Chapter no 3 – Fork and Blade

Murtagh (The Inheritance Cycle, #5)

The loaded spring in Murtagh’s chest felt fit to burst. At that moment, he ceased to think of Sarros as a person. Rather, the man became a thing, a problem to be solved, quickly and without


Essie froze at the touch of the trader’s knife. It was the smartest action she could have taken.

A spike of distant concern reached Murtagh as Thorn prepared to fly to his aid. Murtagh responded with a fierce No! Don’t! The last thing he needed was for the dragon to come barging into Ceunon.

Doing his best to keep his emotions hidden, Murtagh said, “Why the turn of face, Sarros? I’m paying you good money.”

“Yesss. That’s the point.” Sarros leaned in closer, lips pulled wide. His breath stank of rotting meat. “If you are willing to pay thiswise-much for hints and rumors, then you must have more coin than sense. Much more coin.”

Stupid, Murtagh thought. He should have realized that spreading around so much gold might cause a problem. It wasn’t a mistake he would make again.

The truth was, he’d already spent nearly all of the coin he’d brought with him when he and Thorn fled into the wilderness. He’d been greedy for information, and now that gluttonous desire was costing him more than money.

He muttered a single, harsh curse and then said, “This isn’t a fight you want. Tell me the location, take the gold you’re owed, and no one has to get hurt.”

“What fight?” Sarros cackled. “You have no sword on you. We are seven, and you are one. The coin is ours whether you wish it or not.” The steel bit a tiny amount into Essie’s neck, and she tensed. “See? I make the choice easy for you, Wanderer. Hand over the rest of your gold, or the youngling here will pay with blood.”

The girl kept her eyes fixed on Murtagh. He could feel her desperate fear, and he knew she was waiting—hoping—for him to help her. She seemed so terribly young, so terribly vulnerable, and an overpowering affinity welled up within him.

Resolve girded him.

He smiled faintly. Had he really expected to visit Ceunon without getting wound up in some form of trouble? Oh well. So it was.

Then Murtagh gathered his mental reserves, focused his will, and poured

his fierce intent into a single line of words drawn from the ancient language

—the language of truth and power and magic. “Thrífa sem knífr un huildr sem konr.”

The air between them seemed to shiver. That and nothing more.

Murtagh blinked, caught by surprise. The spell had failed. The trader had wards protecting him? And strong ones too, for the strength of the spell would have cut through any lesser charm. It was an unexpected and entirely unwelcome development.

Sarros chuckled again. “Foolish. Very foolish.” With his free hand, he pulled a bird-skull amulet from under his jerkin. “Do you see this, Wanderer? The witch-woman Bachel charmed a necklace for each of us. Your weirding ways won’t help you now. We’re protected against all evilness.”

“Is that so?” said Murtagh, deadly quiet. The trader had just gone from a nuisance to a genuine danger. Moderation was no longer a desirable option. Not if one wanted to win, and Murtagh had long since decided that he was willing to go to the furthest extremes in order to avoid—again—losing.

Then he spoke the Word, and such a word it was. It rang like a bell, and in the sound were contained all possible meanings, for it was the most powerful word of all: the name of the ancient language. The Name of Names. The most secret of all spells, known only to him, Eragon, and Arya. With it he could break or alter any spell. With it he could change the very meaning of the language itself.

In the Name of Names, he imbued three intents: a desire to remove Sarros’s wards, a wish to seize and hold the man’s knife, and, last of all, a command to prohibit the people who heard the Word from remembering it. A dull silence followed. Everyone in the common room looked at him, many of the guests with a dazed expression, as if they’d just woken from a


Essie stared wide-eyed, fear seemingly forgotten.

To Murtagh’s astonishment, Sarros appeared entirely unaffected. Concern chilled his core. The only way to defy the Name of Names was with wordless magic—magic cast without the guiding safety of the ancient language. It was the riskiest and wildest form of spellcasting. Even the most skilled of enchanters would shy from attempting it.

