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With a groan, he spun away and stalked back toward the road. The shock of that moment still resonated within him. Having everyone he loved torn away in an instant was a soul-changing event from which he would never recover. It had seeped into every aspect of his behavior and outlook.
It also forced Roran to think more than ever before. It was as if bands had been cinched around his mind, and those bands had snapped, allowing him to ponder ideas that were previously unimaginable. Such as the fact that he might not become a farmer, or that justice—the greatest standby in songs and legends—had little hold in reality. At times these thoughts filled his consciousness to the point where he could barely rise in the morning, feeling bloated with their heaviness.
Turning on the road, he headed north through Palancar Valley, back to Carvahall. The notched mountains on either side were laden with snow, despite the spring greenery that had crept over the valley floor in past weeks. Overhead, a single gray cloud drifted toward the peaks.
Roran ran a hand across his chin, feeling the stubble.Eragon caused all this—him and his blasted curiosity—by bringing that stone out of the Spine. It had taken Roran weeks to reach that conclusion. He had listened to everyone’s accounts. Several times he had Gertrude, the town healer, read aloud the letter Brom had left him. And there was no other explanation.Whatever that stone was, it must have attracted the strangers. For that alone, he blamed Garrow’s death on Eragon, though not in anger; he knew that Eragon had intended no harm. No, what roused his fury was that Eragon had left Garrow unburied and fled Palancar Valley, abandoning his responsibilities to gallop off with the old storyteller on some harebrained journey.How could Eragon have so little regard for those left behind? Did he run because he felt guilty? Afraid? Did Brom mislead him with wild tales of adventure?And why would Eragon listen to such things at a time like that? . . . I don’t even know if he’s dead or alive right now.
Roran scowled and rolled his shoulders, trying to clear his mind.Brom’s letter . . . Bah! He had never heard a more ridiculous collection of insinuations and ominous hints. The only thing it made clear was to avoid the strangers, which was common sense to begin with.The old man was crazy, he decided.
A flicker of movement caused Roran to turn, and he saw twelve deer—including a young buck with velvet horns—trotting back into the trees. He made sure to note their location so he could find them tomorrow. He was proud that he could hunt well enough to support himself in Horst’s house, though he had never been as skilled as Eragon.
As he walked, he continued to order his thoughts. After Garrow’s death, Roran had abandoned his job at Dempton’s mill in Therinsford and returned to Carvahall. Horst had agreed to house him and, in the following months, had provided him with work in the forge. Grief had delayed Roran’s decisions about the future until two days ago, when he finally settled upon a course of action.
He wanted to marry Katrina, the butcher’s daughter. The reason he went to Therinsford in the first place was to earn money to ensure a smooth beginning to their life together. But now, without a farm, a home, or means to support her, Roran could not in good conscience ask for Katrina’s hand. His pride would not allow it. Nor did Roran think Sloan, her father, would tolerate a suitor with such poor prospects. Even under the best of circumstances, Roran had expected to have a hard time convincing Sloan to give up Katrina; the two of them had never been friendly. And it was impossible for Roran to wed Katrina without her father’s consent, not unless they wished to divide her family, anger the village by defying tradition, and, most likely, start a blood feud with Sloan.
Considering the situation, it seemed to Roran that the only option available to him was to rebuild his farm, even if he had to raise the house and barn himself. It would be hard, starting from nothing, but once his position was secured, he could approach Sloan with his head held high.Next spring is the soonest we might talk, thought Roran, grimacing.
He knew Katrina would wait—for a time, at least.
He continued at a steady pace until evening, when the village came into view. Within the small huddle of buildings, wash hung on lines strung from window to window. Men filed back toward the houses from surrounding fields thick with winter wheat. Behind Carvahall, the half-mile-high Igualda Falls gleamed in the sunset as it tumbled down the Spine into the Anora. The sight warmed Roran because it was so ordinary. Nothing was more comforting than having everything where it should be.
Leaving the road, he made his way up the rise to where Horst’s house sat with a view of the Spine. The door was already open. Roran tromped inside, following the sounds of conversation into the kitchen.
Horst was there, leaning on the rough table pushed into one corner of the room, his arms bare to the elbow. Next to him was his wife, Elain, who was nearly five months pregnant and smiling with quiet contentment. Their sons, Albriech and Baldor, faced them.
As Roran entered, Albriech said, “. . . and I still hadn’t left the forge yet! Thane swears he saw me, but I was on the other side of town.”