Chapter no 12 – In Defense of Lies

Murtagh (The Inheritance Cycle, #5)

I wanted to eat the fish, Thorn complained as they circled over Gil’ead.

I know, but there would have been no easy way to keep those men from wagging their jaws about you all across Gil’ead.

Who would believe them?

Murtagh chuckled, despite himself. Fair point. Still, do you really want to eat a fish that Durza meddled with?

Thorn huffed. No magic can survive the belly of a dragonMaybe you’re right, but better not to test it.

Should you warn those men?

If they’re so foolish as to eat Muckmaw, and they start growing antlers on their heads or somesuch, they have only themselves to blame. None of which seemed very likely to Murtagh.

Mmh. Well, I will need to hunt soon. My hunger growsAfter we leave Gil’ead, you can eat all the deer you want.

They landed several miles from the city, by the edge of a small stream. There, Murtagh scrubbed the dirt and slime from his hands and face. Every inch of his body felt disgustingly filthy.

Unhappy with the result, he stripped and washed again, this time sparing no skin.

He stood on the bank of the stream, bare as the day he was born, and looked to Gil’ead. Whipcords of smoke rose from the lights and lanterns and chimneys within the city, and they spread as they rose until they merged into

a diffuse lens of ashen haze that hung over the assembled buildings. The lights below painted the bottom of the haze a sullen orange, as if the sky itself were a banked fire smoldering through the night.

Murtagh wanted to return with Muckmaw’s head then and there, but he knew if he went banging on the doors of Captain Wren’s garrison in the middle of the night, they were as like to throw him out as let him in. It was a risk he didn’t want to take when losing might mean Silna’s life.

“I hate to wait,” he said. “Maybe I could—”

No. Thorn slapped the ground with his tail, and somewhere a sleepy crow uttered an outraged squawk. Murtagh blinked, surprised, and turned to look Thorn in the face. You sleep. You need sleep. Sleep now.

“What if they move Silna, though? We might never—”

The day’s hunting is done. If you go, you’ll step wrong, get hurtmore hurt.

Rest will help you hunt better.

Murtagh sighed and let his head fall back. “I know. I just hate to waste any time.”

His head vibrated as Thorn hummed. It is not waste if it helps.

A wry smile formed on Murtagh’s face. “You’re wiser than you look, for a big lizard.”

Thorn nudged him with his snout. And you’re as stubborn as you look. “You’re right. But not tonight. Tonight I’ll bend my knee to your

learned advice.” Thorn snorted.

The night cold returned Murtagh’s attention to the task at hand. He submerged his clothes in the creek and left them soaking there, weighted down with stones. Then he wrapped himself in his blanket and sat huddled against Thorn’s warm belly while he ate one of his few remaining dried apples. His teeth chattered between bites.

When he finished, he and Thorn went to speak their true names, as was their nightly ritual. Thorn named himself first and without difficulty, but when Murtagh tried to do likewise, he found himself unable. Something felt amiss with his name as it had been, and thus he could not speak it, for to speak it would have been a falsehood in the ancient language.

Thorn waited patiently. It was not the first time this had happened. On occasion, one or the other of them—or both—had changed, and that change was reflected in their names. Were it a small difference, new understanding was often quick to come. But when a fundamental part of their selves shifted—as it had in Urû’baen, when they broke free of Galbatorix—then understanding could be elusive and hard-fought.

Tired as he was, Murtagh had little stomach for introspection. All the same, he persisted. It was important to the two of them that they maintained a full sense of their selves.

So he thought. He had a suspicion as to the cause of his difficulty, and when he noticed he was reluctant to pursue a certain line of inquiry, he knew then he was on the right path. The change had to do with Glaedr’s death, and the battle for Gil’ead, and all the lives that had been lost therein. For them, he felt a greater sense of remorse, and for himself, a greater sense of grief and shame. The realization left him diminished and far less certain about his past choices. Even though he and Thorn hadn’t been in control of their own actions at the time—even though they’d been Galbatorix’s oath-bound thralls—Murtagh realized he still felt responsible for what they’d done. At a certain point, the reasons didn’t matter. The deeds remained, and the consequences thereof, and their reality was a pain greater than any wound.

