Chapter no 39 – Fragments

Murtagh (The Inheritance Cycle, #5)

The cultists came for him again.

The cell door banged open, and Murtagh woke with a start, confused. It felt like the middle of the night, though there was no

way to tell in the windowless space. Night or day, time had lost all sense of cohesion, and for a scattered few seconds, he had no idea where he was or what was happening.

Arms lifted him off the floor, and a pair of white-robed men dragged him from the cell even as he began to protest.

The cultists carried him back to the room of torment. Coal-lit, bloodstained, the strained stench of terror clinging to the chiseled stones with dogged, unkind persistence.

Bachel was waiting for him, again bedecked with headdress and dragon-aspect mask, her figure tall and fearsome, with a crow perched on either shoulder.

Murtagh fought to no avail as the cultists chained him to the rough slab table. Murmuring softly, Bachel bent over him, and the sound of Murtagh’s agony echoed off the indifferent walls.



There was a monotony to pain. Every hurt brought fresh discomfort— immediate and insistent and demanding of Murtagh’s attention—and yet the pain possessed a deadly sameness that blurred into a single smear of agony.

The repetitiveness was nearly as unbearable as the injuries themselves. The process was all so miserably predictable. He hated knowing the direction of Bachel’s cruel intentions, and he hated how effective her not-so-tender ministrations were. Experience provided no protection; if anything, it made his trials harder to endure, and the continual confusion that snarled his thoughts only increased the inhuman strain of every eternal instant.

Yet for all that, he still managed to evade and confound Bachel’s mental attacks. And the witch grew frustrated, and she used the Breath on him again, and time fractured around him, and he could not order the happening of events. He seemed to skip between moments, unmoored from a constant present, a castaway thrown from one chopped fragment of time to the next, as a piece of flotsam from whitecap to whitecap.

Murtagh held fast to the one thing he was sure of: his own sense of self. That much he knew. The core of what he knew himself to be—the truth of his name in the ancient language—gave him strength even in the depths of his despair.



The pain was no longer his alone. He felt additional torments now, these from Thorn, and they compounded his anguish. He cursed Bachel, but the witch only laughed, as was her wont, and once more demanded his fealty.

It was a pointless exercise on her part, but Murtagh felt tears on his face

—the first time he had wept because of Bachel’s inflictions—and he wept not for himself but for Thorn. The dragon did not deserve the pain, had never deserved such treatment. I have failed, Murtagh thought, and the realization was crushing. Once again, he was unable to protect his friend. Once again, another suffered because of his mistakes.

He wished he could ask Eragon for help. He would have happily swallowed his pride if it meant that Eragon and Saphira would fly to their rescue. What use was pride when you were reduced to the basest, meanest part of existence? Pride, vanity, ambition, anger—none were left to him. Only the need to survive. And to somehow save Thorn.



The cultists were splashing water over him, washing him as before. Old court habits made Murtagh want to thank them, to show that even though he was at their mercy, they had not stripped him of his self-possession and good manners. But the words would not leave his mouth.



Thorn lay in the courtyard, beaten and bedraggled. Never had Murtagh seen a dragon so cowed—a mistreated hound cringing before its master. The sight caused something to break in Murtagh’s chest, and he tried to speak.

All he could manage from between cracked lips was the softest: “… thorn.”

The dragon’s eyes stared back with a dull, lifeless gaze, and Murtagh felt a brush of his mind. For a moment, he glimpsed a dark, gloom-ridden landscape of thought, where no spark of hope shone, and grey murk pressed in from every side.



Uvek was speaking: “…Murtagh-man…Can you hear me, Murtagh-man?… Blink if you understand words.”

Murtagh tried to roll onto his side, but his muscles refused to respond. He slumped back against the wall, eyes closed, and made a sound of defeat. With one hand, he gestured vaguely toward the Urgal.

A grunt came from Uvek. Through slitted lids, Murtagh saw him squat next to the bars of his cell. “You are strong, Murtagh-man. Stronger than most hornless.”

“…Rider.” The word came as a croak from his raw throat.

Hrmm. Is more than that. Strength comes from here.” Uvek tapped the side of his head. “And here.” He tapped the center of his chest.

A sudden cough caused Murtagh to cry out as pain lanced his side. It felt as if he had a broken rib, or near enough. He took a shallow breath. “What

do…you know…of…Azlagûr?”

A dark cloud settled on Uvek’s face, and the muscles in his forearms rippled and knotted. “Only that Draumar worship that one. I never heard name before Nal Gorgoth, but I think…No, I do not know what I think. Bachel is mad, but does not mean power is imagined. No.”

