Chapter no 18 – Confrontation with a Cat

Murtagh (The Inheritance Cycle, #5)

It was still early dawn, and all was grey and silent except for the occasional tromp of soldiers and the cry of the watch.

A direct approach to the fortress would have been suicidal, so Murtagh skirted the center of the city and kept to alleys and side streets where possible.

The few folks he encountered gave him suspicious glances, but no more than the situation warranted. All of Gil’ead felt tense, alert, as if violence could break out at any moment. Shutters in houses swung shut seemingly of their own accord when he lifted his gaze, and he saw members of the guard posted along the main thoroughfares.

Murtagh couldn’t stop worrying about Silna as he made his way through the city. Difficult and standoffish though she’d been, he hoped that she was safe and that the guards wouldn’t catch her. She was so small and young…. I should have done a better job of watching her, he thought.

As he neared the fortress, he slowed to a measured walk, not wanting to rush headlong into a dangerous situation.

Without too much trouble, he found the house that Bertolf, Carabel’s manservant, had brought him to before. Murtagh wondered if Carabel owned the elegant building or if she had an arrangement with whoever did. It seemed risky to be ducking in and out of a secret tunnel on a property where you didn’t know who might be watching.

With quick steps, he descended the stone stairs to the well set ten feet or so below the surface of the ground. There, he pushed on the same piece of carving as had Bertolf, and the hidden door swung open.

Murtagh wasn’t eager to again enter a tunnel, but at least he was familiar with this one, and it was far, far shorter than the maze they’d spent most of the night wandering. The thought reminded him of his lost sleep, and he fought back a powerful yawn. Two bad nights in a row took their toll.

He ducked beneath the lintel and walked in. Behind him, the door swung shut with a thud of deadly finality, and darkness swallowed him.

Somewhere ahead of him, the skittering footsteps of a mouse sounded.

“Great,” he said, starting forward with one hand against the wall for balance. “Just great.”



Murtagh growled as he entered the storage room at the end of the tunnel and his shin banged against the lip of a step. Once he closed the tunnel’s other entrance, he listened for anyone in the hall outside. This time he used his mind also, sending his thoughts searching for nearby beings. The only one he found was a rather frightened mouse in a crack along the wall of the storeroom.

Now! Murtagh left the storeroom and hurried through the same side passages Bertolf had led him through during his last visit. He was grateful that the path had been easy to remember and that it was still early enough that most of the fortress’s inhabitants had yet to wake. Plenty of the servants would already be after their duties, but he didn’t think he needed to worry about running into the castle’s baker that far outside of the kitchens.

Nevertheless, he was happy to reach the paneled door to the werecat’s study without incident.

He didn’t bother knocking; he lifted the latch on the door and pushed. It wasn’t locked or barred and swung inward with hardly a sound.



Carabel was sitting on the velvet cushion behind her desk. She was in the shape of a cat, tassel-eared, with a large mane around her neck and down her spine, and beautiful white fur that shone like satin. In size, she was perhaps three times larger than a normal cat, and lean muscles rippled beneath her hide in a way that spoke of savage strength.

She was purring and licking with her pink tongue the matted head of none other than Silna, who lay curled against her side, eyes closed in apparent bliss.

Murtagh paused at the entrance of the study, surprised and somewhat off-balance, but—for many reasons—relieved to see Silna safe. Then he moved in and closed the door behind himself.

“I take it she found you,” he said. He dropped his bedroll on the floor.

Carabel looked at him, and her purring deepened. He felt the touch of her mind, as if she were attempting to communicate with her thoughts, like Thorn.

He armored his consciousness against her and shook his head. “Oh no.

Not like that. We talk with words or not at all.”

The werecat’s ears flattened against her narrow skull. Then her form blurred and wavered, as if seen through rippling water, and after a few seconds, she again resembled a short, thin human.

Only she was without clothes.

