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Then it was over.
Roran panted in the silence, his hand cramped around the hammer’s handle. After a moment, he picked his way through the crumpled mounds of tents and blankets to Horst. The smith was grinning under his beard. “That’s the best brawl I’ve had in years.”
Behind them, Carvahall jumped to life as people tried to discover the source of the commotion. Roran watched lamps flare up behind shuttered windows, then turned as he heard soft sobbing.
The boy, Nolfavrell, was kneeling by the body of a soldier, methodically stabbing him in the chest as tears slid down his chin. Gedric and Albriech hurried over and pulled Nolfavrell away from the corpse.
“He shouldn’t have come,” said Roran.
Horst shrugged. “It was his right.”
All the same, killing one of the Ra’zac’s men will only make it harder to rid ourselves of the desecrators.“We should barricade the road and between the houses so they won’t catch us by surprise.” Studying the men for any injuries, Roran saw that Delwin had received a long cut on his forearm, which the farmer bandaged with a strip torn from his ruined shirt.
With a few shouts, Horst organized their group. He dispatched Albriech and Baldor to retrieve Quimby’s wagon from the forge and had Loring’s sons and Parr scour Carvahall for items that could be used to secure the village.
Even as he spoke, people congregated on the edge of the field, staring at what was left of the Ra’zac’s camp and the dead soldier. “What happened?” cried Fisk.
Loring scuttled forward and stared the carpenter in the eye. “What happened? I’ll tell you whathappened. We routed the dung-beardlings . . . caught them with their boots off and whipped them like dogs!”
“I am glad.” The strong voice came from Birgit, an auburn-haired woman who clasped Nolfavrell against her bosom, ignoring the blood smeared across his face. “They deserve to die like cowards for my husband’s death.”
The villagers murmured in agreement, but then Thane spoke: “Have you gone mad, Horst? Even if you frightened off the Ra’zac and their soldiers, Galbatorix will just send more men. The Empire will never give up until they get Roran.”
“We should hand him over,” snarled Sloan.
Horst raised his hands. “I agree; no one is worth more than all of Carvahall. But if we surrender Roran, do you really think Galbatorix will let us escape punishment for our resistance? In his eyes, we’re no better than the Varden.”
“Thenwhy did you attack?” demanded Thane. “Who gave you the authority to make this decision? You’ve doomed us all!”
This time Birgit answered. “Would you let them kill your wife?” She pressed her hands on either side of her son’s face, then showed Thane her bloody palms, like an accusation. “Would you let them burn us? . . . Where is your manhood, loam breaker?”
He lowered his gaze, unable to face her stark expression.
“They burned my farm,” said Roran, “devoured Quimby, and nearly destroyed Carvahall. Such crimes cannot go unpunished. Are we frightened rabbits to cower down and accept our fate? No! We have a right to defend ourselves.” He stopped as Albriech and Baldor trudged up the street, dragging the wagon. “We can debate later. Now we have to prepare. Who will help us?”
Forty or more men volunteered. Together they set about the difficult task of making Carvahall impenetrable. Roran worked incessantly, nailing fence slats between houses, piling barrels full of rocks for makeshift walls, and dragging logs across the main road, which they blocked with two wagons tipped on their sides.
As Roran hurried from one chore to another, Katrina waylaid him in an alley. She hugged him, then said, “I’m glad you’re back, and that you’re safe.”
He kissed her lightly. “Katrina . . . I have to speak with you as soon as we’re finished.” She smiled uncertainly, but with a spark of hope. “You were right; it was foolish of me to delay. Every moment we spend together is precious, and I have no desire to squander what time we have when a whim of fate could tear us apart.”
Roran was tossing water on the thatching of Kiselt’s house—so it could not catch fire—when Parr shouted, “Ra’zac!”
Dropping the bucket, Roran ran to the wagons, where he had left his hammer. As he grabbed the weapon, he saw a single Ra’zac sitting on a horse far down the road, almost out of bowshot. The creature was illuminated by a torch in its left hand, while its right was drawn back, as if to throw something.
Roran laughed. “Is he going to toss rocks at us? He’s too far away to even hit—” He was cut off as the Ra’zac whipped down its arm and a glass vial arched across the distance between them and shattered against the wagon to his right. An instant later, a fireball launched the wagon into the air while a fist of burning air flung Roran against a wall.
Dazed, he fell to his hands and knees, gasping for breath. Through the roaring in his ears came the tattoo of galloping horses. He forced himself upright and faced the sound, only to dive aside as the Ra’zac raced into Carvahall through the burning gap in the wagons.
The Ra’zac reined in their steeds, blades flashing as they hacked at the people strewn around them. Roran saw three men die, then Horst and Loring reached the Ra’zac and began pressing them back with pitchforks. Before the villagers could rally, soldiers poured through the breach, killing indiscriminately in the darkness.