Chapter no 5 – Dragonflight

Murtagh (The Inheritance Cycle, #5)

The map Murtagh had—which he had bought off a fur merchant near Teirm—wasn’t detailed enough to tell him where exactly in Alagaësia he and Thorn were. Like most maps intended for use by

traders, it was mainly concerned with land and sea routes and not, for example, the exact shape, location, and scale of Du Weldenvarden.

He knew that the forest extended westward in a great tongue of trees. South of it lay Isenstar Lake, and south of Isenstar lay the city of Gil’ead. The shortest path to Gil’ead would have been straight across the wooded expanse, but that would entail entering the elves’ territory, which they protected with fierce devotion. Moreover, there was a range of high-topped mountains somewhere in that section of the forest, and mountains always made flying dicult.

So, instead, he and Thorn decided to skirt the forest as they worked their way westward and south, until they caught sight of Isenstar. Then they would know their location and could turn toward Gil’ead.

As had become habit, Murtagh used a simple spell to hide Thorn from the eyes of those on the ground, human or otherwise. Simple though it was, the spell took energy, and by the end of every day, Murtagh felt a dull fatigue, which was exacerbated by the eort needed to ride Thorn. The dragon flapped slowly compared with a bird, but each beat of his wings was still a jarring experience. Murtagh wasn’t able to doze as he might have on a horse during a long march.

To pass the time, he thought. Mostly about magic. He had long since realized that magic was the key to mastering the world, to controlling circumstances and protecting himself and those he cared for, few as they were. Galbatorix had not trained him in enchanting as Murtagh was growing up at court, for the king had guarded such knowledge most jealously. And while Eragon had taught Murtagh his first words of power, he had not been able to make use of them at the time, no matter how hard he tried. It was only months later, after Thorn hatched for him while imprisoned beneath Urû’baen, that he succeeded in breaking the glass-like barrier in his mind and, through force of will, enacting his first piece of magic.

It had been a simple spell—lyftha—with which he had raised a single gold crown from Galbatorix’s seamless palm.

The king had been miserly with his instruction thereafter, teaching Murtagh the bare minimum of the art. A slave armed was a man freed, and Galbatorix had made it clear that he had every intention of maintaining a close hold over Murtagh and Thorn, even as he had chained his dread servants the Forsworn.

Including my father.

Murtagh scowled and wrenched his thoughts into a dierent track.

He’d grown increasingly obsessed with understanding what was and wasn’t possible with gramarye. As a result, he spent a great deal of time thinking about the intricacies of the ancient language, and how the ancient language wasn’t magic itself, but rather a means of guiding and constraining one’s intent. Without it, a random thought whilst casting a spell might result in an entirely dierent—and potentially devastating—outcome. Which was exactly why wordless magic was so dangerous.

The study of the ancient language was the work of a lifetime. And yet… the language itself was insucient to explain the true nature of magic, for at its heart, magic was the act of manipulating energy. And it was energy that really interested Murtagh. What was it? Where did it come from? How could it be gathered and used?

It was a perplexing question.

He sighed and looked at the dark apex of the sky. The elves might know the truth of the matter; they’d spent centuries studying the mysteries of magic. Magic ran in their blood, even as it did with the dragons.

If only he could ask them.

At times, he wished he and Thorn had kept the Eldunarí whom Galbatorix had given them. Then they would never have to worry about a lack of energy, for the Eldunarí’s crystalline structure contained more motive force than a dragon contained in their normal flesh-and-blood body.

Murtagh still found it strange to think that dragons grew the large, gemlike stones within their chests. Up until Galbatorix showed him one, he had not even suspected their existence, much less that it was possible for dragons to transfer their minds into the Eldunarí and thus live on even after their flesh perished.

Just one more mystery among many relating to dragons.

The king had often lent them the Eldunarí of an old male dragon by the name of Yngmar. Like most of the Eldunarí whom Galbatorix had acquired, Yngmar was quite mad, tortured into incoherency by the king. Murtagh had barely been able to make sense of the dragon’s thoughts; trying usually left him with a throbbing headache.

