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“Ajihad’s funeral will be held in two days,” broke in Umérth. “Directly afterward, we plan to appoint Nasuada as our new leader. We have yet to ask her, but she will surely agree. We want you to be present at the appointing—no one, not even Hrothgar, can complain about it then—and to swear fealty to the Varden. That will give back the confidence Ajihad’s death has stolen from the people, and prevent anyone from trying to splinter this organization.”
Saphira quickly touched Eragon’s mind.Notice, they don’t want you to swear to Nasuada—just to the Varden.
Yes, and they want to be the ones to appoint Nasuada, which would indicate that the council is more powerful than she. They could have asked Arya or us to appoint her, but that would mean acknowledging whoever did it as above everyone in the Varden. This way, they assert their superiority over Nasuada, gain control over us through fealty, and also get the benefit of having a Rider endorse Nasuada in public.
“What happens,” he asked, “if I decide not to accept your offer?”
“Offer?” Falberd asked, seeming puzzled. “Why, nothing, of course. Only it would be a terrible slight if you’re not present when Nasuada is chosen. If the hero of the battle of Farthen Dûr ignores her, what can she think but that a Rider has spited her and found the Varden unworthy to serve? Who could bear such a shame?”
The message could have been no clearer. Eragon clenched Zar’roc’s pommel under the table, yearning to scream that it was unnecessary to force him to support the Varden, that he would have done it anyway. Now, however, he instinctively wanted to rebel, to elude the shackles they were trying to place on him. “Since Riders are so highly thought of, I could decide that my efforts would be best spent guiding the Varden myself.”
The mood in the room hardened. “That would be unwise,” stated Sabrae.
Eragon combed his mind for a way to escape the situation.With Ajihad gone, said Saphira,it may be impossible to remain independent of every group, as he wanted us to. We cannot anger the Varden, and if this council is to control it once Nasuada is in place, then we must appease them. Remember, they act as much out of self-preservation as we do.
But what will they want us to do once we are in their grasp? Will they respect the Varden’s pact with the elves and send us to Ellesméra for training, or command otherwise? Jörmundur strikes me as an honorable man, but the rest of the council? I can’t tell.
Saphira brushed the top of his head with her jaw.Agree to be at this ceremony with Nasuada; that much I think we must do. As for swearing fealty, see if you can avoid acquiescing. Perhaps something will occur between now and then that will change our position . . . Arya may have a solution.
Without warning, Eragon nodded and said, “As you wish; I shall attend Nasuada’s appointment.”
Jörmundur looked relieved. “Good, good. Then we have only one more matter to deal with before you go: Nasuada’s acceptance. There’s no reason to delay, with all of us here. I’ll send for her immediately. And Arya too—we need the elves’ approval before making this decision public. It shouldn’t be difficult to procure; Arya cannot go against our counciland you, Eragon. She will have to agree with our judgment.”
“Wait,” commanded Elessari, a steely glint in her eyes. “Your word, though, Rider. Will you give it in fealty at the ceremony?”
“Yes, you must do that,” agreed Falberd. “The Varden would be disgraced if we couldn’t provide you every protection.”
A nice way to put it!
It was worth a try,said Saphira.I fear you have no choice now.
They wouldn’t dare harm us if I refused.
No, but they could cause us no end of grief. It is not for my own sake that I say accept, but for yours. Many dangers exist that I cannot protect you from, Eragon. With Galbatorix set against us, you need allies, not enemies, around you. We cannot afford to contend with both the Empire and the Varden.
Finally, “I’ll give it.” All around the table were signs of relaxation—even a poorly concealed sigh from Umérth.They’re afraid of us!
As well they should be,sniped Saphira.
Jörmundur called for Jarsha, and with a few words sent the boy scampering off for Nasuada and Arya. While he was gone, the conversation fell into an uncomfortable silence. Eragon ignored the council, focusing instead on working a way out of his dilemma. None sprang to mind.
When the door opened again, everyone turned expectantly. First came Nasuada, chin held high and eyes steady. Her embroidered gown was the deepest shade of black, deeper even than her skin, broken only by a slash of royal purple that stretched from shoulder to hip. Behind her was Arya, her stride as lithe and smooth as a cat’s, and an openly awestruck Jarsha.
The boy was dismissed, then Jörmundur helped Nasuada into a seat. Eragon hastened to do the same for Arya, but she ignored the proffered chair and stood at a distance from the table.Saphira, he said,let her know all that’s happened. I have a feeling the council won’t inform her that they’ve compelled me to give the Varden my loyalty.
“Arya,” acknowledged Jörmundur with a nod, then concentrated on Nasuada. “Nasuada, Daughter of Ajihad, the Council of Elders wishes to formally extend its deepest condolences for the loss you, more than anyone else, have suffered. . . .” In a lower voice, he added, “You have our personal sympathies as well. We all know what it is like to have a family member killed by the Empire.”