Page 22

 Christopher Paolini

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They were eating lunch—Saphira tearing at a bloody haunch—when Jarsha trotted up. Like before, he stared wide-eyed at Saphira, following her movements as she nibbled off the end of a leg bone. “Yes?” asked Eragon, wiping his chin and wondering if the Council of Elders had sent for them. He had heard nothing from them since the funeral.
Jarsha turned away from Saphira long enough to say, “Nasuada would like to see you, sir. She’s waiting in her father’s study.”
Sir!Eragon almost laughed. Only a little while ago,he would have been calling people sir, not the other way around. He glanced at Saphira. “Are you done, or should we wait a few minutes?”
Rolling her eyes, she fit the rest of the meat into her mouth and split the bone with a loud crack.I’m done.
“All right,” said Eragon, standing, “you can go, Jarsha. We know the way.”
It took almost half an hour to reach the study because of the city-mountain’s size. As during Ajihad’s rule, the door was guarded, but instead of two men, an entire squad of battle-hardened warriors now stood before it, alert for the slightest hint of danger. They would clearly sacrifice themselves to protect their new leader from ambush or attack. Though the men could not have failed to recognize Eragon and Saphira, they barred the way while Nasuada was alerted of her visitors. Only then were the two allowed to enter.
Eragon immediately noticed a change: a vase of flowers in the study. The small purple blossoms were unobtrusive, but they suffused the air with a warm fragrance that—for Eragon—evoked summers of fresh-picked raspberries and scythed fields turning bronze under the sun. He inhaled, appreciating the skill with which Nasuada had asserted her individuality without obliterating Ajihad’s memory.
She sat behind the broad desk, still cloaked in the black of mourning. As Eragon seated himself, Saphira beside him, she said, “Eragon.” It was a simple statement, neither friendly nor hostile. She turned away briefly, then focused on him, her gaze steely and intent. “I have spent the last few days reviewing the Varden’s affairs, such as they are. It was a dismal exercise. We are poor, overextended, and low on supplies, and few recruits are joining us from the Empire. I mean to change that.
“The dwarves cannot support us much longer, as it’s been a lean year for farming and they’ve suffered losses of their own. Considering this, I have decided to move the Varden to Surda. It’s a difficult proposition, but one I believe necessary to keep us safe. Once in Surda, we will finally be close enough to engage the Empire directly.”
Even Saphira stirred with surprise.The work that would involve! said Eragon.It could take months to get everyone’s belongings to Surda, not to mention all the people. And they’d probably be attacked along the way. “I thought King Orrin didn’t dare openly oppose Galbatorix,” he protested.
Nasuada smiled grimly. “His stance has changed since we defeated the Urgals. He will shelter and feed us and fight by our side. Many Varden are already in Surda, mainly women and children who couldn’t or wouldn’t fight. They will also support us, else I will strip our name from them.”
“How,” asked Eragon, “did you communicate with King Orrin so quickly?”
“The dwarves use a system of mirrors and lanterns to relay messages through their tunnels. They can send a dispatch from here to the western edge of the Beor Mountains in less than a day. Couriers then transport it to Aberon, capital of Surda. Fast as it is, that method is still too slow when Galbatorix can surprise us with an Urgal army and give us less than a day’s notice. I intend to arrange something far more expedient between Du Vrangr Gata and Hrothgar’s magicians before we go.”
Opening the desk drawer, Nasuada removed a thick scroll. “The Varden will depart Farthen Dûr within the month. Hrothgar has agreed to provide us with safe passage through the tunnels. Moreover, he sent a force to Orthíad to remove the last vestiges of Urgals and seal the tunnels so no one can invade the dwarves by that route again. As this may not be enough to guarantee the Varden’s survival, I have a favor to ask of you.”
Eragon nodded. He had expected a request or order. That was the only reason for her to have summoned them. “I am yours to command.”
“Perhaps.” Her eyes flicked to Saphira for a second. “In any case, this is not a command, and I want you to think carefully before replying. To help rally support for the Varden, I wish to spread word throughout the Empire that a new Rider—named Eragon Shadeslayer—and his dragon, Saphira, have joined our cause. I would like your permission before doing so, however.”
It’s too dangerous,objected Saphira.
Word of our presence here will reach the Empire anyway,pointed out Eragon.The Varden will want to brag about their victory and Durza’s death. Since it’ll happen with or without our approval, we should agree to help.
She snorted softly.I’m worried about Galbatorix. Until now we haven’t made it public where our sympathies lie.
Our actions have been clear enough.
Yes, but even when Durza fought you in Tronjheim, he wasn’t trying to kill you. If we become outspoken in our opposition to the Empire, Galbatorix won’t be so lenient again. Who knows what forces or plots he may have kept in abeyance while he tried to gain hold of us? As long as we remain ambiguous, he won’t know what to do.
The time for ambiguity has passed,asserted Eragon.We fought the Urgals, killed Durza, and I have sworn fealty to the leader of the Varden. No ambiguity exists. No, with your permission, I will agree to her proposal.