Yet, on occasion, he missed Yngmar and the other Eldunarí. He knew Thorn felt the same. The flesh-dead dragons had given Murtagh strength and speed beyond that of a normal human, enough to match that of an elf. (A not-always-welcome gift, as the resulting soreness had often been crippling.) More importantly, having the Eldunarí nearby had provided a certain companionship during the time he and Thorn spent enslaved to Galbatorix. And he’d learned from them too. The Eldunarí had often ranted in the ancient language, and he’d managed to pick up a word here, a word there, although the exact meaning often eluded him.

He had left the Eldunarí with Nasuada outside the citadel in Urû’baen following Galbatorix’s explosive demise. It had been the right choice; the dragons needed care, and Murtagh had felt inadequate to it, as had Thorn. So far as Murtagh knew, all of the existing Eldunarí—including Yngmar and Umaroth—were now with Eragon in the far east, beyond the borders of

Alagaësia, where he’d gone to establish a hold for the next generation of dragons and Riders.

Which was as it should be. And yet, in his darker moments, Murtagh found himself chewing on discontent that Eragon should have so much, even though life had been far harder for him and Thorn. It wasn’t fair. Not that Murtagh believed life had anything to do with fairness. Nevertheless, the discontent remained, although he tried not to feed it, tried to focus on more helpful thoughts.

No remembering!

Murtagh dug his nails into his palms and spent a few long minutes watching the slow parade of the land below. Rows of long, thin clouds straked diagonally beneath Thorn, breaking up the ground into discrete stripes of green-brown spectacle.

What do you think magic is? he asked Thorn. Potential.

When he tired of thinking about magic, Murtagh occupied himself by composing poems in the fashion of Galbatorix’s court, in a form known as Attenwrack, after its originator, Atten the Red—a minor earl from the far south, near the city of Aroughs.

Murtagh had never been one for scholarly pursuits. Growing up, he had played the obedient student, but he’d had little interest in math, logic, or astronomy. History had been a carefully metered account approved by Galbatorix, a repetitive cycle of self-praise that bored him even in the first telling. He learned his letters and practiced his reading, but the books that might have interested him were locked in Galbatorix’s great vault, forbidden to everyone but the king himself.

Always Murtagh had found himself drawn more to physical activities: sparring, dancing, climbing, hunting. They cleared his mind, gave him a sense of well-being and accomplishment and, most importantly, control.

And yet now, in the empty wilderness, with nothing but the sky and the earth to behold, and a vast and dangerous silence constantly tempting him to retrospection, he had found a new enjoyment in arranging words according to the patterns of the Attenwrack. It was a strange experience, but he

persisted, confused and intrigued by the satisfaction that the process gave him.

As it was too dicult to put pen to parchment while riding Thorn, he spoke the words out loud and did his best to hold them in his mind.

It wasn’t easy. Sometimes he forgot what he’d composed, and that was frustrating. Other times he couldn’t think of the right word—even when he knew it existed—and that was frustrating too. The hardest part was fitting the words into a pleasing shape while still saying what he wanted to say.

Speaking slowly so as to avoid mistakes, he recited his latest stanza:

Eagle soars, eagle hunts, a king of air.

Sparrows dart, sparrows flock, no crown to wearEver at odds, the many against the one.

In equal combat, the eagle prevailsUnequal and harried, the sovereign failsFly as you are told or fly alone, the

End of each is still the same. The chilled Embrace of death will calm your final care.

And dragons eat them all, said Thorn.

Murtagh scratched his neck and stared at the horizon, somber. He wished Thorn could eat every living thing, should the need arise. But it still would not save either of them from their fated end, for the doom of all things was to die and be forgotten. Even dragons.



That evening, they made camp in a field by a grove of alder trees. Murtagh would have preferred the cover of the trees—he hated sleeping out in the open—but as he always did when it came to where they stopped, he deferred to Thorn.

The alders stood along the banks of a small stream that poured out of Du Weldenvarden some leagues distant. While he waited for the campfire to build to full heat, Murtagh went to fill their waterskins.