Murtagh did not care. In other circumstances, her figure might have been distracting, but right then, it had no effect on him. He kept his gaze on the werecat as she picked up her shift from the desk and pulled it on.

“How inconvenient,” said Carabel, showing her pointed little fangs.

Silna made a mewl of protest at being abandoned, and Carabel turned back and began to gently draw her sharp nails across the top of Silna’s head. The kitten nestled closer to Carabel, and Murtagh would have sworn there was a smile upon her tiny lips.

Murtagh planted himself on the center of the knotted rug, directly before the desk. Uncomfortable suspicion soured his mouth. “The two of you are very familiar.”

“Of course,” said Carabel, directing a fond look toward Silna. “She is my daughter.”

“Your daughter.”

“One of many, yes. My youngest.” “Why didn’t you tell me?”

The werecat looked at him with solemn eyes. “Because names are powerful things. If you had known, it is possible our foes could have discovered the truth from you, and then they might have used Silna against me.” She cocked her head. “You of all people ought to understand the danger of one’s name, Murtagh son of Morzan.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“It is who you are, human.”

Murtagh fought to control his temper. “So they didn’t know Silna was yours?”

Carabel shook her head. “No.”

“It was just happenstance that they took her?” “As best I can tell.”

He growled and paced about the rug. “Why did they kidnap her, then?

Excuse me, kittennap her? And the other younglings. Has she said?”

Silna began to purr—a soft, steady rumble—as Carabel scratched along her cheek. Carabel said, “Only that the magician was involved—”


“Yes, that was his name. And Captain Wren too. They spoke of sending her somewhere farther south.”

Murtagh’s irritation with the werecat receded into the background as he stalked back and forth across the width of the study, trying to puzzle out the situation. “Lord Relgin has to be told.” He stopped and gave Carabel a sharp look. “Or was this done at his command?”

Her expression grew severe. “I do not know,” she said in a dangerously quiet voice. “And I would not care to hazard a guess. In this matter, safety will only be found in surety, and so far, surety eludes us…. I take it you did not find any of our other younglings?”

“There was no sign of them,” he said, and her eyes softened with sorrow. “Does Silna know what happened to them?”

Carabel placed a protective arm around her daughter. The sight sent a pang through Murtagh. “Alas, no,” Carabel replied. “She saw nothing of them. Tell me, if you would, how you rescued her. I would hear the whole of it, in every detail.”

“You owe me answers, cat,” he said, grim.

“And answers you shall have. But first this, if it please you.”

Murtagh took a breath and did his best to put aside his impatience. He could not fault the werecat for asking.

So he described his time at Glaedr’s barrow and how he had extracted the dragon’s golden scale from within its earthy tomb. And he explained the steps he had followed to find Muckmaw’s feeding ground, and how he had fought and killed the great fish.

The werecat listened intently, and at the point of Muckmaw’s death, she went, “Sss. Good. Let the rats eat his tail and may his bones crumble to dust.” By her side, Silna wiggled and looked up at her mother. Carabel resumed petting her. “The fish ate many a werecat over the years, human. It is good he is gone.”

“And you got me to kill him for you.”

Carabel cocked her head. “Would you have been able to gain entrance to the guard otherwise?”

“…No. Probably not.”

Smug, the cat took a sip from a chalice on the desk. “See? There was a rightness to this.” She waved an elegant hand. “You may continue.”

Murtagh’s jaw tightened, but he did as she said and described how he had ingratiated himself within Captain Wren’s company and then how he had made his way into the catacombs beneath the barracks.

The werecat spread the fingers on her free hand and dug them into the top of the desk. “Ssss. And what saw you thereafter, human?”

Murtagh gestured at Silna. “Surely your daughter can tell you.”

“Your eyes see differently than hers.”

He grunted. Then he described the two chambers he’d found after the war room: the magical workshop and the garden of rare and unknown plants. When he mentioned the strange egg in the garden, Carabel stiffened and her spiked hair fluffed, as if she were frightened.

“What is it?” Murtagh asked.

