Page 23

 Christopher Paolini

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She was silent for a long while, then dipped her head.As you wish.
He put a hand on her side before returning his attention to Nasuada and saying, “Do what you see fit. If this is how we can best assist the Varden, so be it.”
“Thank you. I know it is a lot to ask. Now, as we discussed before the funeral, I expect you to travel to Ellesméra and complete your training.”
“With Arya?”
“Of course. The elves have refused contact with both humans and dwarves ever since she was captured. Arya is the only being who can convince them to emerge from seclusion.”
“Couldn’t she use magic to tell them of her rescue?”
“Unfortunately not. When the elves retreated into Du Weldenvarden after the fall of the Riders, they placed wards around the forest that prevent any thought, item, or being from entering it through arcane means, though not from exiting it, if I understood Arya’s explanation. Thus, Arya must physically visit Du Weldenvarden before Queen Islanzadí will know that she is alive, that you and Saphira exist, and of the numerous events that have befallen the Varden these past months.” Nasuada handed him the scroll. It was stamped with a wax sigil. “This is a missive for Queen Islanzadí, telling her about the Varden’s situation and my own plans. Guard it with your life; it would cause a great deal of harm in the wrong hands. I hope that after all that’s happened, Islanzadí will feel kindly enough toward us to reinitiate diplomatic ties. Her assistance could mean the difference between victory and defeat. Arya knows this and has agreed to press our case, but I wanted you aware of the situation too, so you could take advantage of any opportunities that might arise.”
Eragon tucked the scroll into his jerkin. “When will we leave?”
“Tomorrow morning . . . unless you have something already planned?”
“Good.” She clasped her hands. “You should know, one other person will be traveling with you.” He looked at her quizzically. “King Hrothgar insisted that in the interest of fairness there should be a dwarf representative present at your training, since it affects their race as well. So he’s sending Orik along.”
Eragon’s first reaction was irritation. Saphira could have flown Arya and him to Du Weldenvarden, thereby eliminating weeks of unnecessary travel. Three passengers, however, were too many to fit on Saphira’s shoulders. Orik’s presence would confine them to the ground.
Upon further reflection, Eragon acknowledged the wisdom of Hrothgar’s request. It was important for Eragon and Saphira to maintain a semblance of equality in their dealings with the different races. He smiled. “Ah, well, it’ll slow us down, but I suppose we have to placate Hrothgar. To tell the truth, I’m glad Orik is coming. Crossing Alagaësia with only Arya was a rather daunting prospect. She’s . . .”
Nasuada smiled too. “She’s different.”
“Aye.” He grew serious again. “Do you really mean to attack the Empire? You said yourself that the Varden are weak. It doesn’t seem like the wisest course. If we wait—”
“If we wait,” she said sternly, “Galbatorix will only get stronger. This is the first time since Morzan was slain that we have even the slightest opportunity of catching him unprepared. He had no reason to suspect we could defeat the Urgals—which we did thanks to you—so he won’t have readied the Empire for invasion.”
Invasion!exclaimed Saphira.And how does she plan to kill Galbatorix when he flies out to obliterate their army with magic?
Nasuada shook her head in response when Eragon restated the objection. “From what we know of him, he won’t fight until Urû’baen itself is threatened. It doesn’t matter to Galbatorix if we destroy half the Empire, so long as we come to him, not the other way around. Why should he bother anyway? If we do manage to reach him, our troops will be battered and depleted, making it all the easier for him to destroy us.”
“You still haven’t answered Saphira,” protested Eragon.
“That’s because I can’t yet. This will be a long campaign. By its end you might be powerful enough to defeat Galbatorix, or the elves may have joined us . . . and their spellcasters are the strongest in Alagaësia. No matter what happens, we cannot afford to delay. Now is the time to gamble and dare what no one thinks we can accomplish. The Varden have lived in the shadows for too long—we must either challenge Galbatorix or submit and pass away.”
The scope of what Nasuada was suggesting disturbed Eragon. So many risks and unknown dangers were involved, it was almost absurd to consider such a venture. However, it was not his place to make the decision, and he accepted that. Nor would he dispute it further.We have to trust in her judgment now.
“But what of you, Nasuada? Will you be safe while we’re gone? I must think of my vow. It’s become my responsibility to ensure that you won’t have your own funeral soon.”
Her jaw tightened as she gestured at the door and the warriors beyond. “You needn’t fear, I am well defended.” She looked down. “I will admit . . . one reason for going to Surda is that Orrin knows me of old and will offer his protection. I cannot tarry here with you and Arya gone and the Council of Elders still with power. They won’t accept me as their leader until I prove beyond doubt that the Varden are undermy control, not theirs.”
Then she seemed to draw on some inner strength, squaring her shoulders and lifting her chin so she was distant and aloof. “Go now, Eragon. Ready your horse, gather supplies, and be at the north gate by dawn.”