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Chapter no 36 – Uvek

Murtagh (The Inheritance Cycle, #5)

Murtagh woke.

There was no slow return to reality. No gradual brightening

of light, no ramped awareness of his senses. One moment, nothing. The next—

A grey stone floor lay beneath him, inches from his nose. The stone was cracked, and small filigrees of moss had infiltrated the tiny crevices in the material: a tracery of green in an otherwise bare, grim surface. The smell of moss and stone combined was like that of a high mountain stream, or else a deep cave filled with a sunless lake.

His body was cold. He was lying face down on the hard floor. His left knee throbbed, and his right arm was numb from being folded underneath him.

As for his mind…his thoughts were clearer, more focused than before, although he still felt strangely muzzy, and there was a sickly-sweet taste at the back of his throat that he felt he ought to recognize….

He remembered the caves beneath the village, and the glowing slime, and finding the grated well where Bachel and Grieve had confronted him.

Alarm rushed through him. Thorn!

With his left arm, he pushed himself upright. His head swam, and he braced himself against the floor and closed his eyes until his balance returned and his right arm stopped tingling. Then he looked around.

He was in a dark cell, not dissimilar to the one he’d been confined in under Urû’baen. A narrow wooden cot sat against one wall, with a bucket for relieving himself next to it. His cloak lay beneath him, crumpled and wrinkled. There were no windows, only three blank stone walls, and iron bars where the fourth would have been. (He noted the bars especially; they represented an unusual amount of metal for such a small village.)

The only light came from a dim oil lamp near the end of the hallway in front of the cell.

Across the hall were three more cells, lost in inky shadows.

Murtagh tried to reach Thorn with his mind, but their thread of connection was nowhere to be found. Moreover—and equally concerning— Murtagh couldn’t feel a single other mind in the vicinity. Either the village had been deserted or somehow his tendrils of thought were being blocked…. And what was that taste sticking to his tongue and throat? He could almost place it.

Cold fear settled into Murtagh’s bones. Once again, he and Thorn found themselves overmatched, even as with Galbatorix. And once again, they found themselves bound against their will, for he could not imagine Thorn was free to fight, or else the dragon would have already rescued him.

Even in his worst nightmares, Murtagh had never imagined they would find themselves in a like situation again. Foolish, he thought, and cursed himself. He’d been overconfident, and now both he and Thorn were paying the price.

There would be time enough for recriminations later. For now, he had to concentrate on escape.

Murtagh clenched his hands several times in preparation. Then he gripped the cold iron, gathered his will, and whispered, “Kverst.”

Nothing happened. He could not seem to breach the barrier in his mind

—the thin, glass-like pane that a consciousness had to break in order to directly manipulate energy. He tried again, but he found no purchase for his will. The barrier kept slipping away, and his thoughts remained too unfocused to pierce it.

His fear deepened until it was more akin to despair. He knew then what he was tasting: the drug called vorgethan, or some compounding of it. Galbatorix had fed it to him in Urû’baen until the king had forced his fealty, Durza had used it on Eragon at Gil’ead, and Du Vrangr Gata now mandated its consumption by magicians who refused to join or swear loyalty to their organization.

For vorgethan had two very specific effects: it slowed down the movements of the body and made it nigh on impossible to cast spells.

Murtagh shook his head, dismayed and furious with himself. How was I so stupid? Escaping would be far more difficult now. If he could contact Thorn…but then, Thorn was likely chained in place, and moreover, vorgethan made it difficult to touch the minds of others.

“Your weirding words will not work, human.”

The voice was deep as rumbling rocks and wild as a northern wind. It came from the cell opposite his, and the sound made Murtagh start and stumble back, hands raised as if to fend off attack.

A shape moved in the shadows: a hulking, heavy-shouldered mass with a head that was far larger than it ought to have been….

From the inky darkness emerged a battered, scar-slashed face as large as Murtagh’s chest. Grey skin, yellow eyes, pointed teeth, and huge ram’s horns that descended in jagged turns around broad cheekbones—

An Urgal!