“An ancient wrongness that will need to be dealt with,” said Carabel, examining the tips of her nails. “Rest assured, human, I will see to it that the problem is taken care of.”

“And you’re not going to tell me what this wrongness is?”

Her lips split in a sly little smile. “Every piece of information has a price, human. What would you be willing to pay for such a lovely morsel?”

“I would have thought I already earned it.”

She laughed, her voice like silver coins tumbling. “No, no. Each mouse you wish to catch is different. Each mouse is new. This is a separate matter.”

Talking with the cat, he decided, was like playing a game of hazard where the rules changed with each throw of the dice. Very well, if I have to be tricksy, I’ll be tricksy. “A secret for a secret, then. Will that satisfy you?”

Carabel licked her fangs as she considered. “Is it a good secret, human?” “As good as any I know.”

“Hmm. A strong claim, that.” She picked at a scratch in the desktop. “Very well. A secret for a secret. The egg belongs to the creatures known in this tongue as the Ra’zac.” She added a trill to the at the beginning of the name, and the sound sent a prickle down Murtagh’s spine.

He swore explosively and paced in a circle before coming back to face the desk. “Them? Those foul creatures! How?”

The werecat raised her delicate eyebrows. “You must have known that

Galbatorix hid some of their eggs about the land.”

“He never spoke of it.” Murtagh made a face, annoyed with himself. “I suppose I should have guessed as much. He always was devious. What is it doing here, though?”

A low half purr, half growl rumbled in Carabel’s chest. “That is indeed

the question, human.”

“If I’d known what it was…” He shook his head. He would have melted the egg in a blast of fire fit to rival even the flames Thorn produced. As Carabel had said, the Ra’zac were a wrongness. They were the hunters of humans, nightmares of the night that fed off the flesh of people.

Murtagh remembered the moment he’d seen them crouched around the campfire where they’d caught and bound Eragon, Saphira, and Brom: stooped figures in dark hoods that hid their vulturelike beaks and round, bulging eyes, pupilless and devoid of white. He’d shot at them with his bow and driven them away. Though not before they succeeded in mortally wounding Brom….

He shook himself from the shadows of the past.

“If I’d had word of it beforehand,” said Carabel, “I would have said as such to you. Now your secret, if you please, human.”

A rough knocking sounded.

Murtagh started, and then the study door opened to show Bertolf ’s broad face. He peered at Murtagh suspiciously. “Were you wanting me, ma’am? It’s near time for breakfast, but the kitchens are behind today.”

Carabel waved a hand. “Leave us for now, Bertolf. I’ll ring if I want you.”

“Yes, ma’am.” The man bowed and withdrew.

The werecat focused on Murtagh once again, fierce and serious. “Your secret now.”

From his belt, he removed the second bird-skull amulet and placed it on the desk. Silna hissed, arched her back, and batted the amulet onto the floor.

Murtagh bent and picked it up. Moving slowly, he placed the amulet on the corner of the desk farthest from Silna.

The kitten spat at the amulet and then hopped down to the floor and went to sit curled on the study hearth.

With an expression of distaste, Carabel hooked the amulet with a fingernail and held it up to examine. “I fail to understand,” she said. “You have already shown me this unpleasant trinket. Although”—her nose wrinkled—“there is a different scent to it now.”

“I took that amulet off the spellcaster,” Murtagh said. And he showed her the original amulet in the pouch on his belt.

The tips of Carabel’s tufted ears pressed against the side of her head. She growled then, a deep, throaty emanation that made the front of her shift vibrate. Hearing such a primal, animalistic sound coming from such a human-looking being made the hair on Murtagh’s neck stand upright. “Arven. He of Du Vrangr Gata,” she said.


Sss. The situation is worse than I feared, Rider.”

Rider, now? She must be truly concerned. Murtagh seated himself, and he and the werecat exchanged a long, grim stare. For the first time, he felt as if they understood each other. “I think,” he said with deliberate care, “that you had best tell me what exactly you know.”