The emotions were enough to alter the fabric of his character, if however slightly, and as a result, his true name. He gave voice to his newfound knowledge, and the sound of it was even more stark and discomfiting than before.

Yet as always, Thorn listened and accepted without judgment, and for that, Murtagh was deeply grateful. Then he lay beside Thorn, and they rested close together as the cold of the night pressed in about them.



Fleshless fingers reached toward him through flickering water. They closed around his ankles with an icy touch. He struggled to break free, but his strength had deserted him

and the bones that bound him were as hard as iron.

He couldn’t breathe…couldn’t escape….

The skeletons of the fallen soldiers rose from the torn lakebed, an army of accusers, pointing at him, reaching for him, desperate to take his warmth, his breath, his life— to tear him apart and seize what they had lost and he still possessed.

Murtagh woke with a start, heart pounding. It was pitch-black beneath Thorn’s wing. His skin was coated with sweat, and he felt both chilled and hot, and the back of his throat was raw and swollen. No, not now, he thought. Of all the times to get sick…And, of course, it happened as soon as he’d entered cities and spent time around other people.

Thorn was watching him through a slitted eye. If we stayed away from others, you would not have to worry about such things.

“I had the same thought,” said Murtagh. “But what kind of life would that be?”

A peaceful one.

“Mmh.” He lay still for a moment and tried to decide whether it was worth closing his eyes again. It felt as if he had only gotten three or four hours of sleep. Maybe less.

He sat up and rubbed his face, conscious of every bump and bruise he’d taken the day before.

The sun will not show for some time, said Thorn.

“I know.” Murtagh crawled out from under the dragon’s wing and looked to the east. The faintest hint of grey lightened the horizon, the first presage of far-off dawn.

He did some figuring on how long it would take to get Muckmaw’s head to Gil’ead.

Holding the blanket tight around himself, he climbed over Thorn’s spiked tail and—walking gingerly on bare feet—went to the creek. It ran along a gravel bed, between drooping willows and clumps of wild rosebushes, and the sound of the gently flowing water was a soothing murmur.

Despite the early hour, the trees and grass and brush were already wet with freezing dew. His breath fogged the air in front of him, and in the

crispness, he could feel winter’s impending arrival.

Murtagh rucked the blanket around his thighs and stepped into the creek. The water was like liquid ice. He grimaced as he reached down and pulled his clothes from under the rocks holding them in place.

As he returned to the bank, an aggressive chittering sounded on the other side of the creek. There, among the willows, was a large river otter with a thick brown pelt, waving its paws at him and baring its teeth. The otter chittered again and squeaked—as if offended by Murtagh’s presence— and then slid into the water and swam away downstream.

Murtagh shook his head and hobbled on numb feet back to Thorn. “Adurna thrysta,” he murmured, and water wept from the woolen shirt

and trousers, splattering the blades of grass below. He dressed in the now-dry clothes and repeated the process with his boots, which were still damp from his unexpected swim the day before.

As he forced his feet into the boots, he realized the leather had shrunk slightly, and he berated himself for not attending to them earlier. It wasn’t good to let things like that slip. If you didn’t take care of the little tasks, how could you be trusted to take care of the important responsibilities in life?

He rubbed some bear grease into the outsides of the boots, and then went to the saddlebags and dug out a dried apple and the last two strips of the jerky he’d bought before traveling to Ceunon. A warm breakfast would have been nice, but he didn’t want to lose the time, and in any case, a pair of farmhouses and associated outbuildings were dimly visible to the north. A fire would risk attracting too much attention, even at such a desolate hour.