“…no.” Murtagh grimaced as he pulled his cloak across his chest. The stones beneath him felt unbearably cold. “I keep dreaming…dreaming of…” His strength fell off, and with it, his voice. With an effort, he rallied. “Of a black sun with a black dragon…. think…it has…something to do with… Azlagûr.”

The shadowed crevices on Uvek’s face deepened. “Is so? I see black sun as well, Murtagh-man. Every night, it troubles my sleep. Hrmm. Do you know how Urgralgra think world will end?”


Uvek bared his teeth. “The great dragon, Gogvog, will rise from the ocean and eat the sun and the stars and the moon, and then he cook world with his flames. Will be bad time for Urgralgra. And hornless too.”

The faintest of smiles touched Murtagh’s lips. “I would imagine…so.”

“It remind me of black sun.” The Urgal rolled his shoulders. “It bother me, Murtagh-man. This is a bad place, I think. Very bad.”

Murtagh couldn’t disagree. His eyes drifted closed, and he felt as if he was on the verge of passing out.

Uvek’s voice dragged him back to awareness. “Is bad to sleep when you are hurt like this, Murtagh-man. I know. Close eyes and you not wake up again. Might be.”

“Can’t…stay…awake,” Murtagh mumbled.

The Urgal huffed. “I will tell you story, then. Hrmm. I will tell you how Draumar caught me. Would you like?”


“Good. Keep eyes open, Murtagh-man. Story is this…. Fourteen winters. Fourteen winters I sit atop mountain. I think. I dream. I listen. Birds and beasts, the little bees that feed off spring flowers, I listen to them, Murtagh-man. They taught me much about world, and I thought I

understand, but…Guh!” He tugged the tips of his horns, and his heavy lips curled with disgust. “No understand. I was fool then, but I not realize. I left clan because I thought better to be alone. Only way I could learn without distraction. Only way I help Urgralgra without favor this clan or that. Only way to stand apart.”

Uvek tapped a thick yellow fingernail against the iron bar in front of him. “Older I get, Murtagh-man, more I think being wise is knowing how much still unknown. Too easy to be fooled by thinking we know pattern, but the world, she like sand falling in wind. Much zhar. Much randomness. Hrmm…Two years ago, Clan Vrekqna came to me, told me of hornless that raid them, take prisoners, kill their warriors. They asked help, but I would not leave mountaintop, and I sent them away. Few moons later, Clan Thulkarvoc came to me with same ask. Said the hornless had strange magics they could not stand against. Said they left charms of bird skulls. Said they stole their rams and burned their huts. Still, I would not leave mountaintop. Too proud I was, far, far too proud.”

A pensive silence followed as Uvek picked at his belt, and Murtagh drifted closer to sleep, lulled by the stillness of their cells.

Then the Urgal spoke again: “Two moons ago, Draumar came to my hut. They told me go with them. I say no. They say yes, so we fight, Murtagh-man. But there were too many, and I was alone. No, not all alone. I say wrong. There was raven. She would visit me every day, and I talk to her. She listen, and I give her seeds. Twelve years, Murtagh-man, she came to me. Kiskû, I name her. She tried to help me, attack Draumar.” Uvek made a deep, rolling sound like falling rock. “But Draumar kill her. That one, Grieve, he threw rock at Kiskû, hit her. Is a bad thing to do, Murtagh-man. Raven not like crow. Raven bring life and luck and tidings from afar.” Uvek rocked in place, and his horns tapped against the bars of his cell. “Draumar caught me, Murtagh-man, like rabbit in snare, and they brought me here, and here I stay while dreams rot my head.” The Urgal scratched underneath this chin. “There your story, Murtagh-man. Now you know how stupid I am and how I get caught. Hrmm. Was wrong to live apart. I could not help clans, and clans could not help me.” He shook his head. “Is

better to find way to be close to ones we care for, even if not always fit in easily. The bees know it. The wolves know it. Now I know it.”



Bachel was growing more and more impatient, and her methods became increasingly cruel as a result.

Murtagh knew his limits, and he was at them. His wards were gone— those that would have protected him against physical damage, at least—and his body weak, and his mind a muddled haze. At times, it felt as if the witch held his consciousness in a controlling grasp. At other times, that he was still able to evade her burrowing mental attacks. But often he could not tell whether he was free or not, and he feared that his thoughts were no longer his own.

