Page 29

 Christopher Paolini

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“We’re not risking ourselves for your sake alone. This concerns the entire village now. At least come talk to Father and the others and hear their thoughts . . . I’d think you would be glad to get out of these cursed mountains.”
Roran considered Albriech’s proposition long and hard before deciding to accompany him.It’s this or run for it, and I can always run later . He fetched the mare, tied his bags to the saddle, then followed Albriech toward the valley floor.
Their progress slowed as they neared Carvahall, using trees and brush for cover. Slipping behind a rain barrel, Albriech checked to see if the streets were clear, then signaled to Roran. Together they crept from shadow to shade, constantly on guard for the Empire’s servants. At Horst’s forge, Albriech opened one of the double doors just far enough for Roran and the mare to quietly enter.
Inside, the workshop was lit by a single candle, which cast a trembling glow over the ring of faces that hovered about it in the surrounding darkness. Horst was there—his thick beard protruded like a shelf into the light—flanked by the hard visages of Delwin, Gedric, and then Loring. The rest of the group was composed of younger men: Baldor, Loring’s three sons, Parr, and Quimby’s boy, Nolfavrell, who was only thirteen.
They all turned to look as Roran entered the assembly. Horst said, “Ah, you made it. You escaped misfortune while in the Spine?”
“I was lucky.”
“Then we can proceed.”
“With what, exactly?” Roran hitched the mare to an anvil as he spoke.
Loring answered, the shoemaker’s parchment face a mass of contorting lines and grooves. “We have attempted reason with these Ra’zac . . . theseinvaders. ” He stopped, his thin frame racked with an unpleasant, metallic wheeze deep in his chest. “They have refusedreason. They have endangered us all with no sign of remorse orcontrition. ” He made a noise in his throat, then said with pronounced deliberation, “They . . . must . . . go. Such creatures—”
“No,” said Roran. “Not creatures. Desecrators.”
The faces scowled and bobbed in agreement. Delwin picked up the thread of conversation: “The point is, everyone’s life is at stake. If that fire had spread any farther, dozens of people would have been killed and those who escaped would have lost everything they own. As a result, we’ve agreed to drive the Ra’zac away from Carvahall. Will you join us?”
Roran hesitated. “What if they return or send for reinforcements? We can’t defeat the entire Empire.”
“No,” said Horst, grave and solemn, “but neither can we stand silent and allow the soldiers to kill us and to destroy our property. A man can endure only so much abuse before he must strike back.”
Loring laughed, throwing back his head so the flame gilded the stumps of his teeth. “First we fortify,” he whispered with glee, “then we fight. We’ll make them regret they ever clapped their festering eyes on Carvahall! Ha ha!”
After Roran agreed to their plan, Horst began distributing shovels, pitchforks, flails—anything that could be used to beat the soldiers and the Ra’zac away.
Roran hefted a pick, then set it aside. Though he had never cared for Brom’s stories, one of them, the “Song of Gerand,” resonated with him whenever he heard it. It told of Gerand, the greatest warrior of his time, who relinquished his sword for a wife and farm. He found no peace, however, as a jealous lord initiated a blood feud against Gerand’s family, which forced Gerand to kill once more. Yet he did not fight with his blade, but with a simple hammer.
Going to the wall, Roran removed a medium-sized hammer with a long handle and a rounded blade on one side of the head. He tossed it from hand to hand, then went to Horst and asked, “May I have this?”
Horst eyed the tool and Roran. “Use it wisely.” Then he said to the rest of the group, “Listen. We want to scare, not kill. Break a few bones if you want, but don’t get carried away. And whatever you do, don’t stand and fight. No matter how brave or heroic you feel, remember that they are trained soldiers.”
When everyone was equipped, they left the forge and wound their way through Carvahall to the edge of the Ra’zac’s camp. The soldiers had already gone to bed, except for four sentries who patrolled the perimeter of the gray tents. The Ra’zac’s two horses were picketed by a smoldering fire.
Horst quietly issued orders, sending Albriech and Delwin to ambush two of the sentries, and Parr and Roran to ambush the other two.
Roran held his breath as he stalked the oblivious soldier. His heart began to shudder as energy spiked through his limbs. He hid behind the corner of a house, quivering, and waited for Horst’s signal.Wait.
With a roar, Horst burst from hiding, leading the charge into the tents. Roran darted forward and swung his hammer, catching the sentry on the shoulder with a grisly crunch.
The man howled and dropped his halberd. He staggered as Roran struck his ribs and back. Roran raised the hammer again and the man retreated, screaming for help.
Roran ran after him, shouting incoherently. He knocked in the side of a wool tent, trampling whatever was inside, then smashed the top of a helmet he saw emerging from another tent. The metal rang like a bell. Roran barely noticed as Loring danced past—the old man cackled and hooted in the night as he jabbed the soldiers with a pitchfork. Everywhere was a confusion of struggling bodies.
Whirling around, Roran saw a soldier attempting to string his bow. He rushed forward and hit the back of the bow with his steel mallet, breaking the wood in two. The soldier fled.