Carabel frowned as she again looked at the amulet. “I suppose you’re right.” She leaned back on her cushion. “Where shall I start?”



A faint pop came from the bed of coals in the fireplace, and Silna flicked her ears with annoyance. Outside, in the bailey of the fortress, loud voices sounded. Murtagh kept his gaze fixed on Carabel.

“Start with the witch-woman Bachel,” he said.

The werecat hissed. “Yesss. That one. Very well. For some years now, we have heard rumors—no more than whispers—of strange folk moving through the land. Dreamers, they call themselves, and the few that have been questioned claim to serve this Bachel. Who she is and what she wants remain…uncertain, but it is known that she is capable of weird magics.” The werecat indicated the amulet. “We have sought this secret, human, in our own careful way. We are curious by nature, and unanswered questions attract us as moths to the flame. Five of our kind have ventured into the wilds in search of Bachel, and of those five, none have returned.”

Murtagh listened with growing unease. “Where did they go?”

“Here and there,” said Carabel with an unpleasant smile. “But I suspect…Well, you shall hear. You should know that the Dreamers have become more common. When captured and questioned, they kill themselves without hesitation, but this much seems certain: their influence spreads throughout Alagaësia like roots creeping through the soil. Their kind has been seen dealing with all the races, including the elves and Urgals, and we have scented their meddling in many a dark affair. But again, we know nothing of their goals or causes—only that their pawprints appear ever more frequently, and rarely absent blood or death.”

Another pop sounded in the fireplace.

The werecat continued. “The amulet you found on Arven proves as much. As for where Bachel might be…Every few weeks, ships depart Ceunon and sail north in the Bay of Fundor. Even in the winter, when ice rims the bay and the waves grow steep and dangerous, even then you will find ships that take this journey. They are never gone very long. A few weeks at most, and then they return with their crew grim-faced and closemouthed. The passengers on these ships vary. Often they hide their faces and their minds, but we have seen many a notable merchant and many a scion of a titled family venture forth into the bay, and when they again alight in Ceunon, they often associate with the Dreamers, or else act in ways that seem to aid them.”

Carabel pushed the amulet farther away and then licked her finger, as if to clean it. “Last year, we spoke with one of the sailors who made the journey.”

“And?” asked Murtagh. His voice sounded unusually loud in the room. The werecat lifted her chin. “He told us of a village set against the Spine.

A village where the ground smells of rotten eggs and smoke rises from blackened vents. He told us of these things…and then he died. If your mind is set on finding the witch Bachel, seek you there, O Murtagh son of Morzan.”

Rotten eggs. Brimstone. Exactly what Umaroth had warned him of. Murtagh was glad of the confirmation, and yet it left him with a deep

disquiet. But he’d asked for answers, and now he had a start on them. “So the stone Sarros brought me comes from the same place as Bachel?”

Carabel shrugged. “It seems likely, but I cannot say for sure.”

“And what do you think these Dreamers want with werecat younglings?”

Red fire lit her eyes, and she showed her fangs. “Sss. I do not know. Maybe nothing. Maybe this is solely the work of Du Vrangr Gata. Maybe it is a private villainy of Arven. Or Captain Wren. I do not know, but I swear this to you, Rider: I shall not rest until I discover the truth and either rescue or avenge all of our lost children.”

“Good,” said Murtagh in a flat tone. And he meant it. Whoever was responsible deserved the worst possible punishment. If it had been Arven alone, then justice had already been delivered, but he doubted it.

The more Murtagh thought about the situation, the worse he felt. If the Dreamers had infiltrated Du Vrangr Gata—or recruited sympathizers therein

—without arousing suspicion, that was alarming enough. But if what the cat said was true, they were operating upon a larger scale, and with a larger goal in mind, and they had already amassed a dangerous amount of influence. The realization made his skin crawl. How could they have escaped notice for so long? What hold did they have upon those they enlisted?