Murtagh didn’t mind cooking, but he never liked how long it took. He thought of all the meals he’d had growing up, when servants would bring him whatever he wanted, or when he could visit the kitchens and snare a cooked pheasant or aged beef roast and a pitcher of cool milk to wash it down.

The jerky was tediously hard. He chewed like a cow on cud and stared at the ground. With every bite, he felt worse and worse. Just swallowing hurt his throat.

You should stay, said Thorn. You’ll make yourself sicker if you go.

He coughed. “I know, but I can’t give up on Silna. Not now. We’ve already wasted too much time. She might not even be in Gil’ead anymore.”

What if she isn’t?

“We’ll have to track her down. Even if I have to rip the information out of someone’s mind. Besides, if we don’t help Carabel, I have no idea how we’ll find Bachel.” He made a face as he swallowed and the flatbread scraped his raw throat.

Why don’t you use magic to heal yourself?

“Because there’s nothing to heal,” Murtagh said peevishly. “Nothing’s broken. Nothing’s bleeding. What do I fix? The bad humors in my blood?”

Why don’t you try?

“Because…because if I cast a spell without knowing what it’s supposed to do, it could consume all of my strength and kill me. You know that.”

But you know what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to heal your fever. You’re trying to make your throat feel better. That.

“I…” Murtagh stared helplessly at Thorn. “Haven’t you ever heard that there’s no cure for the common cold?”

No. A wolfish grin split Thorn’s jaws. You are a magician and a Rider. You speak the Name of Names and bend spells to your will. What can you not do?

“Your confidence is inspiring,” Murtagh said dryly. Still, Thorn had a point. “All right. I’ll try. Intent does matter when it comes to casting spells. Maybe that’ll do the trick.”

Gathering his strength, Murtagh focused on himself, on his body and his growing discomfort. And he said, “Waíse heill.”

A gentle warmth passed through his body, and he felt a sense of lightness, as if he’d pulled off a corselet of mail after a hard day’s march. His throat grew itchy, and then the itch subsided along with the warmth, leaving him feeling cool but not chilled.

His throat was, if not entirely normal, far better than before, and his fever seemed to have vanished, along with quite a few bruises and not a little of his soreness.

Murtagh rolled his shoulders, surprised. “I don’t know if it entirely worked, but…I do feel better.”

See? said Thorn.

“Yes, you were right.” With renewed vigor, Murtagh set to gnawing on the last piece of tough flatbread. He swallowed with some effort. “I really want a proper loaf of bread.”

Thorn sniffed. Meat is better. Why chew on burnt plants? “It tastes good, that’s why. You should try it again.” No. It only tastes good because you put fat and salt on it.

“You have a point. All right, fat and salt taste good. Happy?”

Thorn’s eyes glittered. Bring me a mountain of bacon, and I will be happy.

“If I were king, I would,” Murtagh muttered. Their saddlebags were looking sadly depleted, and he’d spent almost all of their coin. With an unpleasant twinge, he remembered the purse he’d taken off bird-chest. He pulled it out of the pouch on his belt and cataloged the contents.

It wasn’t very much. Which he’d expected. If the man had been well off, he wouldn’t have attempted robbery. Still, the purse contained a handful of coppers and a single silver coin, which would be plenty to replenish their supplies.

After. Silna came first. Besides, what kind of a Rider would he be if he abandoned her?

He pocketed the coins and, as he did, noted the—again—empty sheath on his belt. With some regret, he imagined his pilfered dagger lying in the mud at the bottom of the lake. “Blast it. I don’t like going anywhere unarmed.”

He went to where Muckmaw’s head lay on the ground, wrapped in the muddy remains of his cloak. The thick, fishy stench nearly made him gag.

Murtagh grimaced as he gathered up the hem of his cloak. “And I just got clean.”

He grabbed the corners of the cloak and started to pull. After a few steps, he stopped and swore. The head was too big and heavy. If he dragged it all the way back to Gil’ead, he’d be completely exhausted by the time he arrived….

“Reisa,” he murmured.

