Page 3

 Christopher Paolini

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Burning with frustration, Eragon settled cross-legged by Ajihad, keeping watch over the body. He could barely assimilate the fact that Ajihad was dead and Murtagh missing.Murtagh . Son of one of the Forsworn—the thirteen Riders who had helped Galbatorix destroy their order and anoint himself king of Alagaësia—and Eragon’s friend. At times Eragon had wished Murtagh gone, but now that he had been forcibly removed, the loss left an unexpected void. He sat motionless as Orik approached with the men.
When Orik saw Ajihad, he stamped his feet and swore in Dwarvish, swinging his ax into the body of an Urgal. The men only stood in shock. Rubbing a pinch of dirt between his callused hands, the dwarf growled, “Ah, now a hornet’s nest has broken; we’ll have no peace among the Varden after this.Barzûln, but this makes things complicated. Were you in time to hear his last words?”
Eragon glanced at Saphira. “They must wait for the right person before I’ll repeat them.”
“I see. And where’d be Arya?”
Eragon pointed.
Orik swore again, then shook his head and sat on his heels.
Jörmundur soon arrived with twelve ranks of six warriors each. He motioned for them to wait outside the radius of bodies while he proceeded onward alone. He bent and touched Ajihad on the shoulder. “How can fate be this cruel, my old friend? I would have been here sooner if not for the size of this cursed mountain, and then you might have been saved. Instead, we are wounded at the height of our triumph.”
Eragon softly told him about Arya and the disappearance of the Twins and Murtagh.
“She should not have gone,” said Jörmundur, straightening, “but we can do naught about it now. Guards will be posted here, but it will be at least an hour before dwarf guides can be found for another expedition into the tunnels.”
“I’d be willing to lead it,” offered Orik.
Jörmundur looked back at Tronjheim, his gaze distant. “No, Hrothgar will need you now; someone else will have to go. I’m sorry, Eragon, but everyone importantmust stay here until Ajihad’s successor is chosen. Arya will have to fend for herself. . . . We could not overtake her anyway.”
Eragon nodded, accepting the inevitable.
Jörmundur swept his gaze around before saying so all could hear, “Ajihad has died a warrior’s death! Look, he slew five Urgals where a lesser man might have been overwhelmed by one. We will give him every honor and hope his spirit pleases the gods. Bear him and our companions back to Tronjheim on your shields . . . and do not be ashamed to let your tears be seen, for this is a day of sorrow that all will remember. May we soon have the privilege of sheathing our blades in the monsters who have slain our leader!”
As one, the warriors knelt, baring their heads in homage to Ajihad. Then they stood and reverently lifted him on their shields so he lay between their shoulders. Already many of the Varden wept, tears flowing into beards, yet they did not disgrace their duty and allow Ajihad to fall. With solemn steps, they marched back to Tronjheim, Saphira and Eragon in the middle of the procession.
Eragon roused himself and rolled to the edge of the bed, looking about the room, which was suffused with the dim glow of a shuttered lantern. He sat and watched Saphira sleep. Her muscled sides expanded and contracted as the great bellows of her lungs forced air through her scaled nostrils. Eragon thought of the raging inferno that she could now summon at will and send roaring out of her maw. It was an awesome sight when flames hot enough to melt metal rushed past her tongue and ivory teeth without harming them. Since she first breathed fire during his fight with Durza—while plunging toward them from the top of Tronjheim—Saphira had been insufferably proud of her new talent. She was constantly releasing little jets of flame, and she took every opportunity to light objects ablaze.
Because Isidar Mithrim was shattered, Eragon and Saphira had been unable to remain in the dragonhold above it. The dwarves had given them quarters in an old guardroom on Tronjheim’s bottom level. It was a large room, but with a low ceiling and dark walls.
Anguish gripped Eragon as he remembered the events of the previous day. Tears filled his eyes, spilling over, and he caught one on his hand. They had heard nothing from Arya until late that evening, when she emerged from the tunnel, weary and footsore. Despite her best efforts—and all her magic—the Urgals had escaped her. “I found these,” she said. Then she revealed one of the Twins’ purple robes, torn and bloodied, and Murtagh’s tunic and both his leather gauntlets. “They were strewn along the edge of a black chasm, the bottom of which no tunnel reaches. The Urgals must have stolen their armor and weapons and thrown the bodies into the pit. I scryed both Murtagh and the Twins, and saw naught but the shadows of the abyss.” Her eyes met Eragon’s. “I’m sorry; they are gone.”
Now, in the confines of his mind, Eragon mourned Murtagh. It was a dreadful, creeping feeling of loss and horror made worse by the fact that he had grown ever more familiar with it in past months.
As he stared at the tear in his hand—a small, glistening dome—he decided to scry the three men himself. He knew it was a desperate and futile prospect, but he had to try in order to convince himself that Murtagh was really gone. Even so, he was uncertain if he wanted to succeed where Arya had failed, if it would make him feel any better to catch a glimpse of Murtagh lying broken at the base of a cliff deep below Farthen Dûr.
He whispered, “Draumr kópa.” Darkness enveloped the liquid, turning it into a small dot of night on his silver palm. Movement flickered through it, like the swish of a bird across a clouded moon . . . then nothing.