Page 5

 Christopher Paolini

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“Are you to lead me to them?”
“Yes, I am.”
Saphira looked at Eragon questioningly. He shrugged and left the uneaten food, motioning for the boy to show the way. As they walked, the boy admired Zar’roc with bright eyes, then looked down shyly.
“What are you called?” asked Eragon.
“Jarsha, sir.”
“That’s a good name. You carried your message well; you should be proud.” Jarsha beamed and bounced forward.
They reached a convex stone door, which Jarsha pushed open. The room inside was circular, with a sky blue dome decorated with constellations. A round marble table, inlaid with the crest of Dûrgrimst Ingeitum—an upright hammer ringed by twelve stars—stood in the center of the chamber. Seated there were Jörmundur and two other men, one tall and one broad; a woman with pinched lips, close-set eyes, and elaborately painted cheeks; and a second woman with an immense pile of gray hair above a matronly face, belied by a dagger hilt peeking out of the vast hills of her bodice.
“You may go,” said Jörmundur to Jarsha, who quickly bowed and left.
Conscious that he was being watched, Eragon surveyed the room, then seated himself in the middle of a swath of empty chairs, so that the council members were forced to turn in their seats in order to look at him. Saphira hunkered directly behind him; he could feel her hot breath on the top of his head.
Jörmundur got halfway up to make a slight bow, then reseated himself. “Thank you for coming, Eragon, even though you have suffered your own loss. This is Umérth,” the tall man; “Falberd,” the broad one; “and Sabrae and Elessari,” the two women.
Eragon inclined his head, then asked, “And what of the Twins, were they part of this council?”
Sabrae shook her head sharply and tapped a long fingernail on the table. “They had naught to do with us. They were slime—worse than slime—leeches that worked only for their own benefit. They had no desire to serve the Varden. Thus, they had no place in this council.” Eragon could smell her perfume all the way on the other side of the table; it was thick and oily, like a rotting flower. He hid a smile at the thought.
“Enough. We’re not here to discuss the Twins,” said Jörmundur. “We face a crisis that must be dealt with quickly and effectively. If we don’t choose Ajihad’s successor, someone else will. Hrothgar has already contacted us to convey his condolences. While he was more than courteous, he is sure to be forming his own plans even as we speak. We must also consider Du Vrangr Gata, the magic users. Most of them are loyal to the Varden, but it’s difficult to predict their actions even in the best of times. They might decide to oppose our authority for their own advantage. That is why we need your assistance, Eragon, to provide the legitimacy required by whoever is to take Ajihad’s place.”
Falberd heaved himself up, planting his meaty hands on the table. “The five of us have already decided whom to support. There is no doubt among us that it is the right person. But,” he raised a thick finger, “before we reveal who it is, you must give us your word of honor that whether you agree or disagree with us, nothing of our discussion will leave this room.”
Why would they want that?Eragon asked Saphira.
I don’t know,she said, snorting.It might be a trap. . . . It’s a gamble you’ll have to take. Remember, though, they haven’t asked meto pledge anything. I can always tell Arya what they say, if needed. Silly of them, forgetting that I’m as intelligent as any human.
Pleased with the thought, Eragon said, “Very well, you have my word. Now, who do you want to lead the Varden?”
Surprised, Eragon dropped his gaze, thinking quickly. He had not considered Nasuada for the succession because of her youth—she was just a few years older than Eragon. No real reason existed, of course, for her not to lead, but why would the Council of Elders want her to? How would they benefit? He remembered Brom’s advice and tried to examine the issue from every angle, knowing that he had to decide swiftly.
Nasuada has steel in her,observed Saphira.She would be like her father.
Maybe, but what’s their reason for picking her?
To gain time, Eragon asked, “Why not you, Jörmundur? Ajihad called you his right-hand man. Doesn’t that mean you should take his place now that he’s gone?”
A current of unease ran through the council: Sabrae sat even straighter, hands clasped before her; Umérth and Falberd glanced at each other darkly, while Elessari just smiled, the dagger hilt jiggling on her chest.
“Because,” said Jörmundur, selecting his words with care, “Ajihad was speaking of military matters then, nothing more. Also, I am a member of this council, which only has power because we support one another. It would be foolish and dangerous for one of us to raise himself above the rest.” The council relaxed as he finished, and Elessari patted Jörmundur on the forearm.
Ha!exclaimed Saphira.He probably would have taken power if it were possible to force the others to back him. Just look how they eye him. He’s like a wolf in their midst.
A wolf in a pack of jackals, perhaps.
“Does Nasuada have enough experience?” inquired Eragon.
Elessari pressed herself against the table’s edge as she leaned forward. “I had already been here for seven years when Ajihad joined the Varden. I’ve watched Nasuada grow up from a darling girl to the woman she is. A trifle light-headed occasionally, but a good figure to lead the Varden. The people will love her. Now I,” she patted herself affectionately on the bosom, “and my friends will be here to guide her through these troubled times. She will never be without someone to show her the way. Inexperience should be no barrier to her taking her rightful position.”