Page 20

 Christopher Paolini

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The Varden and dwarves stared, dumbstruck. In that same instant, the Council of Elders flashed from triumphant gloating to enraged impotence. Their glares burned with the strength and venom of those betrayed. Even Elessari let outrage burst through her pleasant demeanor. Only Jörmundur—after a brief jolt of surprise—seemed to accept the announcement with equanimity.
Nasuada smiled and grasped Zar’roc, placing the sword’s tip on Eragon’s forehead, just as before. “I am honored that you choose to serve me, Rider Eragon. I accept, as you accept all the responsibilities accompanying the station. Rise as my vassal and take your sword.”
Eragon did so, then stepped back with Saphira. With shouts of approval, the crowd rose to their feet, the dwarves stamping in rhythm with their hobnail boots while human warriors banged swords across shields.
Turning to the podium, Nasuada gripped it on either side and looked up at all the people in the amphitheater. She beamed at them, pure joy shining from her face. “People of the Varden!”
“As my father did before me, I give my life to you and our cause. I will never cease fighting until the Urgals are vanquished, Galbatorix is dead, and Alagaësia is free once more!”
More cheering and applause.
“Therefore, I say to you, now is the time to prepare. Here in Farthen Dûr—after endless skirmishes—we won our greatest battle. It is our turn to strike back. Galbatorix is weak after losing so many forces, and there will never again be such an opportunity.
“Therefore, I say again, now is the time to prepare so that we may once more stand victorious!”
After more speeches by various personages—including a still-glowering Falberd—the amphitheater began to empty. As Eragon stood to leave, Orik grasped his arm, stopping him. The dwarf was wide-eyed. “Eragon, did you plan all that beforehand?”
Eragon briefly considered the wisdom of telling him, then nodded. “Yes.”
Orik exhaled, shaking his head. “That was a bold stroke, it was. You’ve given Nasuada a strong position to begin with. It was dangerous, though, if the reactions of the Council of Elders are anything to judge by. Did Arya approve of this?”
“She agreed it was necessary.”
The dwarf studied him thoughtfully. “I’m sure it was. You just altered the balance of power, Eragon. No one will underestimate you again because of it. . . . Beware the rotten stone. You have earned some powerful enemies today.” He slapped Eragon on the side and continued past.
Saphira watched him go, then said,We should prepare to leave Farthen Dûr. The council will be thirsty for revenge. The sooner we’re out of their reach, the better.
That evening, as Eragon returned to his quarters from bathing, he was surprised to find a tall woman waiting for him in the hall. She had dark hair, startling blue eyes, and a wry mouth. Wound around her wrist was a gold bracelet shaped like a hissing snake. Eragon hoped that she wasn’t there to ask him for advice, like so many of the Varden.
“Argetlam.” She curtsied gracefully.
He inclined his head in return. “Can I help you?”
“I hope so. I’m Trianna, sorceress of Du Vrangr Gata.”
“Really? A sorceress?” he asked, intrigued.
“And battle mage and spy and anything else the Varden deem necessary. There aren’t enough magic users, so we each end up with a half-dozen tasks.” She smiled, displaying even, white teeth. “That’s why I came today. We would be honored to have you take charge of our group. You’re the only one who can replace the Twins.”
Almost without realizing it, he smiled back. She was so friendly and charming, he hated to say no. “I’m afraid I can’t; Saphira and I are leaving Tronjheim soon. Besides, I’d have to consult with Nasuada first anyway.”And I don’t want to be entangled in any more politics . . . especially not where the Twins used to lead .
Trianna bit her lip. “I’m sorry to hear that.” She moved a step closer. “Perhaps we can spend some time together before you have to go. I could show you how to summon and control spirits. . . . It would beeducational for both of us.”
Eragon felt a hot flush warm his face. “I appreciate the offer, but I’m really too busy at the moment.”
A spark of anger flared within Trianna’s eyes, then vanished so quickly, he wondered whether he had seen it at all. She sighed delicately. “I understand.”
She sounded so disappointed—and looked so forlorn—Eragon felt guilty for rebuffing her.It can’t hurt to talk with her for a few minutes, he told himself. “I’m curious; how did you learn magic?”
Trianna brightened. “My mother was a healer in Surda. She had a bit of power and was able to instruct me in the old ways. Of course, I’m nowhere near as powerful as a Rider. None of Du Vrangr Gata could have defeated Durza alone, like you did. That was a heroic deed.”
Embarrassed, Eragon scuffed his boots against the ground. “I wouldn’t have survived if not for Arya.”
“You are too modest, Argetlam,” she admonished. “It wasyou who struck the final blow. You should be proud of your accomplishment. It’s a feat worthy of Vrael himself.” She leaned toward him. His heart quickened as he smelled her perfume, which was rich and musky, with a hint of an exotic spice. “Have you heard the songs composed about you? The Varden sing them every night around their fires. They say you’ve come to take the throne from Galbatorix!”