When he grew incapable of responding as the witch desired, she wove wordless magic and healed his wounds. But never all of them, and only enough to restore him to a semblance of awareness. It was the cruelest form of care, and he hated the falseness of it almost more than the tortures themselves.



A crow cawed.

It was night. Late or early, he could not tell. The stones were cold beneath him and damp too. Uvek’s breathing was a steady sound across the dungeon.

Murtagh stared into the blackness. Patterns of light formed before his eyes, an iridescent display of chaotic ornamentation, oranges and reds and pulsing blues of a purity rarely found in nature.

He could not sleep. He tried to compose a poem to still his mind, but the words escaped him. Even the very concept of the poem eluded him. What he could not name, he could not describe, and all seemed hopeless.

Again the crow cawed.



Two cultists held him down while a third forced thin gruel into his mouth. He choked and tried to spit it out, but they held his nose shut until he swallowed. The gruel burned like brandy.



His eyes jolted wider as a shiny, black-bodied spider skittered across the stones in front of him. He cried out and tried to push himself away, but pain made his arms give out, and he fell onto his side.

The spider disappeared into a crack along the wall. He stared at the narrow crevice, convinced that dozens, no, hundreds more spiders would come pouring out at any moment. Every touch of his clothes made him feel as if there were insects upon his body. Once a drop of moisture fell from the ceiling and landed upon the back of his neck and he scratched and scrabbled as if to tear off his own skin.

When he finally closed his eyes, spiders filled his waking dreams. Spiders both black-bodied and white, and he thought to hear Nasuada whispering in his ear, urging him to surrender. He looked and saw her there beside him, but then her face melted into Galbatorix’s, and the king smiled in his vulpine manner.

Murtagh screamed.



While in the extremes of agony, Murtagh felt a snap in his mind, and a flood of emotions rushed through him. Even in his dazed state, he recognized the feel of Thorn’s thoughts, and he clung to them as a drowning man might cling to a passing branch.

Images of the courtyard floated before Murtagh’s eyes; it was difficult to tell which part of himself was in the dungeon beneath the temple and which part was above, lying on the flagstones. Thorn was in pain equal to his own,

and somehow the strength of their shared torment had overcome the stifling resistance of the vorgethan and the Breath.

Recognition came from Thorn, and relief and affection. Regret too, and confusion, for all was a blurred haze….



Twice more Murtagh saw Alín standing by the door of the cell. The woman seemed increasingly troubled, and she spoke to him in a voice that sounded as if at the end of a great tunnel….

She gave him food. That much he remembered. Solid food, and he was grateful to eat something other than the slop the cultists had forced into him. But solid or not, the food still burned with the hated taste of brandy.



Bachel bent low over Murtagh, her distorted, half-hidden face gilded with garish adornment by the light of the copper brazier. He could smell the sweat on her skin and feel the heat of her breath.

“You will serve me, and through me, Azlagûr,” she whispered. “If I cannot have your obedience sworn of your own tongue, I shall have it by other means. In the end, you will bow before me, my son, and do my bidding in these, the end of days.”

“Never,” Murtagh managed to croak.

“No being is meant for never. Not even Azlagûr. We are creatures of change. Be so now, Kingkiller. Change. Become!

The witch raised her arms, and her draconic aspect strengthened until it seemed as if he were staring into the eyes of a great, fiery beast. She cried out in a voice not her own, and he felt the forces of magic swirling about him. Down swung her arm. She dashed a vial against the floor, and a clinging cloud of Breath enveloped him. Then her claws dug into his torn flesh with fresh savagery, and Murtagh shouted with such violence that his voice broke and blood filled his throat.

Through Thorn’s eyes, he saw heavy-browed Grieve swing an iron lash, and the dragon roared with mirrored torment.

Up and down lost all meaning. Reason and logic abandoned Murtagh— and Thorn too—leaving only feeling, and what they felt was unbearable.

What could not continue…did not.

Murtagh broke. He felt it, he knew it, but in the moment, he did not care. All he wanted was for the pain to cease. He could not swear fealty to Bachel, that was beyond him, but he could no longer keep fighting.

So he stopped.

He gave up, and his mind retreated from the horrors of the situation, and a strange shell of passivity formed around him, numbing his emotions, dulling his thoughts. What he was shrank until it nearly vanished.

He could feel a sense of triumph radiating from Bachel. But he did not care. It did not matter.

None of it did. Only that the pain had stopped.

And it had. For Thorn had given up also, and the two of them lay in their respective places—chained and fettered—and waited to be told what to do.

You'll Also Like