Murtagh’s neck prickled as the Urgal studied him from across the hall, the creature’s yellow eyes fierce as a wildcat’s. The Urgal wore a jerkin of crudely sewn leather trimmed with bear fur. His arms were massively muscled, and the skin was scarred and tattooed with cabled patterns similar to those Murtagh had seen on the banners in the Urgal villages he and Thorn had flown over. A hide loincloth completed the Urgal’s outfit. He wore no shoes, and Murtagh could see the yellow clawlike nails on his seven-toed feet.

“She used the Breath on you,” said the Urgal. His mouth and chin projected from the rest of his face enough to give him a slight muzzle, and his heavy jaw mangled the words in a way that Murtagh found difficult to

understand. But he could understand. “That is how she captured you, human.”

“The Br— How do you know our tongue, Urgal?” Murtagh found it hard to string words together into coherent sentences. His mind was still strange, his thoughts kept skating in different directions, and his body felt light and unbalanced, lacking substance.

The Urgal’s eyes shifted away, as if he were looking at something in the far distance. “I know many things. What is your name, hornless one?”

Murtagh knew enough of Urgals to realize the creature had just insulted him, and badly. If he were an Urgal, he supposed it would have bothered him, but he wasn’t, and it didn’t.

He briefly considered lying, but lies were beyond his ability at the moment. Even so, he was cautious. “Names are powerful things. It would be foolish…foolish to share them carelessly.”

Again, the Urgal focused on him. The creature went “Hmmm,” deep in his throat, and scratched at the thicket of black bristles that covered his chest. “You say truth, but some names are more dangerous than others. Do you not have a common name, to speak with outlanders?”

“…I do.”

Hrmm. I am Windtalker and Peak-Climber. I sit in silence and listen to birds and bears and words of trees. No tribe claims me, and I claim none myself. My common name is Uvek.”

“Uvek…. My common name is Murtagh.”

A flash of fire illuminated the Urgal’s deep-set eyes. “So. You are one who shares thoughts with worm Thorn. Word of you reached even farthest parts of Alagaësia. I heard tell that you fought Urgralgra in dwarf mountains, and that you then fought Urgralgra for dragonkiller Galbatorix. Is true?”

It seemed surreal to Murtagh that he was having a conversation with an Urgal—and that Uvek was asking him much the same questions that he received from humans in Nasuada’s realm. “Is true,” he said wearily. “Galbatorix captured us and forced us to fight against the Varden. Otherwise, I suppose I would have been shieldmates with your kind once they joined the Varden.”

Hrmm. Do you hate Urgralgra?”

“No,” said Murtagh, again approaching the iron bars. He leaned against them, welcoming the support. “But neither do I have any love for your kind. One of your chieftains almost killed me when I was younger.”

Uvek bared his large teeth in what Murtagh realized was an approximation of a smile. If not for his experience with Thorn, the expression would have been terrifying and difficult, possibly impossible, to interpret. “You say truth. I like that, human. And you are here, so chieftain cannot have been so bad. You live, he dead?”

“He’s dead.”

“So all good. What else matter?”

Murtagh grunted. He grasped the bars and shook them; they didn’t budge. The ends were seated in deep sockets drilled into the stone, and he suspected some form of magic fortified them, for they were free of rust or discoloration.

Tonnng. Uvek snapped a finger against his bars, and the metal rang like a bell. “I cannot break this iron, Murtagh-man. You cannot break either.”

“No…. You said she—Bachel—used the Breath on me?”

Uvek’s heavy head moved up and down in a nod. “That is what she call

it.”

“What is it? The breath of what?”

A shrug this time. “She not tell me, so I cannot tell you.”

Murtagh frowned as he tried to think. “Weirding…How do you know I

can’t use magic?”

“Because,” said Uvek, hunching forward, a grim look on his bestial face, “I also cannot. They give us poison that steal our strength, make us weak and helpless. So I sit here like chukka waiting for knife.”

Murtagh found it hard to wrap his mind around this new piece of

information. “You…you are a spellcaster?”