The white bark of the alders almost seemed to glow in the fading light, and it felt cool and still and sacred beneath the arching branches. The leaves were starting to turn red and gold, and the smell of dewy moss freshened the air.

Murtagh knelt by the trilling stream. The water ran cold across his wrists as he submerged the skins, one after another. Once filled, the skins were heavy, awkward, and slippery. Murtagh had only packed two originally, but he found that flying made him unaccountably thirsty, and so he’d bought another three off a trapper in the Spine.

As he lifted the skins, the carrying strap on one broke, and the skin fell to the ground.

“Barzûl,” he swore in Dwarvish.

He tried to pick up the skin, but it kept slipping out of his hand, and the four other skins kept pulling him o-balance.

Without thinking, he called out, “Thorn! Can you help? I can’t carry them all!”

A snuing sound came from the edge of the grove. He looked back to see Thorn crouched in front of the trees, sning and swinging his head back and forth.

Murtagh realized the problem at once. There was enough room between the alders for the dragon to fit—a game trail led down to the stream—but only barely. The space was too confined for Thorn to spread his wings, lift his head, or easily turn around.

“You don’t have to—”

The words died in his mouth as Thorn took a step forward. Then another. Hope began to form within Murtagh.

A gust of wind ransacked the branches over Thorn’s head. The wood creaked and groaned with uncanny complaints, the grove seeming come alive with hostile intent. Thorn cowered, and his lip curled to bare his fangs. Still snarling, he retreated to the edge of the alders and shrank against his haunches.

A curious mixture of sadness and anger displaced Murtagh’s hope. He set his jaw and adjusted his grip on the skins.

Thorn extended his left foreleg beneath the trees, reaching out with extended claws. Give them thisways. I will carry them back.

“It’s all right,” he said, and kept his gaze on the skins. “I’ll manage. Go.

I’ll be there directly.”

Thorn growled, but there was a plaintive quality to the sound. After a moment, he turned and, with heavy steps, crawled back to their camp.

Murtagh’s breath hitched in his chest. He ignored it and contorted his right hand until he was able to grip the mouth of the fallen skin.

Then he trudged out of the grove.



The fire had died down, leaving a bed of smoldering coals.

Murtagh stared at the glowing rubies and compared them in his mind to the stone Sarros had found.

He scratched his forearm where it ached. He was more tired than usual.

The excitement at Ceunon and the flight thence had taken their toll.

From his bags, he fetched the leather packet that held his quills and parchment and a bottle of oak-gall ink. He took the piece of parchment half covered with his upright script and carefully lettered the lines he’d composed earlier.

The result left him unsatisfied, feeling as if he could have done better.

While he waited for the strokes of ink to dry, he used his finger to draw a narrow furrow in the ground. Then, from one end, a fork branching left and right.

He cocked his head, studying the sight.

During the hours he’d spent contemplating magic, he had begun to consider the possibilities of if spells. They held more potential than most realized, he believed.

He touched the point where the furrows forked and whispered, “Ílf adurna fïthren, sving raehta.” Or, in rough translation, If water touches, turn right. Then he unstoppered the skin by his side and poured a measure of water into the opposite end of the furrow.

The water ran along the course until the way divided. Then, as if guided by an invisible hand, it flowed into the rightward branch of the shallow ditch he’d dug. And Murtagh felt a slight—but proportional—expenditure of energy. He brought the enchantment to an end.

He frowned as he stoppered the skin.

How many ifs could he stack in a spell? And how close did he need to be to the point of action? Could he bind a conditioned spell to an object, like a gem, and leave it to do his bidding? As a trap for a foe or to signal him in the event of a certain happening? The possibilities were myriad. Could he build an edifice of ifs that would protect Thorn and himself from every conceivable threat?

All things to experiment with.

Across the bedded fire, Thorn stirred and uttered a whimpering sound.

He was sleeping, but it was an uneasy slumber. Always it was so.

Murtagh watched him, troubled, and rubbed his left forearm, rubbed the old hurt away. He sighed and looked at the great arc of stars splattered across the night sky, and he wished for the wisdom to calm and comfort, to heal wounded minds.

