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As they sat, Roran asked, “Why hasn’t anyone come?”
“We couldn’t,” said Baldor, wiping sweat off his brow. “The soldiers have been watching us too closely. This was the first opportunity we had to get away. I can’t stay long either.” He turned his face toward the peak above them and shuddered. “You’re braver than I, staying here. Have you had any trouble with wolves, bears, mountain cats?”
“No, no, I’m fine. Did the soldiers say anything new?”
“One of them bragged to Morn last night that their squad was handpicked for this mission.” Roran frowned. “They haven’t been too quiet. . . . At least two or three of them get drunk each night. A group of them tore up Morn’s common room the first day.”
“Did they pay for the damage?”
Roran shifted, staring down at the village. “I still have trouble believing that the Empire would go to these lengths to capture me. What could I give them? What do theythink I can give them?”
Baldor followed his gaze. “The Ra’zac questioned Katrina today. Someone mentioned that the two of you are close, and the Ra’zac were curious if she knew where you’d gone.”
Roran refocused on Baldor’s open face. “Is she all right?”
“It would take more than those two to scare her,” reassured Baldor. His next sentence was cautious and probing. “Perhaps you should consider turning yourself in.”
“I’d sooner hang myself and them with me!” Roran started up and stalked over his usual route, still tapping his leg. “How can you say that, knowing how they tortured my father?”
Catching his arm, Baldor said, “What happens if you remain in hiding and the soldiers don’t give up and leave? They’ll assume we lied to help you escape. The Empire doesn’t forgive traitors.”
Roran shrugged off Baldor. He spun around, tapping his leg, then abruptly sat.If don’t show myself, the Ra’zac will blame the people at hand. If I attempt to lead the Ra’zac away . . . Roran was not a skilled enough woodsman to evade thirty men and the Ra’zac.Eragon could do it, but not me. Still, unless the situation changed, it might be the only choice available to him.
He looked at Baldor. “I don’t want anyone to be hurt on my behalf. I’ll wait for now, and if the Ra’zac grow impatient and threaten someone . . . Well then, I’ll think of something else to do.”
“It’s a nasty situation all around,” offered Baldor.
“One I intend to survive.”
Baldor departed soon afterward, leaving Roran alone with his thoughts on his endless path. He covered mile after mile, grinding a rut into the earth under the weight of his ruminations. When chill dusk arrived, he removed his boots—for fear of wearing them out—and proceeded to pad barefoot.
Just as the waxing moon rose and subsumed the night shadows in beams of marble light, Roran noticed a disturbance in Carvahall. Scores of lanterns bobbed through the darkened village, winking in and out as they floated behind houses. The yellow specks clustered in the center of Carvahall, like a cloud of fireflies, then streamed haphazardly toward the edge of town, where they were met by a hard line of torches from the soldiers’ camp.
For two hours, Roran watched the opposing sides face each other—the agitated lanterns milling helplessly against the stolid torches. Finally, the lambent groups dispersed and filtered back into the tents and houses.
When nothing else of interest occurred, Roran untied his bedroll and slipped under the blankets.
Throughout the next day, Carvahall was consumed with unusual activity. Figures strode between houses and even, Roran was surprised to see, rode out into Palancar Valley toward various farms. At noon he saw two men enter the soldiers’ camp and disappear into the Ra’zac’s tent for almost an hour.
So involved was he with the proceedings, Roran barely moved the entire day.
He was in the middle of dinner when, as he had hoped, Baldor reappeared. “Hungry?” asked Roran, gesturing.
Baldor shook his head and sat with an air of exhaustion. Dark lines under his eyes made his skin look thin and bruised. “Quimby’s dead.”
Roran’s bowl clattered as it struck the ground. He cursed, wiping cold stew off his leg, then asked, “How?”
“A couple of soldiers started bothering Tara last night.” Tara was Morn’s wife. “She didn’t really mind, except the men got in a fight over who she was supposed to serve next. Quimby was there—checking a cask Morn said had turned—and he tried to break them up.” Roran nodded. That was Quimby, always interfering to make sure others behaved properly. “Only thing is, a soldier threw a pitcher and hit him on the temple. Killed him instantly.”
Roran stared at the ground with his hands on his hips, struggling to regain control over his ragged breathing. He felt as if Baldor had knocked the wind out of him.It doesn’t seem possible. . . . Quimby, gone? The farmer and part-time brewer was as much a part of the landscape as the mountains surrounding Carvahall, an unquestioned presence that shaped the fabric of the village. “Will the men be punished?”
Baldor held up his hand. “Right after Quimby died, the Ra’zac stole his body from the tavern and hauled it out to their tents. We tried to get it back last night, but they wouldn’t talk with us.”