Chapter no 10 – Muckmaw

Murtagh (The Inheritance Cycle, #5)

Murtagh’s cry was too late. Ahead of him, he saw the dim sparkle of Thorn’s shape rise above the hill where they’d landed, and he heard the dull thud of the dragon’s wings.

“Blast it,” he muttered between clenched teeth. He quickly read the lay of the land and then sprinted toward a flat patch of wheat stubble a few hundred feet away.

He arrived just as Thorn drifted down from above. The gust of wind from the dragon’s velvet wings staggered Murtagh, forced him to spread his feet and brace himself against the press of air.

“Did you have to?” he said.

An amused sparkle lit Thorn’s eyes. No, but I wanted to.

“Gah. Let’s get out of here before someone notices.” He scrambled up Thorn’s side, the dragon’s scales sharp against his palms.

He grabbed the neck spike in front of the saddle and held on tight—not bothering to strap down his legs—as Thorn took off.

The crescent moon was near the top of the sky as Thorn sailed over the southern edge of Isenstar Lake, looking for the marshy area the fisherman had mentioned. Murtagh considered casting the spell he normally used to hide Thorn from people on the ground but decided against it. No boats lay on the dark water below, and he wanted to save his strength.

He thought as they flew, and the more he thought, the more uneasy he felt.

What’s wrong? Thorn asked.

I’m worried that Durza might have done something unreasonably clever with Muckmaw.

How so?

Spells take energy, yes? And that energy has to come from somewhere. Durza couldn’t sustain the wards he set on the fish when he wasn’t here. So the energy has to come from Muckmaw.

Where is the problem in that?

Murtagh shrugged, feeling an itch between his shoulder blades. Maybe there isn’t one. Only, when Muckmaw was small, how could it have maintained wards strong enough to deflect spears and swords and the like?

For a moment, the only sound was the sweep of Thorn’s wings. Perhaps no one tried to kill the fish until it was bigger.


…Do you think Durza used the same spell to grow Muckmaw that Galbatorix used on me?

A sudden tiredness came over Murtagh. Remembering the past always left him feeling old and sad. There’s no way to know, but I wouldn’t be surprised.


They flew in silence until a patch of bright-tipped reeds appeared along the shore: the tops of the cattails catching the moon and starlight.

Thorn descended on silent wings and landed on a wide slab of slate that hung over the edge of the lake. Murtagh slid to the stone and looked across the silvered water. In other circumstances, he would have found the sight beautiful, but knowing that a creature such as Muckmaw lurked beneath the surface gave it a dread feeling—the water a great, dark unknown.

Murtagh shivered and rubbed his hands. His breath showed in a pale plume.

From the saddlebags, he fetched the bow Galbatorix had given him. Murtagh hooked the nocked end of one limb behind his right ankle and, with effort, bent the bow until he could slide the string’s loop over the tip of the other end.

He checked the alignment of the string and, satisfied, slung his quiver over his shoulder.

The bow was made of dark yew bound with magic. Most men, and perhaps even some Urgals, would have found it too strong to draw. The white-fletched arrows were appropriately heavy and crafted of solid oak, for any lighter, weaker material would have shattered when the string was released. And as with his lost dagger, Murtagh had set spells on the arrows: spells to make them easier to find should he miss his mark, spells to help them buck the wind, and spells to help them drive deep into their target, no matter what protection, arcane or otherwise, guarded it.

Also from the saddlebags, he dug out Glaedr’s golden scale—still in its protective wrapping of cloth—as well as a skein of cord. With deft fingers, he tied a foursquare knot, the strands of which he kept loose and open and laid out on the ground like an iron bear trap. Then he donned his gloves and removed the scale from the cloth.

Even by the marble light of the moon, the scale glowed with an inner flame, as if part of Glaedr’s fire yet flickered within its faceted depths.

Murtagh placed it in the center of the foursquare knot and pulled tight the strands until they locked the scale into place.

Satisfied that it was secure, he removed his gloves. “Right, let’s find this fish,” he muttered, and walked to the end of the slate. He spun the scale about his head and let the cord play out of his hand a fair extent. Then he loosed the scale out over the water. It landed with a splash that echoed along the shore and sent up a fountain of droplets before sinking from sight like a dying ember extinguished in the depths of the abyss.

“Maybe I should have tied a log as a float.”

I can get one, said Thorn, settling on his haunches. “Let’s wait a bit first. Here, hold this.”

Thorn obliged by lifting his left forefoot, and Murtagh looped the loose end of the cord around the dragon’s middle toe. Then Thorn made a fist of his foot and secured what remained of the skein.

“Give it a tug on occasion.” Murtagh fit an arrow to bowstring. All of the fishing he’d done during their travels had been with the aid of magic,

and never for anything larger than a trout, so he wondered about how best to attract the beast.