They have to be stopped, he thought. “Have you informed Nasuada of this?”

“Not as yet.” “Eragon or Arya?” She shook her head. “Why not?”

Carabel gave him a withering look. “Whispers and suspicions are not enough to raise a force, rouse a queen, or recall the leader of the Riders. We must have a clear understanding of the threat first.”

“You mean someone needs to go to the village.” “Go. And return.”

“Maybe. But I would say this”—he poked the amulet—“is proof enough that concern is warranted. That, and the kidnapping of your younglings.”

Carabel’s expression soured. “Again, we do not know if the Dreamers are responsible. Still…perhaps you are right, and this unfortunate trinket is proof enough. Certainly it would be if you were to bring it to Nasuada along with an accounting of what we have learned.”

Murtagh looked at the fireplace, uncomfortable. “You know I cannot.” “Can’t you? It is said that the queen has some special fondness for you,


Anger dragged his attention back to Carabel’s smirking face. “It is said?

Said by whom? You had best watch your words, cat.”

Carabel shrugged, seemingly impervious to his tone. “By those with ears to hear and eyes to see.”

“Well, they know not what they say, and I’ll please you not to insult the queen or me with such slander.”

After a moment, Carabel inclined her angled face. “Of course, Rider.

Very well, I shall compose a message for Nasuada directly, but I do not pretend to know how she will respond. It would be best were you to pen a few words of corroboration. Will you agree to this?”

He grunted. “Fine. Yes.”

As the cat collected her writing instruments, Murtagh sank back in his chair, brooding. Captain Wren’s insubordination, the potential undermining of Du Vrangr Gata, the activities of the Dreamers, and the blasted Ra’zac egg—each was a serious matter. Taken together, they might represent a credible threat to Nasuada’s crown.

What if…For a moment, he considered flying to Ilirea, but then he put the idea from his mind. As tempting as it was, doing so would be a mistake for everyone involved, including Nasuada. Her subjects wouldn’t take kindly to their queen publicly treating with the traitor Murtagh.

And besides, whom would she end up sending to investigate the village? Whom could she send? Du Vrangr Gata was not to be trusted, and at any rate, none of its spellcasters were skilled or strong enough to deal with the sort of wordless magic he had encountered. Few were. Eragon, for one, but he was busy protecting the Eldunarí and the dragon eggs, and he would not lightly leave them. Arya and the more accomplished of the elven mages were

certainly capable, but Murtagh knew Nasuada would be reluctant to request help from magicians—much less a Rider—who were neither her subjects nor human.

Which left him. Him and Thorn.

The conclusion did not displease Murtagh, even if the unknown was, as always, unsettling. To have a clear and righteous cause to pursue was a rare treasure. By it, they could do good, and not just in a general sense, but for Nasuada specifically. She whom he had so badly hurt.

He roused himself from his brooding as Carabel gave him a sheet of parchment, a pot of ink, and a freshly cut goose-feather quill. Murtagh hesitated, unsure how to start, for he felt a weight of expectations and experiences and feelings unsaid. He shook himself then and focused on what needed saying. Wants would have to wait.

For a few minutes, the scratching of the quill was the only sound aside from the fire. He ended with:

Thorn and I will depart directly to find this village. What we might discover, I cannot say, but if it is a danger to you, your realm, or Alagaësia as a whole, we shall deal with it as need be. On this, you have my word. In any account, you may expect to hear from us upon our return.

He frowned as he stared at the last few lines. He was committing both himself and Thorn to this cause without asking Thorn. He hoped the dragon would not mind.

There was another problem besides. Nasuada did not know his hand, so how could she be sure the letter was from him? He could enchant the parchment, but to what end? She wouldn’t trust a spell from an unknown source. And he didn’t have a signet ring or other token on his person that she might recognize. Which left him with only his words.

He dipped the quill anew into the inkpot. Then, with special care, he wrote:


If you question the hand that scribes these runes, if you suspect my motive and wonder why, then I can only answer by saying—you know why.