If the thought were a prayer, he knew not to whom he prayed. The dwarf gods weren’t his own, and the superstitions of the common folk held no appeal to him. But he hoped that perhaps someone or something might hear his plea. And if not—if, as he suspected, no one was there to respond— then the task of improving was his and his alone. The prospect was daunting in the extreme, but there was solace in it too. Whatever he accomplished— good or evil—he might rightfully claim without apportioned dues. If chance dictated the events of his life, he was the master of his responses, and no king or god could infringe upon that right.

He packed away the parchment, quills, and ink, and then laid himself down on his blanket. He looked to Thorn and decided to let the dragon sleep rather than wake him for their nightly ritual. Thorn needed the rest after a long day of flying, and Murtagh was well familiar with Thorn’s true name. It was as dear to him as his own, and as the incident at the alders had shown, another telling of it would teach him nothing new.

Tomorrow will serve, Murtagh thought.

Too soft to hear, he spoke his true name, and the back of his neck prickled, and his heart quickened at the flood of self-knowledge, harsh and uncompromising.

Then he pulled the blanket closer around his shoulders and watched the pulsing of the coals while he waited for his heart to slow and sleep to take him.



Murtagh dreamt, and they were dicult dreams.

He found himself reliving his ambush and capture in Tronjheim. Being bound hand and foot, the Twins forcing him to ride through countless miles of dark tunnels and then across the better part of Alagaësia to Urû’baen and Galbatorix. Never had he felt so helpless….

Then he was fighting Eragon upon the Burning Plains. The hosts of men and dwarves clashed about them while the dwarven king lay dead in his golden armor amid the field of eternal flame. And regret mixed with rage.

When the battle receded from mind, his vision shifted:

Nasuada standing before him. Nasuada, as he had first seen her in Tronjheim. Young and untested by the rigors of command, not yet risen to the leadership of the Varden nor yet to her queenship, but tall and regal nonetheless.

And he, by contrast, a prisoner in a cell, sequestered there by the Varden as they attempted to determine where his true loyalties lay.

Even from that moment, he admired her, for he could see that her resolve was a match for his own. And she showed him kindness when no kindness was warranted; she spoke with him without prejudice, out of a sincere desire to understand what had brought him and Eragon to the Varden. She spoke with him as the person he was, not the person others believed him to be.

She shifted then: her dress changed to that which she had been wearing when, much later and at Galbatorix’s orders, Murtagh had seized her from the Varden’s encampment. Her expression of defiance tore at his heart. He could see her fear beneath, and the monstrous unfairness of the situation broke him.

He saw her chained to the ashen altar within the Hall of the Soothsayer, in the ancient chamber beneath Urû’baen, where Galbatorix had kept her prisoner. Stains and tears appeared on her dress, and her hair grew frazzled, her eyes haunted. Livid marks disfigured her arms. But never did her defiance vanish throughout the tortures Galbatorix had him inflict on her. And still, she showed him understanding.

Then they were together in the rubble-strewn courtyard outside the citadel in Urû’baen. Smoke darkened the sky, and ash fell like snow. The king was dead. The war was won. Nasuada was looking up at him, all defiance gone, her dark eyes round and vulnerable. And the only words he could manage were “I’m sorry.”

They weren’t enough. How could they be?



Starlings and magpies were arguing in the alder tops as Murtagh woke. His forehead was sweaty, and under his arms too, and his pulse was racing like a frightened horse.

He sat up and wiped his forehead.

The sun hadn’t risen yet, and Thorn was still asleep.

His heart felt hollow. There had been a brief time, after the battle for Tronjheim, where he had been a free man, and Nasuada as yet unburdened by the responsibilities of command. The possibility of a courtship had just begun to form between them when fate had intervened. Had they continued uninterrupted…

He shook his head. It was bootless to consider what ifs and might have beens. What was, was, and it was the lot of the living to deal with it as best they could.

But knowing that did nothing to ease his pain.