Murtagh had underestimated Sarros and whomever the man had dealings with. The situation had become dangerously unpredictable. And Murtagh didn’t like unpredictable.

“Essie!” cried Sigling, finally noticing her plight. He grabbed his truncheon and sprang over the bar with more alacrity than Murtagh would have given the balding innkeep credit for. “You let her go now!”

Before Sigling could take more than a step, two of the fur-clad ruffians charged and knocked him to the floor. A thunk sounded as one of them struck Sigling on the head with the pommel of a sword.

He moaned and dropped the truncheon. No one else dared move.

That’s enough of that, thought Murtagh.

“Papa!” Essie cried, and she squirmed beneath Sarros’s knife.

The trader chuckled again, louder than before. “Your tricks will not help you, Wanderer. No enchantments are as strong as Bachel’s. No magic is as


“Perhaps you’re right.” Murtagh’s voice was calm as a windless pond. He picked up the fork and turned it between his fingers. “Well then. It appears I have no choice in the matter.”

“None whatsoever,” said Sarros, smug.

A stout, red-cheeked woman with her hair tied in a bun appeared in the doorway to the kitchen, wiping her hands on her skirt. “What is all this—” she started to say, and then saw Sarros holding the knife and Sigling lying on the floor, and her face went pale.

“Don’t cause no trouble, or your man gets stuck,” said one of the fur-clad men, pointing his blade at Sigling.

While everyone was distracted by Sigling’s wife, Murtagh spoke without voice, and he said, “Halfa utan thornessa fra jierda.” A glassy, flame-like ripple ran the length of the fork.

Essie’s eyes widened, but she didn’t otherwise react.

Sarros slapped the table. “Enough with the yapping. Your coin, now.”

Murtagh tipped his head and, with his left hand, again reached under his cloak. He kept himself relaxed until the last possible instant.

In a single motion, he swept the cloak through the air while striking with the fork. He caught Sarros’s knife between the tines and used the fork to toss the knife across the room.

Ting! The knife bounced against the wall.

Sarros blinked and froze as Murtagh pressed the points of the fork against the fleshy underside of the man’s chin. The shark-toothed man swallowed, and a sheen of sweat broke out on his face, but his hand remained next to the girl’s neck, fingers spread wide as if to tear out her throat.

“Then again,” said Murtagh, savoring the reversal, “there’s nothing in your charm to stop me from using magic on something else. Like this fork, for example.” He pressed the tines deeper into Sarros’s flesh. “Do you really think I need a sword to defeat you, you tumorous sack of filth?”

Sarros hissed. Then he shoved Essie into Murtagh’s lap and sprang backward, knocking his chair over.

Murtagh jumped to his feet, and Essie fell to the floor. She scrambled away on all fours beneath the tables.

The six fur-clad men drew their blades, and the great room became a sea of thrashing bodies as the fishermen, laborers, and other guests rushed to escape through the front door. The lute player stumbled and fell, and there were shouts and crashes and breaking mugs.

Murtagh threw off his cloak so he could move freely. He risked a glance at the floor, looking for Sarros’s knife. It was nowhere to be seen. A snarl curled his lips. He wished he had Zar’roc or even a camp knife to defend himself. But no, he’d been too confident, too clever. All he had was the fork.

The cutthroats tried to box him in by the fireplace, but he was having none of that. He slipped between the tables, circling to get a good angle.

Sarros had retreated to a corner and was shouting, “Slice him crosswise!

Kill him! Cut open his belly and spill his guts.” I’ll deal with you directly, Murtagh thought.

By the back of the great room, the girl reached her mother. The woman

pulled Essie behind her skirts and grabbed a chair, which she held in front of them as a shield.

The nearest ruffian charged Murtagh, swinging his blade. Clumsy fool. Murtagh parried with the fork and then stepped inside the man’s guard and buried the fork in the man’s chest.

The tines punctured bone and muscle as well as Murtagh could have wanted. The man convulsed against him and collapsed with a wet, blood-choked gasp as his heart gave out.