The final sentence was a temerity. He knew that. But he couldn’t think of anything else to write that he was confident Nasuada would believe was from him. He’d uttered those last three words to her—and her alone—in the dark grimness of the Hall of the Soothsayer. It was the closest he had ever come to confessing his feelings for her, and while it felt like an imposition to mention them now, when the situation was so much changed, he had no other choice.

He felt older than his years as he blotted the letter and wiped dry the quill. He folded the sheet and then melted a few drops of Carabel’s red sealing wax onto the seam of the parchment.

“There,” he said, feeling a sense of resolution.

“My thanks,” said Carabel. “I am in your debt, human, as are werecats everywhere.”

He inclined his head. “No thanks are required.”

A small smile appeared on Carabel’s face. “Perhaps not, but they’re still polite. How do you plan to proceed, then?”

Murtagh rubbed his right elbow as he thought; the joint still hurt from the thrashing Muckmaw had given him. “I realize this is another question, cat, but perhaps you’ll humor me and answer.”

Her expression grew wicked. “Perhaps I shall,” she said. “How do you think I should proceed?”

The cat wiggled on her cushion, tufted ears perking up. The corner of her shift slid off to bare one shoulder. “Sssah. Very well, but I will warn you, human. Advice serves those giving it as much or more than those receiving it.”

“I’ll take that risk.”

“Then I say this: it is better to open doors than to wait for them to be opened. And it is better to know what is on the other side of a door before it opens.”

Murtagh understood. He rose and gave her a small bow and a smaller smile. “I thank you for your advice, werecat Carabel.”

She sniffed and examined her fingernails again. “You are welcome, human.”

Outside, in the bailey, shouts sounded—captains rallying their troops. To Murtagh’s ear, it seemed as if the entire city garrison was being assembled in the yard.

Carabel noticed as well. She turned her head, and the thin morning light entering through the loophole window made the tufts on her ears glow. “I think you had best be off, human, lest Lord Relgin get the idea to search the keep. He’s annoyingly imaginative sometimes.”

“I’ll bid you farewell, then, and take my leave, fair C—” Behind him, Murtagh heard a faint sifting sound, as of falling cloth. He turned to see Silna standing on two feet next to the hearth, a small wool blanket wrapped about her spare frame. She was no taller than the poker and tongs that hung nearby. Her skin was pale as snow, the veins smoke blue beneath the surface, and there was a translucence to her, as if she were not entirely substantial. Eyelids like polished shells, hair still brindled and in disordered shocks, and all about her a wild alertness, as if she had stepped from a glade within the deepest, darkest forest.

She walked to Murtagh and stood before him. He looked down into her enormous emerald eyes, clear and innocent, and knew not what to say.

He knelt before her, even as he would have knelt before a queen.

With a single bare arm, Silna hugged him about the neck. Her skin was cold against his. In a small, feather-soft voice, she said, “Thank you.” Then she kissed him upon the brow, and the touch of her lips burned long after she pulled away.

She left him blinking back a film of tears. When he mastered himself well enough to lift his gaze, he saw her lying by the hearth, again in her cattish form, eyes closed, tail wrapped about her paws and nose.

His legs were unsteady beneath him as he stood. He looked to Carabel and opened his mouth and then closed it again.

For the first time, Carabel’s expression softened, and her voice was husky with emotion. “I meant what I said, Rider. I am in your debt, as are all werecats. You may count yourself as a friend of our kind, and should you ever need help, you may seek us out.”

He nodded and swallowed past the lump in his throat. “I am glad I could help.” He drew himself up and gave her a courtly bow. “My thanks for your answers, Carabel. May your claws stay sharp, O most estimable of cats.”

She bared her teeth in an appreciative smile. “Be careful where you tread, Rider. This witch is like a spider lurking at the center of a great web, and she has venom in her bite.”

“Then it’s good I’m not scared of spiders.”



