Page 25

 Christopher Paolini

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Dawn was a half hour away when Eragon and Saphira arrived at Tronjheim’s north gate. The gate was raised just enough to let Saphira pass, so they hurried underneath it, then waited in the recessed area beyond, where red jasper pillars loomed above and carved beasts snarled between the bloody piers. Past those, at the very edge of Tronjheim, sat two thirty-foot-high gold griffins. Identical pairs guarded each of the city-mountain’s gates. No one was in sight.
Eragon held Snowfire’s reins. The stallion was brushed, reshod, and saddled, his saddlebags bulging with goods. He pawed the floor impatiently; Eragon had not ridden him for over a week.
Before long Orik ambled up, bearing a large pack on his back and a bundle in his arms. “No horse?” asked Eragon, somewhat surprised.Are we supposed to walk all the way to Du Weldenvarden?
Orik grunted. “We’ll be stopping at Tarnag, just north of here. From there we take rafts along the Az Ragni to Hedarth, an outpost for trading with the elves. We won’t need steeds before Hedarth, so I’ll use my own feet till then.”
He set the bundle down with a clang, then unwrapped it, revealing Eragon’s armor. The shield had been repainted—so the oak tree stood clearly in the center—and all the dings and scrapes removed. Beneath it was the long mail shirt, burnished and oiled until the steel gleamed brilliantly. No sign existed of where it had been rent when Durza cut Eragon’s back. The coif, gloves, bracers, greaves, and helmet were likewise repaired.
“Our greatest smiths worked on these,” said Orik, “as well as your armor, Saphira. However, since we can’t take dragon armor with us, it was given to the Varden, who will guard it against our return.”
Please thank him for me,said Saphira.
Eragon obliged, then laced on the greaves and bracers, storing the other items in his bags. Last of all, he reached for his helm, only to find Orik holding it. The dwarf rolled the piece between his hands, then said, “Do not be so quick to don this, Eragon. There is a choice you must make first.”
“What choice is that?”
Raising the helmet, Orik uncovered its polished brow, which, Eragon now saw, had been altered: etched in the steel were the hammer and stars of Hrothgar and Orik’s clan, the Ingeitum. Orik scowled, looking both pleased and troubled, and said in a formal voice, “Mine king, Hrothgar, desires that I present this helm as a symbol of the friendship he bears for you. And with it Hrothgar extends an offer to adopt you as one of Dûrgrimst Ingeitum, as a member of his own family.”
Eragon stared at the helm, amazed that Hrothgar would make such a gesture.Does this mean I’d be subjected to his rule? . . . If I continue to accrue loyalties and allegiances at this pace, I’ll be incapacitated before long—unable to do anything without breaking some oath!
You don’t have to put it on,pointed out Saphira.
And risk insulting Hrothgar? Once again, we’re trapped.
It may be intended as a gift, though, another sign of otho, not a trap. I would guess he’s thanking us for my offer to repair Isidar Mithrim.
That had not occurred to Eragon, for he had been too busy trying to figure out how the dwarf king might gain advantage over them.True. But I think it’s also an attempt to correct the imbalance of power created when I swore fealty to Nasuada. The dwarves couldn’t have been pleased with that turn of events. He looked back at Orik, who was waiting anxiously. “How often has this been done?”
“For a human? Never. Hrothgar argued with the Ingeitum families for a day and a night before they agreed to accept you. If you consent to bear our crest, you will have full rights as clan member. You may attend our councils and give voice on every issue. And,” he grew very somber, “if you so wish, you will have the right to be buried with our dead.”
For the first time, the enormity of Hrothgar’s action struck Eragon. The dwarves could offer no higher honor. With a swift motion, he took the helm from Orik and pressed it down upon his head. “I am privileged to join Dûrgrimst Ingeitum.”
Orik nodded with approval and said, “Then take this Knurlnien, this Heart of Stone, and cup it between your hands—yes, like so. You must steel yourself now and prick open a vein to wet the stone. A few drops will suffice. . . . To finish, repeat after me: Os il dom qirânû carn dûr thargen, zeitmen, oen grimst vor formv edaris rak skilfz. Narho is belgond . . .” It was a lengthy recitation and all the longer because Orik stopped to translate every few sentences. Afterward, Eragon healed his wrist with a quick spell.
“Whatever else the clans may say about this business,” observed Orik, “you have behaved with integrity and respect. They cannot ignore that.” He grinned. “We are of the same clan now, eh? You are my foster brother! Under more normal circumstances, Hrothgar would have presented your helm himself and we would have held a lengthy ceremony to commemorate your induction into Dûrgrimst Ingeitum, but events move too swiftly for us to tarry. Fear not that you are being slighted, though! Your adoption shall be celebrated with the proper rituals when you and Saphira next return to Farthen Dûr. You shall feast and dance and have many pieces of paper to sign in order to formalize your new position.”
“I look forward to the day,” said Eragon. He was still preoccupied with sifting through the numerous possible ramifications of belonging to Dûrgrimst Ingeitum.
Sitting against a pillar, Orik shrugged off his pack and drew his ax, which he proceeded to twirl between his palms. After several minutes, he leaned forward, glaring back into Tronjheim. “Barzûl knurlar! Where are they? Arya said she would be right here. Ha! Elves’ only concept of time is late and even later.”