He stared into the inky mass of the lake and pushed out with his thoughts. This far from Gil’ead, he didn’t worry about being noticed by another spellcaster and so used the full force of his mind.

He closed his eyes to better concentrate on what he felt.

Behind his eyes, darkness reigned. But then he looked to the side, and Thorn appeared as a burning blaze of heat and life, a radiant star amid the void.

In the lake, he beheld many lesser stars, tiny spots of warmth that marked the location of a myriad of different creatures. Fish floating in safe crevices and by the base of swaying water weeds, resting the night away. Eels burrowed into the lakebed mud—their minds faint and indistinct, dominated by the baser instincts: cold, hunger, fatigue. Fainter still were the hundreds, if not thousands, of insects that swarmed the water, darting about, or else resting beneath rocks and sticks or cocooned in shells. And Murtagh felt sure that if his inner eye were sharper still, he would continue to see the life force of smaller and smaller creatures until he came to the smallest iota of matter.

But among the many animals he sensed, and even among the barely perceptible warmth of the water weeds and other lake-born plants, there was no creature big enough to be Muckmaw. Not even close.

He let out his breath in frustration and exchanged mental sight for physical. The tips of the low waves were like chips of metal across the lake.

“Nothing,” he said to Thorn. “There isn’t even a hint of something…. Pull in the scale. We’ll have to try another spot.” He turned back to the dragon, discouraged. “Blast it. This is going to take days, and we don’t have


Look! Thorn nudged him with his nose, pointing toward the lake. Murtagh spun about, lifting his bow.

Fifty-some feet from shore, the water swelled, thinning and smoothing as it went, like a wave passing over a capsized boat. A huge, bulbous mass pressed the water upward, and in the shadow beneath, Murtagh caught a hint of white-rimmed eyes as large as his fist rolling in their sockets.

Then the swell subsided, leaving only a trail of ripples behind.

“I swear, I didn’t feel anything,” said Murtagh, tracking the ripples. It’s huge! Cardus-chewer’s description had failed to adequately convey the true size of the fish. Muckmaw was bigger than a cave bear, bigger even than a three-month-old dragon (if one ignored the wings).

Murtagh marshaled his mental resources and then stabbed outward with his thoughts, aiming to locate and immobilize the gigantic animal, even as the elf had immobilized him at the barrow.

“I still don’t feel anything,” he whispered. “Thorn, can you—”

A faint growl escaped the dragon. It’s like claws on ice. I can’t catch hold.

Murtagh swore under his breath. “I’m going to have words with that werecat,” he said, scanning the now-seamless lake.

Durza must have hidden Muckmaw’s mind, said Thorn.

“A pretty trick too. I’m not even sure how I’d go about doing that….

Try drawing in the scale. Let’s see if that gets his attention.”

Thorn obliged with some difficulty. The toes on his forefoot were too large for nimble work, and yet he managed to twist and tangle the cord about his limb enough to shorten the line yard by yard.

A new ripple, proud and wide, appeared, moving crosswise to the prevailing current, heading toward where Murtagh guessed Glaedr’s scale was. There. It was a long shot, especially when firing into water, but Murtagh decided to chance it. In a single smooth motion, he pressed the bow away while pulling the string to the corner of his jaw and—without hesitation—released.

The arrow whirred as it flew, and he sent with it a killing word spoken with fatal intent.

Droplets shot up as the arrow hit the lake just ahead of the ripples. And then…

…the ripples smoothed and subsided, and from the spell he’d cast, Murtagh felt no drain of energy.

He’d missed.

He bit back a curse and nocked another arrow, fast as he could.

“Here, fishy, fishy,” he muttered, sweeping his gaze across the lake. He squinted. Was that movement to the right? The water was too dark to be sure.

“Brisingr,” he whispered, and released the energy in a carefully measured trickle, so as to create a dim orb of red fire in front of him. It hung over the water like a minor sun, just bright enough to allow him to clearly see the heaving hide of the lake.

He hoped the light might help tempt the fish closer.

Thorn continued to pull in the cord. Glaedr’s scale was nearly to them. Murtagh could make out a golden shimmer beneath the waves, rising toward the surface.

He opened his mouth to suggest that Thorn try jiggling the line.

A great mass raced upward from beneath the scale, and blackness yawned around Glaedr’s jeweled remnant, and hideously wide jaws clamped shut, disappearing it from view.

Thorn yanked on the cord. The line snapped with a wirelike twang.

Murtagh drew and loosed in a single motion, and with it, he cried the killing word.

A line of white bubbles traced the arrow’s downward path. It was a good shot. The shaft hit somewhere on Muckmaw’s yard-wide head. Murtagh saw, felt, and heard the impact.

The arrow glanced to the side and disappeared into the waves of Isenstar.

Again, Murtagh felt no decrease in strength from his spell.