Without a sound, Muckmaw’s head lifted off the ground, so that it hung floating a finger’s breadth above the matted grass. Murtagh waited a moment to see how much effort the spell cost him. It felt equivalent to shouldering an overladen pack: noticeable, but not so much that he couldn’t sustain it for a fair amount of time.

He grunted. “Good enough.”

Thorn crouched low, with a certain tightening around his eyes that Murtagh had learned was an expression of concern. How will you open the door that is closed?

“Carefully, I think. After our little escapade with Muckmaw, I have an unpleasant suspicion there’s more to it than Carabel said. Of everything she asked, I’m afraid this one might be the trickiest.”

Even more so than Muckmaw?

Murtagh shook his head. “Muckmaw was difficult, not tricky. This, though…I have to deal with other people, and people are hard to predict.”

Thorn hissed. I don’t like being left behind. I want to help.

“What would you have me do? There’s no changing this, not unless you want to face every soldier in the city—”

A small tongue of red flame jetted from Thorn’s narrowly opened maw. I would.

Murtagh gave him a hug about the neck. “Be careful. I’ll be as fast as I can. If all goes well, we should be able to slip away without being noticed.”

Good. And then we can fly again and not worry about these people and their prying eyes.

“And then we can fly again.”



The waterskin sloshed against Murtagh’s side as he ran. He’d learned his lesson from the previous day; he wasn’t going to be caught without water a second time.

On his back he carried his bedroll and, wrapped in the blanket, a few basic items, such as his tinderbox, pan, some food, and the other kit a

traveling soldier might be expected to have.

All part of his plan.

Behind him, Muckmaw’s bundled head floated across the countryside, smooth as silk sliding over skin. A slight film of sweat coated Murtagh’s brow. Keeping the head suspended was taking its toll, but far less than if he’d attempted to drag it through the brush by strength of limb.

The eastern sky brightened as he ran. Grey turned into pinks and yellows, and the blue shadows that lay across the land began to thin. The sun would just be rising when he arrived at Captain Wren’s barracks, which was as he wanted.

The streets of Gil’ead were still mostly empty when he reached the city outskirts, though the smell of baking bread wafted from the buildings, warm and enticing.

His stomach growled.

With a thought, Murtagh ended the spell holding up Muckmaw’s head. The head fell to the ground with a wet splosh. He staggered at the sudden pull of weight and regripped the corner of the bundled cloak.

Leaning forward, Murtagh started to drag.

As before, he avoided the main roads, making his way between fields and outbuildings until he was able to slip into the city proper without being seen.

A mongrel dog with reddish fur matted with mud came skulking after him, sniffing the trail of slime Muckmaw’s head had left. “Go on,” said Murtagh in a low voice. “Shoo. Be gone.”

The cur’s lip quivered, and his ears flattened.

Unwilling to risk the dog barking, Murtagh said, “Eitha!”

The mongrel uttered a small yelp-whine and ran off with his tail tucked between bony legs.

Murtagh shook his head.

From the cramped back garden of one house, he appropriated a small cart. He plopped Muckmaw’s head into it, made sure the lump of fish meat was well covered by his ruined cloak, and then trundled off toward the fortress.

Long shadows speared westward from each building as the sun broke free of the horizon. Within seconds, the air started to warm, and a flock of sparrows darted across the flushed sky, chasing insects rising off the lakefront. Murtagh’s watchfulness sharpened as he neared the fortress; an unusual number of soldiers were moving through the city, and several elves stood by

the front gate of the stronghold.

His misadventure at Oromis and Glaedr’s barrow seemed to have put the entire garrison on high alert.

Murtagh spotted a manservant holding the reins of a white mare by the front garden of a large house. He swung across the street and said, “ ’Scuse me, master. Could y’ tell me where I might find th’ barracks of th’ city guard?”

The manservant eyed Murtagh and the cart with undisguised disdain. His hair was pulled into a short ponytail, and his shirt was made of fine bleached linen, and he stood with the poised grace of a dancing instructor. He sniffed. “Up that street, on the right. Although I’ll be much surprised if they’ll speak to the likes of you.”