A tidal surge of fearful rage emanated from Thorn, and Murtagh felt the dragon’s sudden resolve to join him. STAY! he bellowed in his mind before armoring his thoughts against possible intrusion. Thorn held, but barely.

Three more of Sarros’s hired swords moved in. All three jabbed and slashed with their blades, not waiting for the others to take their turn.

Murtagh grabbed a chair and, one-handed, smashed it over the man to his left. At the same time, he used the fork to deflect the attacks from the other two brutes. He matched each of their blows, fencing with effortless

ease as they tried to break his guard. None of them were well trained; he could tell that much.

The men had the advantage of reach with their swords, but Murtagh sidestepped their blades and slipped into striking range. Faster than the eye could see, he stabbed with the fork: one, two, three, four hard impacts that dropped the men to the floor, where they lay silent or groaning.

His blood ran hot, and a slick of sweat coated his forehead, and crimson crept in around the edges of his vision. But his breathing remained measured. He was still in control, even as the thrill of violent triumph coursed through him.

Across the room, Sigling pulled himself up the bar into a standing position. He had regained the truncheon, not that Murtagh thought the leather-wrapped stick would do much good against the ruffians’ swords.

The innkeep’s wife said, “Essie, Olfa is in the kitchen. I want you to go


Before she could finish, one of Sarros’s guards ran up to them. In his off

hand, he held a mace, which he swung at the chair the woman held.

The impact knocked the chair out of her hands, breaking it.

The girl screamed as the fur-clad man drew back the sword in his other hand—

Murtagh knew he couldn’t cross the great room in time to save them. So he gambled on fate’s goodwill and threw the fork—


The fork embedded itself in the back of the man’s skull. He collapsed, boneless as a sack of flour.

Relief washed through Murtagh, but only for a second. Sarros and his last remaining companion attempted to flank him. Murtagh kicked a table into the swordsman’s stomach and, when he stumbled, jumped on him and knocked his head against the floor.

Sarros cursed and fled toward the door. As he turned, he threw a handful of glittering crystals at Murtagh.

“Sving!” cried Murtagh.

The crystals swerved in midair and flew into the flames of the fire. A series of loud pops! sounded, and a fountain of crimson embers sprayed the stone hearth.

Before Sarros could reach the door, Murtagh overtook him. He grabbed the back of Sarros’s jerkin and—with a grunt and heave—lifted Sarros off the floor and overhead and then slammed him back down onto the wooden boards.

Sarros’s left elbow bent at an unnatural angle. The man bellowed with pain.

“Essie,” said the innkeep’s wife. “Stay behind me.”

Murtagh planted a foot on Sarros’s chest and, with a growl, said, “Now then, you bastard. Where did you find that stone?”

Sigling left the bar and staggered across the room to his wife and daughter. They didn’t say anything, but his wife put an arm around him, and he did the same to her.

A burbling laugh escaped Sarros. There was a wild note to his voice that reminded Murtagh of Galbatorix’s more demented moments. Sarros licked his sharpened teeth and said, “You do not know what you seek, Wanderer. You’re moon-addled and nose-blind. The sleeper stirs, and you and me— we’re all ants waiting to be crushed.”

“The stone,” said Murtagh from between clenched teeth. “Where?” Sarros’s voice grew even higher, a mad shriek that pierced the night air.

“You don’t understand. The Dreamers! The Dreamers! They get inside your head, and they twist your thoughts. Ahh! They twist them all out of joint.” He started to thrash, drumming his heels against the floor. Yellow foam bubbled at the corners of his mouth. “They’ll come for you, Wanderer, and then you’ll see. They’ll…” His voice trailed off into a hoarse croak, and, with one final jerk, he fell still.

Disquiet wormed in Murtagh’s gut. The man shouldn’t have died. Magic or poison was at work here, and neither explanation was particularly appealing. In fact, the whole situation left a bad taste in his mouth. He felt as if he’d been caught in an invisible snare, and he didn’t know who—or what

—had set it.

For a moment, no one in the great room stirred.