Murtagh straightened as he exited the low tunnel that led under the fortress’s curtain wall. He rolled his neck, hoisted his bedroll higher on his back, and checked the position of the sun: still low in the sky. He should be able to leave Gil’ead before most of the city was up and about.

He rubbed his brow. It felt as if he’d been branded. The memory of Silna’s eyes lingered in his mind, and he felt as if she had seen to his very center, every flaw laid bare before her guileless gaze. It was an intimacy he was only used to sharing with Thorn, and it left him with an uncomfortable sense of vulnerability. And yet, to be seen as he was, and accepted…was there any greater grace?

Troubled, he started away from the fortress. I’m on my way, he said, sending the thought to where Thorn was waiting. A faint sense of acknowledgment was his reply.

As Murtagh padded between the buildings, he continued to gnaw over what Carabel had said. Bachel, Wren, the Ra’zac…the world was out of sorts, and in ways he didn’t really understand. The fact made his gut tense, as if he were about to receive a blow.

Again, Silna’s eyes filled Murtagh’s mind, cool and clear and full of promise. And again, he felt her kiss upon his brow.

He stopped at the side of a street, and every part of his skin prickled. His thoughts raced as he tried to solve the puzzle before him, tried to find the path of safety through a perilous maze. Had he been wrong? Bachel needed attending to, yes, but Nasuada was in danger, and his letter was hardly a proper means of protection.

He opened the pouch on his belt and dug through it until his fingers found cold metal: the coins Captain Wren had given him. He pulled one out and looked at Nasuada’s embossed visage.

As perfect as the likeness was, he could not decipher her expression. She wore a mask of her own, the impassive regality that custom—and necessity— imposed. He found no encouragement in her golden features, and yet their very familiarity helped settle his mind.

He decided.

They would go to Ilirea. Despite everything he had thought and said, it was the right thing to do. He would explain himself to Nasuada and face whatever approbation came from her subjects. Difficult though it would be, he would have the satisfaction of knowing Nasuada was safe. And once she was, only then would he and Thorn hunt down Bachel.

With the decision came a sense of relief. Murtagh nodded, put away the coin, and hurried on his way, feeling fit to face the trials of an uncertain future.

Would Thorn agree? Murtagh felt sure he would, once he shared his mind with the dragon. Unless, of course—

Someone collided with him from the side. He shoved the person away, ready to kick and punch and fight.

“Murtagh!” exclaimed a low, urgent voice.

Dismay gripped Murtagh as he saw the same unpleasantly familiar face he had spotted outside the citadel not two days past: pale Lyreth in his drab finery. And surrounding them were Lyreth’s guards: six burly men with necks like bulls, the faint whiff of rotting flesh clinging to them. Ex-soldiers of the Empire, spell-warped to feel no pain.

“Murtagh, it is you,” said Lyreth, his voice barely louder than a whisper.

Murtagh clenched his teeth. Thorn’s alarm was a rising note of anxiety at the back of his mind. He considered bolting, but there were other people on the street, and he saw a squad of soldiers two houses away, marching toward them….

Lyreth drew closer, his eyes darting about, the whites showing with some combination of fear and concern. “I thought I saw you a few days ago, but I wasn’t certain. What are you doing here? Don’t you know what they’ll do to you if they catch you?”

“I need to go,” said Murtagh, and started to pull back.

Lyreth caught him by the sleeve and held him with a surprisingly strong grip. His breath smelled of lavender and peach liqueur, but it wasn’t enough to conceal the sharp stench of nervous sweat from under his arms. “You can’t stay out here. The magicians of Du Vrangr Gata are everywhere, and there are elves in the city. Elves! Come, come, hurry. You’ll be safe at my house. Hurry!”

Murtagh! growled Thorn. I know!

The guards closed in around Murtagh, preventing him from stepping away as Lyreth pulled him up the street. And Murtagh had no choice but to accompany his unexpected and thoroughly unwelcome companions.

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