Careful to be quiet, Murtagh stood, picked up Zar’roc from by his blanket, and walked a ways from their camp.

The frost-laden grass crunched under his boots, a crisp, dry sound.

He stood in an expanse of empty sward. Chest up, shoulders back, staring forward into the future.

An intake of frozen air, and he swept Zar’roc from its crimson sheath. In dawn’s grey light, the sword’s blade was a sharpened shard of iridescent red— a shimmering thorn of frozen blood, eager to cut and stab and kill. The blade of a Rider, forged out of brightsteel by an elven smith over a century past and imbued with spells of strength and keenness and resistance. The finest weapon a warrior could hope to wield, and yet he regarded it with as much aversion as appreciation. A Rider’s blade, yes, but that Rider had been Morzan. His father. And Morzan had used Zar’roc for many a black and bloody deed…as had Murtagh after him.

Not for nothing had Morzan named the blade Misery in the ancient language, and true to its name, the sword had brought pain to many throughout the land, including Murtagh himself.

Sometimes he wondered if he should have ever taken Zar’roc from Eragon.

He shook off the thought. Whether he wanted it or not, Morzan’s shadow would always lie upon him, and aside from his name and the scar on his back, Zar’roc was all he had from his father. It was a meager and hateful inheritance, but it was his alone, and for that he clung to it.

He held the sheath in his off hand as he flowed through the familiar forms. Step, cut, parry, turn. Block, swing, lunge. He moved without thinking, his mind as still and empty as a windless lake on a cloudless day.

Attack, defend, escape. Beat and break, search the opening, make the cut, risk the stab. He used the sheath as a dagger, blocking, deflecting, rapping the wrist, creating opportunities for a lethal blow.

His skin warmed, and his pulse steadied. He moved faster, pushing himself to maintain the pace of battle, every movement a whip-snap of life-preserving, life-ending action.

His lungs gave out before his arms. Unable to continue, he fell to his knees and braced the sheath against the ground. Zar’roc he placed across his thighs.

As the first rays of light crept across the frozen grass, the egg-shaped ruby in Zar’roc’s pommel refracted the beams, splitting them into glowing darts of red.

Once his breath steadied, he stood, sheathed the blade, and staggered back to camp.

Across the dead fire, Thorn watched. He snied as Murtagh came close.

You stink of fear.

Murtagh grunted. “I know. I’ll wash.” He flinched as Thorn licked his elbow. Then he forced himself to relax and patted the dragon’s head.



The days followed the same pattern. They flew, being careful to avoid detection. Murtagh thought and wrote and thought some more. At camp, he recorded whatever was worth saving and sometimes cast a few spells. And every evening, he and Thorn spoke their true names together in silent confession.

Nights he dreamt, and neither he nor Thorn spoke of what they saw in the small hours.

Throughout, Du Weldenvarden remained a seemingly endless sea of trees to their left. The forest’s dark depths filled Murtagh with foreboding; he disliked the idea of losing himself among the trackless ranks of pines. Still, he wondered what it would be like to walk the ancient forest. He and Thorn had never had an opportunity to visit the ancestral home of the first Riders.

The thought reminded him of Vroengard Island, and he shivered. That had been one place he and Thorn had been glad to leave. The whole island had felt wrong, tainted by the deaths of dragons, poisoned by the magics loosed in the Riders’ fall.

Sometimes it felt to Murtagh as if the whole of Alagaësia were a graveyard, laden with history’s sorrows.

During the third evening, Thorn was in a playful mood, so they sparred together, or as well as a man and dragon could. Murtagh ran and darted and jumped around Thorn, trying to touch him with the tip of Zar’roc (dulled for the moment with magic). And Thorn in turn did his best to keep Murtagh at bay and to catch him and pin him to the ground.

It was great fun, even if Murtagh ended up bruised and cut. He left a few bruises of his own, but Thorn didn’t mind; the dragon’s eyes sparkled with fierce enjoyment every time Murtagh landed a hit or made him dodge.

Afterward, Murtagh lay against Thorn’s heaving belly as they both caught their breath. “You were as slow as a turtle,” he said in a playful tone.