Murtagh bobbed his head. “Thank’ee, master.”

He continued on, feeling the servant’s eyes boring into his back until he turned the corner.

The barracks were a series of stone-sided buildings set against the fortress’s outer wall and protected with a much shorter wall around their perimeter. The entrance was a narrow gatehouse with a black oak door studded with iron nails. Two pikemen stood watch at the open door.

Through it, Murtagh could see men walking about a paved courtyard, sparring, drilling, and loosing arrows at straw targets. They were each garbed in the watch’s standard uniform: a red tabard over a padded gambeson stitched with the Varden’s emblem.

Murtagh lifted his chin and let his stride acquire some of the regulated crispness of a marching man. Here goes, he thought.

The pikemen crossed their weapons as he pushed the cart to the gatehouse. He noted that their tabards were neat and in good repair, which spoke well of Captain Wren’s command.

The two men looked more bored than concerned or aggravated by his presence. A good sign for things to come, he hoped.

“ ’Ey now,” the man on the right started to say, and Murtagh whipped the cloak off Muckmaw’s head.

The men’s eyes widened. The guard on the right whistled. He appeared a few years older than his counterpart. “Well, blow me sideways. Is that there what I think?”

Murtagh let go of the cart and stood straight. “It is. Muckmaw himself.”

The guards gave each other a glance. The older man pushed back his helm and leaned over the cart for a better view. “Son of an Urgal. It’s ’im, all right…. An’ I suppose you’re the one as caught ’im, is that it?”

“Yessir. And I’d like to join up. Sir.”

The pikemen looked at each other again, this time more seriously. The older one rubbed his chin and said, “Don’t sir me. I’m as common as dirt. Thing is, I’m ’fraid Captain Wren isn’t looking for no green recruit. Standing orders. You’ll be wanting a different company. They’re always eager for—”

The younger man tugged on his companion’s arm. “It’s Muckmaw, though, Sev. Muckmaw!

The elder pikeman gnawed on his lip, his expression doubtful. “I don’t know, now. The captain’s orders were plain as day. If—”

Murtagh drew himself up and snapped his heels together. “I’m not green. And I’d like to serve Captain Wren.”

The man frowned, but then, to Murtagh’s relief, he turned to the yard and raised a hand. “Oi! Gert! Over here!”

One of the guardsmen broke away from sparring and headed toward them. Gert was heavy-shouldered, broad-handed, with the sort of determined stride that Murtagh had seen in dozens of veteran weaponmasters. He wore thick, short-cropped sideburns shot through with white, and his brow seemed permanently furrowed with exasperation at the stupidity of his troops.

As Gert reached the gatehouse, the pikeman said, “Look there. He caught Muckmaw!”

Gert’s tangled eyebrows rose as he surveyed the slimy, gape-mouthed head. “Muckmaw, eh?” He spat on the paving stones. “About time someone put an end to him. That creature’s been a blight on the lake fer an unnaturally long time.”

“An’ our friend here wants to join up,” the older pikeman said. “Says he has experience.”

Gert’s scowl returned as he looked Murtagh over. “That so. You’ve carried arms before?”

“I have.” “Used them?” “Yessir.”

Another grunt, and Gert smoothed his sideburns with one thick hand. “It’s against company policy, but any man that can kill the likes of Muckmaw is the sort of man the cap’n wants in his ranks. But afore I go bothering the cap’n ’bout you, you’ll have to prove yourself to me, Gert. The cap’n’s a busy man, you see. He has no time for nonsense.”

Murtagh nodded. “Of course. I understand.”

“Mmh. All right. Bring that stinking mess of a fish in here, and we’ll see what you’re made of.” The weaponmaster strode back into the yard, and after a moment’s hesitation, Murtagh picked up the handles of the cart and followed.

