Page 26

 Christopher Paolini

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“Have you dealt with them much?” asked Eragon, crouching. Saphira watched with interest.
The dwarf laughed suddenly. “Eta. Only Arya, and then sporadically because she traveled so often. In seven decades, I’ve learned but one thing about her: You can’t rush an elf. Trying is like hammering a file—it might break, but it’ll never bend.”
“Aren’t dwarves the same?”
“Ah, but stone will shift, given enough time.” Orik sighed and shook his head. “Of all the races, elves change the least, which is one reason I’m reluctant to go.”
“But we’ll get to meet Queen Islanzadí and see Ellesméra and who knows what else? When was the last time a dwarf was invited into Du Weldenvarden?”
Orik frowned at him. “Scenery means nothing. Urgent tasks remain in Tronjheim and our other cities, yet I must tramp across Alagaësia to exchange pleasantries and sit and grow fat as you are tutored. It could take years!”
Years! . . . Still, if that’s what is required to defeat Shades and the Ra’zac, I’ll do it.
Saphira touched his mind:I doubt Nasuada will let us stay in Ellesméra for more than a few months. With what she told us, we’ll be needed fairly soon.
“At last!” said Orik, pushing himself upright.
Approaching were Nasuada—slippers flashing beneath her dress, like mice darting from a hole—Jörmundur, and Arya, who bore a pack like Orik’s. She wore the same black leather outfit Eragon had first seen her in, as well as her sword.
At that moment, it struck Eragon that Arya and Nasuada might not approve of him joining the Ingeitum. Guilt and trepidation shot through him as he realized that it had been his duty to consult Nasuada first.And Arya! He cringed, remembering how angry she had been after his first meeting with the Council of Elders.
Thus, when Nasuada stopped before him, he averted his eyes, ashamed. But she only said, “You accepted.” Her voice was gentle, restrained.
He nodded, still looking down.
“I wondered if you would. Now once again, all three races have a hold on you. The dwarves can claim your allegiance as a member of Dûrgrimst Ingeitum, the elves will train and shape you—and their influence may be the strongest, for you and Saphira are bound by their magic—and you have sworn fealty to me, a human. . . . Perhaps it is best that we share your loyalty.” She met his surprise with an odd smile, then pressed a small bag of coins into his palm and stepped away.
Jörmundur extended a hand, which Eragon shook, feeling a bit dazed. “Have a good trip, Eragon. Guard yourself well.”
“Come,” said Arya, gliding past them into the darkness of Farthen Dûr. “It is time to leave. Aiedail has set, and we have far to go.”
“Aye,” Orik agreed. He pulled out a red lantern from the side of his pack.
Nasuada looked them over once more. “Very well. Eragon and Saphira, you have the Varden’s blessings, as well as mine. May your journey be safe. Remember, you carry the weight of our hopes and expectations, so acquit yourselves honorably.”
“We will do our best,” promised Eragon.
Gripping Snowfire’s reins firmly, he started after Arya, who was already several yards away. Orik followed, then Saphira. As Saphira passed Nasuada, Eragon saw her pause and lightly lick Nasuada on the cheek. Then she lengthened her stride, catching up with him.
As they continued north along the road, the gate behind them shrank smaller and smaller until it was reduced to a pinprick of light—with two lonely silhouettes where Nasuada and Jörmundur remained watching.
When they finally reached Farthen Dûr’s base, they found a pair of gigantic doors—thirty feet tall—open and waiting. Three dwarf guards bowed and moved away from the aperture. Through the doors was a tunnel of matching proportions, lined with columns and lanterns for the first fifty feet. After that it was as empty and silent as a mausoleum.
It looked exactly like Farthen Dûr’s western entrance, but Eragon knew that this tunnel was different. Instead of burrowing through the mile-thick base to emerge outside, it proceeded underneath mountain after mountain, all the way to the dwarf city Tarnag.
“Here is our path,” said Orik, lifting the lantern.
He and Arya crossed over the threshold, but Eragon held back, suddenly uncertain. While he did not fear the dark, neither did he welcome being surrounded by eternal night until they arrived at Tarnag. And once he entered the barren tunnel, he would again be hurling himself into the unknown, abandoning the few things he had grown accustomed to among the Varden in exchange for an uncertain destiny.
What is it?asked Saphira.
He took a breath, then strode forward, allowing the mountain to swallow him in its depths.
Three days after the Ra’zac’s arrival, Roran found himself pacing uncontrollably along the edge of his camp in the Spine. He had heard nothing since Albriech’s visit, nor was it possible to glean information by observing Carvahall. He glared at the distant tents where the soldiers slept, then continued pacing.
At midday Roran had a small, dry lunch. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he wondered,How long are the Ra’zac willing to wait? If it was a test of patience, he was determined to win.
To pass the time, he practiced his archery on a rotting log, stopping only when an arrow shattered on a rock embedded in the trunk. After that nothing else remained to do, except to resume striding back and forth along the bare track that stretched from a boulder to where he slept.