Murtagh could feel eyes on him as he yanked the bird-skull amulet off Sarros’s neck, retrieved his cloak, and walked back to the table by the fire. He pocketed the stone with the inner shine, picked up his pouch of coins, and then paused, considering.

Bouncing the pouch in his hand, he went over to where Sigling and his wife stood shielding Essie. The girl looked terrified. Murtagh couldn’t blame her.

“Please…,” said Sigling.

“My apologies for the trouble,” said Murtagh. He could smell the stink of sweat on himself, and the front of his linen shirt was splattered with blood. “Here, this should make up for the mess.” He held out the pouch, and after a moment’s hesitation, Sigling accepted it.

The innkeep licked his lips. “The watch will be here any minute. If ’n you leave out the back…you can make it t’ the gate before they see you.”

Murtagh nodded. Thoughtful of him.

Then he knelt and yanked the fork out of the head of the ruffian lying on the nearby boards. The girl shrank back as Murtagh looked at her. “Sometimes,” he said, “you have to stand and fight. Sometimes running away isn’t an option. Now do you understand?”

“Yes,” Essie whispered.

Murtagh shifted his attention to her parents. “One last question: Do you need the patronage of the masons’ guild to keep this inn open?”

Confusion furrowed Sigling’s brow. “No, not if it came to such. Why?” “That’s what I thought,” said Murtagh. Then he presented Essie with the

fork. It looked perfectly clean, without so much as a drop of blood on it. “I’m giving this to you. It has a spell on it to keep it from breaking. If Hjordis bothers you again, give her a good poke, and she’ll leave you alone.”

“Essie,” her mother said in a low, warning voice.

But Murtagh could see that the girl had already made her decision. She nodded in a firm manner and took the fork. “Thank you,” she said, solemn.

“All good weapons deserve a name,” said Murtagh. “Especially magical ones. What would you call this one?”

Essie thought for a second and then said, “Mister Stabby!”

Murtagh couldn’t help it; a broad smile split his face, and he laughed, a loud, hearty laugh. “Mister Stabby. I like it. Very apt. May Mister Stabby always bring you good fortune.”

And Essie smiled as well, if somewhat uncertainly.

Then the girl’s mother said, “Who…who are you, really?” “Just another person looking for answers,” said Murtagh.

He was about to leave when, on a sudden impulse, he reached out and put a hand on the girl’s arm. He spoke the words of a healing spell, and the girl stiffened as the magic took effect, reshaping the scarred tissue on her arm.

Cold crept into Murtagh’s limbs, the spell extracting its price in energy, drawing off the strength of his body to make the change he willed.

“Leave her be!” said Sigling, and pulled Essie away, but the spell had already done its work, and Murtagh swept past them, cloak winged out behind him.

As he moved through the kitchen at the back of the inn, he heard Sigling and his wife utter sounds of astonishment, and then they and Essie started crying, but with joy, not grief.

Murtagh wasn’t done. While Essie’s parents were so distracted, he reached out with his mind and slipped unnoticed into their stream of thoughts. He was subtle, and no probing was needed. The very thing he sought was forefront in each consciousness: the moment, three years ago, when Essie had bumped into her father in the kitchen while he was carrying the dented iron stewpot with the crooked handle that had been full of water boiled for washing. Essie had been running about, not looking, not paying attention, and she had been where she wasn’t expected. From Sigling now, guilt and relief intermixed. From his wife, relief and sorrow and a relaxation of close-held resentment over how her husband had caused, though unintentionally, the accident.

Murtagh withdrew. His fears had been unfounded, and for that, he was glad. Essie and her siblings were safe with their family. There was nothing more he needed to do here.

He felt tears in his own eyes. At least he’d been able to accomplish some good today. No child should have to grow up with a scar like Essie’s…or his own. For an instant, he imagined smoothing his back with magic as he’d smoothed Essie’s arm, but he shook off the thought. Some hurts went too deep to heal.

He was his father’s son, and he could never pretend otherwise.