Then Muckmaw’s bulk sank from sight, as a hulled derelict descending to its final resting place, and no hint of his pale-rimmed eyes remained. Nor of Glaedr’s scale.

Murtagh lowered his bow. Nocking another arrow would be pointless.

He cursed.

Beside him, Thorn shook the slack remnants of the cord off his forefoot.

The fish is formidable.

“If we lose him, I swear, I’ll drain the whole blasted—”

A V-shape of ripples formed off to the right, maybe seventy feet from shore. The ripples traced a curve about the tongue of slate he and Thorn

stood on.

Thorn shifted slightly, gaze intent on the disturbance. He has not fled. “No.”

He is playing with us.

“How intelligent can he be?” The ripples faded.

Thorn’s glittering eyes turned on him for a moment. Cunning enough to hunt a man.

Cold concern congealed at the back of Murtagh’s skull. Thorn was right. Most animals—most fish—would have fled after being attacked. But then, Muckmaw wasn’t like most fish. That was the entire problem.

Murtagh set his jaw, determined. No fish was going to best him, regardless of its enchantments. He slipped his bow into his quiver, along with the arrows. The time for physical weapons had passed.

“All wards have a limit,” he said. “Let’s find the limits of this one. I’ll need some of your strength, though.”

Thorn’s maw split to show his curved teeth. What’s mine is yours.

Murtagh matched his grin. Then he returned his focus to the water. The scarred fisherman had spoken the truth: killing Muckmaw was a task for an elf or a Rider. Few others would be equal to the challenge. And by disposing of the fish, they could do some good for the common folk of Gil’ead, while also furthering their own interests. It was a gratifying combination.

Crouching, Murtagh felt around until he found a piece of loose slate. He cocked his arm and tossed the slate a few yards out into the near waters. Far enough that Muckmaw might feel safe, but close enough that Murtagh would have a clear line of sight.

A string of pearlescent bubbles appeared, rising toward the surface. He tensed, keeping firm the connection between his mind and Thorn’s.

Another swell of water formed, not thirty feet away.

Murtagh focused on an area just beneath the surface, pointed, and spoke the Word, the Name of Names.

Along with the Word, he added a phrase intended to strip away the magics bound to Muckmaw, to break and end the enchantments Durza had

placed on the fish more than half a century ago. Although the Word granted him complete control over the ancient language, he still found it helpful— and often necessary—to explicitly state the desired outcome.

He released the spell and, as with most uses of the Word, felt only the slightest decrease of energy. But it was enough to know the spell had taken effect. Altering existing magic by reason of the Name of Names required little in the way of brute strength. It was a subtle art more akin to adjusting the weave of a tapestry than shattering a piece of pottery.

“Got you,” he muttered. Then: “Kverst!”

The word parted the swell of water as neatly as cloth cut by a razor. Underneath, Murtagh glimpsed a ridge of bladed spines and, spread to either side, a broad, humped back covered with a layer of blue-black scales glistening in the silvery light. But the spell did nothing more, and Muckmaw again dove from view.

“What?!” Murtagh’s astonishment shaded into outrage. He drove a spear of thought toward the fish…only to strike emptiness and absence. “How?” The spell had worked. He’d felt it! And yet somehow Muckmaw remained unharmed.

Again he spoke the Word, and again he sought to break the magic bound to Muckmaw, and again it felt as if he’d succeeded. But when he sent another killing spell into the water, it passed ineffectively around the overgrown sturgeon.

He tried twice more—growing increasingly frustrated—and met with the same results.

How was it done? Thorn asked. Wordless magic?

Murtagh shook his head. “It can’t be. The spell did what it was supposed to. I’m sure of it. It’s just…” Counting Sarros, this made two times now that the Name of Names had failed him. It was not, he was coming to realize, the all-powerful weapon he had originally thought. That, and he had far less of an understanding of magic than he’d hoped.

He squatted on his hams and chewed on the inside of his cheek while he studied the lake. Then he laughed, quick and soft. “You clever bastard.” He looked at Thorn. “I don’t know if this is the answer, but one way it could be

done would be to word a spell so that if anything changes or removes it, the spell replaces itself. If this, then that.” Not so dissimilar from the spells he’d experimented with during their trip to Gil’ead.

Can you use the Name of Names to stop the spell from returning? “Maybe. Probably. But I’d have to think on it.”

Then think on it.

An itch formed on his right palm. He scratched. “I don’t know. It might be faster to just—” His scalp prickled, and his nostrils flared as fear jolted through him. My hand! He spun toward Thorn, saying, “We have to go. Get us into the—”

A splash sounded to his right and—

—he turned to see a huge, glistening mass hurtling toward him from the water. He barely had time to register a sense of disbelief before the giant fish slammed into him and he, and it, fell into the lake.

You'll Also Like