“Leave him there,” said Gert, pointing to a spot just inside the gatehouse. The other guards stopped what they were doing and watched as Murtagh deposited the cart where indicated. Gert led him to one of the sparring rings made of packed dirt and retrieved two spears with padded heads from a rack

set against the inner wall of the yard.

He tossed a spear to Murtagh.

Murtagh caught it one-handed and slipped off his bedroll. He hadn’t trained much with spears—they were the main weapon of the common footman—but he knew the basics. He hoped that would be enough.

“Right,” growled Gert, taking a ready stance opposite him, spear extended. “First position. Show me what you know.”

Murtagh obeyed. As Gert barked out orders, he mirrored the other man. Lunge, stab, block, thrust, deflect. Advance, retreat. With every motion, he felt the bruises Muckmaw had given him. Then Gert closed the distance between them, and they battled spear against spear for a few blows. Murtagh was fast enough that he thought he didn’t totally embarrass himself, even though Gert knocked him once on the outside of his left knee.

Afterward, Gert grunted. “Not half bad. Not half good either.” He held out a hand, and Murtagh gave him the practice spear.

“I’m better with a blade,” said Murtagh.

Gert raised his tangled eyebrows. “Uh-huh.” He returned the spears to the rack and then picked up a pair of wooden wasters made in the style of arming swords.

The other guards started hooting and shouting:

“Get ’im, Gert!” “Show ’im what for!”

“Put a good mark on him.”

“Give him stripes! Beat him black-an’-blue!” Gert handed one waster to Murtagh.

The wooden sword was lighter than Zar’roc, and shorter too, and the balance wasn’t quite the same as a real sword, but the shape was familiar, and after hefting it a few times, Murtagh felt confident he could use it to good effect.

“No head strikes,” warned Gert, raising his waster.

“No head strikes,” Murtagh agreed. Neither of them was wearing a helmet. He spun the sword about in a quick flourish.

Gert gave him no warning. The man attacked with a speed that belied his bulk, beating Murtagh’s waster and stabbing at his liver.

If the stab had landed, Murtagh knew he would have been curled up on the ground, unable to move. But it didn’t land. He parried the stab and took advantage of the resulting opening to poke Gert in the right armpit.

The man fell back a step, his expression surprised. He recovered quickly, but before he could launch a second attack, Murtagh feinted toward Gert’s left hip.

Gert moved to block, and Murtagh whipped his waster around— changing directions in midair—and rapped Gert against his upper arm, near the elbow.

A series of cries went up from the onlookers.

Gert grimaced and shook his arm, and Murtagh allowed himself a quick grin. The blow hadn’t looked like much, but he knew it hurt badly.

Then Gert feinted as well and attempted a short slash across Murtagh’s ribs, although it was an obvious attempt to lure Murtagh into a disadvantaged position. The man was skilled, but nowhere near the level Murtagh was accustomed to.

He allowed the slash to fall past without blocking or parrying, and when Gert drew back in an attempt to regain position, he struck the flat of Gert’s waster. Hard. Harder than most men should have been able to hit.

The man’s blade flew wide, and Murtagh brought his wooden sword up, faster than the eye could see, so that the dull edge touched the side of Gert’s neck.

They stood like that, Gert breathing hard, Murtagh’s chest barely moving. Did I dare too much? Yet he also felt a fierce satisfaction at a move well executed, at a duel well fought and won.

He lowered his waster, and the guards watching started shouting and hollering.

“I had a good teacher,” said Murtagh. He held out the waster, hilt first.

Gert shook his head with a wry expression. “That you did, boy.” He took the waster and returned the wooden swords to the rack. Then he looked round at the onlookers and bellowed, “What are ye lollygagging ne’er-do-wells doing? When you can beat old Gert w’ the sword, then you can waste the day away staring at what’s none of yer business. Back at it, or you’ll have scrubbing from evening to morn.”

He gestured to Murtagh. “You’d best follow me. The cap’n had better see you after all.”

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