Page 24

 Christopher Paolini

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He bowed low, respecting her return to formality, then left with Saphira.
After dinner, Eragon and Saphira flew together. They sailed high above Tronjheim, where crenulated icicles hung from the sides of Farthen Dûr, forming a great white band around them. Though it was still hours until night, it was already nearly dark within the mountain.
Eragon threw back his head, savoring the air on his face. He missed the wind—wind that would rush through the grass and stir the clouds until everything was tousled and fresh. Wind that would bring rain and storms and lash the trees so they bent.For that matter, I miss trees as well, he thought.Farthen Dûr is an incredible place, but it’s as empty of plants and animals as Ajihad’s tomb.
Saphira agreed.The dwarves seem to think that gems take the place of flowers. She was silent as the light continued to fade. When it was too dark for Eragon to see comfortably, she said,It’s late. We should return.
All right.
She drifted toward the ground in great, lazy spirals, drawing nearer to Tronjheim—which glowed like a beacon in the center of Farthen Dûr. They were still far from the city-mountain when she swung her head, saying,Look.
He followed her gaze, but all he could see was the gray, featureless plain below them.What?
Instead of answering, she tilted her wings and glided to their left, slipping down to one of the four roads that radiated from Tronjheim along the cardinal compass points. As they landed, he noticed a patch of white on a small hill nearby. The patch wavered strangely in the dusk, like a floating candle, then resolved into Angela, who was wearing a pale wool tunic.
The witch carried a wicker basket nearly four feet across and filled with a wild assortment of mushrooms, most of which Eragon did not recognize. As she approached, he gestured at them and said, “You’ve been gathering toadstools?”
“Hello,” laughed Angela, putting her load down. “Oh no,toadstool is far too general a term. And anyway, they really ought to be called frogstools, not toadstools.” She spread them with her hand. “Thisone is sulphur tuft, andthis is an inkcap, and here’s navelcap, and dwarf shield, russet tough-shank, blood ring, andthat is a spotted deceiver. Delightful, isn’t it!” She pointed to each in turn, ending on a mushroom with pink, lavender, and yellow splashed in rivulets across its cap.
“And that one?” he asked, indicating a mushroom with a lightning-blue stem, molten-orange gills, and a glossy black two-tiered cap.
She looked at it fondly. “Fricai Andlát, as the elves might say. The stalk is instant death, while the cap can cure most poisons. It’s what Tunivor’s Nectar is extracted from. Fricai Andlát only grows in caves in Du Weldenvarden and Farthen Dûr, and it would die out here if the dwarves started carting their dung elsewhere.”
Eragon looked back at the hill and realized that was exactly what it was, a dung heap.
“Hello, Saphira,” said Angela, reaching past him to pat Saphira on the nose. Saphira blinked and looked pleased, tail twitching. At the same time, Solembum padded into sight, his mouth clamped firmly around a limp rat. Without so much as a flick of his whiskers, the werecat settled on the ground and began to nibble on the rodent, studiously ignoring the three of them.
“So,” said Angela, tucking back a curl of her enormous hair, “off to Ellesméra?” Eragon nodded. He did not bother asking how she had found out; she always seemed to know what was going on. When he remained silent, she scowled. “Well, don’t act so morose. It’s not as if it’s your execution!”
“I know.”
“Thensmile, because if it’s not your execution, you should be happy! You’re as flaccid as Solembum’s rat.Flaccid. What a wonderful word, don’t you think?”
That wrung a grin out of him, and Saphira chortled with amusement deep in her throat. “I’m not sure it’s quite as wonderful as you think, but yes, I understand your point.”
“I’m glad you understand. Understanding is good.” With arched eyebrows, she hooked a fingernail underneath a mushroom and flipped it over, inspecting its gills as she said, “It’s fortuitous we met tonight, as you are about to leave and I . . . I will accompany the Varden to Surda. As I told you before, I like to be where things are happening, and that’s the place.”
Eragon grinned even more. “Well then, that must mean we’ll have a safe journey, else you’d be with us.”
Angela shrugged, then said seriously, “Be careful in Du Weldenvarden. Just because elves do not display their emotions doesn’t mean they aren’t subject to rage and passion like the rest of us mortals. What can make them so deadly, though, is how they conceal it, sometimes for years.”
“You’ve been there?”
“Once upon a time.”
After a pause, he asked, “What do you think of Nasuada’s plans?”
“Mmm . . . she’s doomed! You’re doomed! They’re all doomed!” She cackled, doubling over, then straightened abruptly. “Notice I didn’t specify what kind of doom, so no matter what happens, I predicted it. How verywise of me.” She lifted the basket again, setting it on one hip. “I suppose I won’t see you for a while, so farewell, best of luck, avoid roasted cabbage, don’t eat earwax, and look on the bright side of life!” And with a cheery wink, she strolled off, leaving Eragon blinking and nonplussed.
After an appropriate pause, Solembum picked up his dinner and followed, ever so dignified.