows dressed in black and carrying swords. It made my skin crawl just to look at them. Last evening they started asking people if a stone like yours had been found. They’re at it again today.” Eragon blanched. “No one with any sense said anything. They know trouble when they see it, but I could name a few people who will talk.”

Dread filled Eragon’s heart. Whoever had sent the stone into the Spine had finally tracked it down. Or perhaps the Empire had learned of Saphira. He did not know which would be worse.Think! Think! The egg is gone. It’s impossible for them to find it now. But if they know what it was, it’ll be obvious what happened. . . . Saphira might be in danger! It took all of his self-control to retain a casual air. “Thanks for telling me. Do you know where they are?” He was proud that his voice barely trembled.

“I didn’t warn you because I thought you needed to meet those men!

Leave Carvahall. Go home.”

“All right,” said Eragon to placate the smith, “if you think I should.”

“I do.” Horst’s face softened. “I may be overreacting, but these strangers give me a bad feeling. It would be better if you stay home until they leave. I’ll try to keep them away from your farm, though it may not do any good.”

Eragon looked at him gratefully. He wished he could tell him about Saphira. “I’ll leave now,” he said, and hurried back to Roran. Eragon clasped his cousin’s arm and bade him farewell.

“Aren’t you going to stay awhile?” Roran asked with surprise.

Eragon almost laughed. For some reason, the question struck him as funny. “There’s nothing for me to do, and I’m not going to stand around until you go.”

“Well,” said Roran doubtfully, “I guess this is the last time we’ll see each

other for a few months.”

“I’m sure it won’t seem that long,” said Eragon hastily. “Take care and come back soon.” He hugged Roran, then left. Horst was still in the street. Aware that the smith was watching, Eragon headed to the outskirts of Carvahall. Once the smithy was out of sight, he ducked behind a house and sneaked back through the village.

Eragon kept to the shadows as he searched each street, listening for the slightest noise. His thoughts flashed to his room, where his bow hung; he wished that it was in his hand. He prowled across Carvahall, avoiding everyone until he heard a sibilant voice from around a house. Although his ears were keen, he had to strain to hear what was being said.

“When did this happen?” The words were smooth, like oiled glass, and seemed to worm their way through the air. Underlying the speech was a strange hiss that made his scalp prickle.

“About three months ago,” someone else answered. Eragon identified him as Sloan.

Shade’s blood, he’s telling them. . . .He resolved to punch Sloan the next time they met.

A third person spoke. The voice was deep and moist. It conjured up images of creeping decay, mold, and other things best left untouched. “Are you sure? We would hate to think you had made a mistake. If that were so, it would be most . . . unpleasant.” Eragon could imagine only too well what they might do. Would anyone but the Empire dare threaten people like that? Probably not, but whoever sent the egg might be powerful enough to use force with impunity.

“Yeah, I’m sure. He had it then. I’m not lying. Plenty of people know about it. Go ask them.” Sloan sounded shaken. He said something else that Eragon did not catch.

“They have been . . . rather uncooperative.” The words were derisive. There was a pause. “Your information has been helpful. We will not forget you.” Eragon believed him.

Sloan muttered something, then Eragon heard someone hurrying away. He peered around the corner to see what was happening. Two tall men stood in the street. Both were dressed in long black cloaks that were lifted by sheaths poking past their legs. On their shirts were insignias intricately wrought with silver thread. Hoods shaded their faces, and their hands were covered by gloves. Their backs were oddly humped, as though their clothes were stuffed with padding.

Eragon shifted slightly to get a better view. One of the strangers stiffened and grunted peculiarly to his companion. They both swiveled around and sank

into crouches. Eragon’s breath caught. Mortal fear clenched him. His eyes locked onto their hidden faces, and a stifling power fell over his mind, keeping him in place. He struggled against it and screamed to himself,Move! His legs swayed, but to no avail. The strangers stalked toward him with a smooth, noiseless gait. He knew they could see his face now. They were almost to the corner, hands grasping at swords. . . .

“Eragon!” He jerked as his name was called. The strangers froze in place and hissed. Brom hurried toward him from the side, head bare and staff in hand. The strangers were blocked from the old man’s view. Eragon tried to warn him, but his tongue and arms would not stir. “Eragon!” cried Brom again. The strangers gave Eragon one last look, then slipped away between the houses.

Eragon collapsed to the ground, shivering. Sweat beaded on his forehead and made his palms sticky. The old man offered Eragon a hand and pulled him up with a strong arm. “You look sick; is all well?”

Eragon gulped and nodded mutely. His eyes flickered around, searching for anything unusual. “I just got dizzy all of a sudden . . . it’s passed. It was very odd—I don’t know why it happened.”

“You’ll recover,” said Brom, “but perhaps it would be better if you went home.”

Yes, I have to get home! Have to get there before they do.“I think you’re right. Maybe I’m getting ill.”

“Then home is the best place for you. It’s a long walk, but I’m sure you will feel better by the time you arrive. Let me escort you to the road.” Eragon did not protest as Brom took his arm and led him away at a quick pace. Brom’s staff crunched in the snow as they passed the houses.

“Why were you looking for me?”

Brom shrugged. “Simple curiosity. I learned you were in town and wondered if you had remembered the name of that trader.”

Trader? What’s he talking about?Eragon stared blankly; his confusion caught the attention of Brom’s probing eyes. “No,” he said, and then amended himself, “I’m afraid I still don’t remember.”

Brom sighed gruffly, as if something had been confirmed, and rubbed his eagle nose. “Well, then . . . if you do, come tell me. I am most interested in this trader who pretends to know so much about dragons.” Eragon nodded with a distracted air. They walked in silence to the road, then Brom said, “Hasten home. I don’t think it would be a good idea to tarry on the way.” He offered a gnarled hand.

Eragon shook it, but as he let go something in Brom’s hand caught on his mitt and pulled it off. It fell to the ground. The old man picked it up. “Clumsy

of me,” he apologized, and handed it back. As Eragon took the mitt, Brom’s strong fingers wrapped around his wrist and twisted sharply. His palm briefly faced upward, revealing the silvery mark. Brom’s eyes glinted, but he let Eragon yank his hand back and jam it into the mitt.

“Goodbye,” Eragon forced out, perturbed, and hurried down the road.

Behind him he heard Brom whistling a merry tune.

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