In the alley outside the Fulsome Feast, Murtagh lifted his head and took a deep breath of the night air. It was still snowing, soft flakes drifting down in a tumbling veil, and the whole city felt calm and quiet.

His pulse began to slow.

How long had it been since he’d last killed a man? Over a year. A pair of bandits had jumped him as he was returning to camp one evening—foolish, uneducated louts who hadn’t the slightest chance of taking him down. He’d fought back out of reflex, and by the time he knew what was happening, the two unfortunates were already lying on the ground. He could still hear the whimpers the younger one had made as he died….

Murtagh grimaced. Some people went their whole lives without killing.

He wondered what that was like.

A drop of blood—not his own—trickled down the back of his hand. Disgusted, he scraped it off against the side of the building. The splinters bothered him less than the gore.

Even though he hadn’t gotten a specific location from Sarros, at least he now knew that the place Umaroth had warned him of existed. He would have far preferred disappointment. Whatever truth lay hidden beneath the field of blackened earth, he doubted it would herald anything good. Life was never so simple.

A questioning thought reached him from outside Ceunon: Thorn fearful for his safety.

I’m fine, Murtagh told him. Just a bit of troubleDo I need to come?

I don’t think so, but stand by in any caseAlways.

Thorn subsided with cautious watchfulness, but Murtagh still felt the thread of connection that joined them: a comforting closeness that had become the one unchanging reality in their lives.

He started down the alley. Time to go. The city watch would soon arrive to investigate the disturbance, and he’d lingered long enough.

A flicker of motion high above caught his attention. At first Murtagh wasn’t sure what he was seeing.

Sailing down from the underside of the firelit clouds was a small ship of grass, no more than a hand or two in length. The hull and sail were made of woven blades, and the mast and spars built from lengths of stem.

No crew—however diminutive—was to be seen; the ship moved of its own accord, driven and sustained by an invisible force. It circled him twice, and he saw a tiny pennant fluttering above the equally tiny crow’s nest.

Then the ship turned westward and vanished within the veil of descending snow, leaving behind no trace of its existence.

Murtagh smiled and shook his head. He didn’t know who had made the ship or what it signified, but the fact that something so whimsical, so singular, could exist filled him with an unaccustomed joy.

He thought back to what he’d told the girl, Essie. Perhaps he should take his own advice. Perhaps it was time to stop running and return to old friends.

His smile faded. Wherever he’d gone in the year since Galbatorix’s death, he had heard the poison in people’s voices when they spoke his name. Few there were, aside from Nasuada, who would trust him after his actions in service to the king. It was a bitter, unfair truth—one that circumstances had long since forced him to accept.

Because of it, he had hidden his face, changed his name, and kept to the fringes of settled land, never walking where others might know him. And while the time alone had done both him and Thorn good, it was no way to live the rest of their lives.

So again he wondered. Had the time come to turn and face their past?

No. The thought arrived with decisive immediacy. He wasn’t sure if the conviction was his own or Thorn’s or a combination thereof. Even if they attempted to rejoin polite society, Murtagh couldn’t imagine how they would ever be seen as anything more than murderers and traitors.

Besides…Murtagh looked down at the object he was holding: the bird-skull amulet he’d taken off Sarros’s neck. A crow’s skull, by the look of it.

Who was the witch-woman Bachel? Murtagh had never heard of her. Casting spells without words was a wild, dangerous thing, and rare was the magician brave, foolish, or talented enough to risk it. Even with the proper training, he wouldn’t have dared do so in the Fulsome Feast, not with so many innocent bystanders nearby. And what of the Dreamers that Sarros had mentioned? Were they associates of Bachel? Always more mysteries.

No, before anything else, Murtagh wanted to know where the gleaming stone had come from, and he wanted to find the witch-woman Bachel and ask her a few questions.

The answers, he suspected, would be most interesting.

A brassy alarm bell sounded elsewhere in Ceunon, jarring him from his reverie. He tucked the amulet into his cloak and set off at a quick pace for the southern gates, determined to escape the city before the watch found him and he had to kill someone he would regret.

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