Thorn nudged his bruised arm. And you were as obvious as an ox. Murtagh smirked. “Maybe, but I still managed to mark you.”

A small, good-humored growl was his answer.



On the morning of the fourth day, a sheet of silver appeared stretched along the southern horizon. “Isenstar!” said Murtagh, and Thorn banked into a gentle turn.

The lake was one of the largest in Alagaësia. Under normal circumstances, they would have stuck to the shore, keeping land beneath them in case they needed to alight. However, there were sure to be folk along the water’s edge, and the spell Murtagh used to hide Thorn from prying eyes did nothing to conceal the sound of his wings or the feel of their minds. So Thorn struck out straight over the rippling expanse.

There were herons at Isenstar, and gulls and terns, flown inland to feast on the lake fish. A V-formation of herons joined Thorn in the sky; the birds showed no fear of the larger, slower dragon.

Murtagh amused himself by shouting at the herons, and they responded with an appalling barking scream that made him think of a donkey crossed with a pig.

All day Thorn flew, maintaining a steady pace with slow, powerful flaps. At noontime the reflected light from below was so bright, Murtagh had to avert his eyes to keep from being blinded. Later, the water acquired a startling clarity; even from far above, he could see great fishes and swaths of swaying weeds.

There were boats too, fishermen competing with the birds for the bounty of the lake. Also trappers and merchants transporting goods north or

south between Gil’ead and Ceunon.

But what caught Murtagh’s attention the most was a slim, two-person rowboat that had a white hull and an unmistakably elegant shape. “Elves,” he said, and pointed with his mind.

Thorn swerved west, away from the rowboat.

“Guard your thoughts,” said Murtagh. “If they haven’t noticed us, we might sneak by.”

Thorn hummed in response.

The rowboat shrank behind them more slowly than Murtagh would have liked. He watched until it was a tiny, undistinguished speck, and only then did he relax.

Of all the races, elves were the most skilled with magic and mental communication. If the elves had decided to reach out with their thoughts and test the sky, well…Murtagh allowed himself a wry smile. The day would have become unpleasantly interesting.

He scratched around the spikes on Thorn’s neck. “Well done.” Sharp eyes, was all the dragon said in return.

The sky had darkened to purple, and a scrim of golden clouds hung above the lake when Gil’ead entered into view, past the shoreline ahead of them.

The city was much as Murtagh remembered. Low and rough, with log-walled structures and—near the center—a sprawling fortress. It was there Lord Relgin, the city’s current governor, would reside, and there Murtagh suspected he would find Ilenna, currying favor and gathering secrets. Assuming, that was, her family hadn’t been exiled from favor for their association with the Empire. But Murtagh doubted it. Her father’s shipping concern was too useful for whoever held power, whether that was Galbatorix, Nasuada, or Lord Relgin.

Murtagh was glad to have arrived, but the sight of Gil’ead brought him little pleasure. The last time he and Thorn had been at the city, they had been fighting at Galbatorix’s behest, in a desperate and failed attempt to defend the place from the elves. It had been a bloody, miserable battle. And the time before that had been little better: an ambush and then him having

to sneak into the fortress to rescue Eragon from the clutches of the Shade Durza.

He looked for it and saw: the roof above the fortress banquet hall, rebuilt and newly shingled. The people of Gil’ead had been busy since the end of the war.

In his mind, Murtagh heard the mighty crack that had sounded when Saphira ripped off the banquet hall’s original roof during their escape. He made a face. That had been a dire night. Nor had it been the first such night in Gil’ead for his family.

We’ve had an unhappy history here, he thought. Best not to add to the tallyThen don’t get into any more fights, said Thorn.

You know I can’t promise that.

Murtagh turned his gaze westward. In that direction, tucked somewhere among the hills surrounding Gil’ead, was the hollow where he’d hidden with Saphira while they plotted to rescue Eragon….

“That way,” he said, pointing.

The horizon tilted as Thorn angled westward, and Murtagh returned to studying the layout of the city while he considered how best to approach Ilenna.





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