“No. I am shaman. There is difference. But I am familiar with weirding ways, and I know some words of power.” Uvek tugged on the tip of one horn, thoughtful. “They give you more poison, I think. Or same amount, but you smaller, it hurts you more.”

A moment of silence passed as Murtagh studied Uvek again, reevaluating. He knew the Urgals had magicians of their own, but he had never met any; the alliance between Galbatorix and their kind had already been broken by the time the Twins dragged him back to Urû’baen.

His knees felt suddenly weak, and he lowered himself to the floor, using the iron bars for support. He reached back and pulled over his cloak and draped it across his shoulders. “There has to be a way to escape,” he muttered.

Uvek chuckled, an unpleasant sound. “I am stronger than you, and I have more clear head, but I cannot find escape. The witch is smart, and strong too.”

Murtagh blinked. He couldn’t seem to clear his eyes; everything appeared slightly blurry. “If I could just talk to Thorn—”

“If wishes were real, world would end.” “The…the world might be ending anyway.”

Hrmm. That depend on what witch is want to do.”

“How did you…How were you…” The light from the lamp seemed to fail, and the shadows narrowed his vision, and all grew dark and grey.

“Human?…Human?…Open eyes, Murtagh-man. Open….

 

 

The dreams this time were more fragmented. Quick flashes of images, each of which carried a charge of emotion strong enough to knock a man from his feet. Murtagh found himself whipped from the heights of frenzied delight to the depths of grim morbidity and back again. At times, he thought he felt Thorn, and their dreams seemed to intertwine, and then the whirling currents of fevered imaginings would rip them apart: strange tides leading to stranger shores.

Throughout, Murtagh tried to hold to his sense of self, but it was difficult, for he did not know what was real and he had no lodestone to set his course by. The experience was exhausting and terrifying in equal measure, even more so because he sensed a gaping chasm underlying all of

the visions—and, within that chasm, a lurking presence so huge and malevolent, he shrank from it for fear of going mad.

In desperation, he cried out in the ancient language, trying to still the stormy waters of his mind. But though he could voice the words of power, he could not give them the strength needed to work a change in the sawtoothed jags of disjointed images.

Helpless, he had no choice but to ride the ups and downs of the stormy swells and hope—hope—that they would soon subside.

 

 

A splash of cold water roused Murtagh from his torpor.

He sputtered and inhaled a spray of droplets. He started to cough.

A pair of white-robed cultists stood over him. One held an empty bucket, the other a wooden bowl and spoon.

“Wha—”

The men pinned him against the hard floor, holding down his arms and legs. He thrashed, but he had no strength. They restrained him as easily as a child.

One of them produced a small crystal vial from inside his tunic. Murtagh recognized it as containing the same enchanted vapor Bachel had used on him. No!

He struggled harder as the cultist unstoppered the vial and blew the

contents into his face. The vapor filled Murtagh’s nostrils, and within seconds, his will to resist bled away, and his limbs grew slack, and he stared unblinking at the ceiling.

“Keep him upright, that I may feed him,” said the other cultist.

Murtagh felt himself pushed into a sitting position. Then the man who held him grabbed his jaw and forced his mouth open while his companion spooned in slop. Murtagh gagged. A large portion spilled onto his shirt.

The cultist frowned, and after the next spoonful, he pinched Murtagh’s nose and pressed the palm of his hand over Murtagh’s mouth.

As the slop ran down his throat, Murtagh recognized the burning brandy taste.

When the bowl was empty, the cultists let him fall onto his side and left the cell. The door closed with a hollow clang.

Footsteps receded into the distance.

From across the hall, Uvek’s voice sounded: “Murtagh-man? Can you speak?”

Murtagh made an incoherent sound and tried to roll onto his side. The movement nearly made him throw up. Before he could progress any further, more footsteps echoed through the dungeon, this time approaching.

The pair of white-robed cultists returned with empty hands. They opened the cell and, despite Murtagh’s murmured protestations, picked him up by his arms and dragged him away.

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