Page 8

 Christopher Paolini

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By the time she finished, a tear ran down her cheek. Eragon stared, appreciating how difficult her position was and recognizing a depth of character he had not perceived before. “And what of me, Nasuada? What shall I do in the Varden?”
She looked directly into his eyes. “You can do whatever you want. The council members are fools if they think to control you. You are a hero to the Varden and the dwarves, and even the elves will hail your victory over Durza when they hear of it. If you go against the council or me, we will be forced to yield, for the people will support you wholeheartedly. Right now, you are the most powerful person in the Varden. However, if you accept my leadership, I will continue the path laid down by Ajihad: you will go with Arya to the elves, be instructed there, then return to the Varden.”
Why is she so honest with us?wondered Eragon.If she’s right, could we have refused the council’s demands?
Saphira took a moment to answer.Either way, it’s too late. You have already agreed to their requests. I think Nasuada is honest because your spell lets her be, and also because she hopes to win our loyalty from the elders.
An idea suddenly came to Eragon, but before sharing it, he asked,Can we trust her to hold to what she’s said? This is very important.
Yes,said Saphira.She spoke with her heart.
Then Eragon shared his proposal with Saphira. She consented, so he drew Zar’roc and walked to Nasuada. He saw a flash of fear as he approached; her gaze darted toward the door, and she slipped a hand into a fold in her dress and grasped something. Eragon stopped before her, then knelt, Zar’roc flat in his hands.
“Nasuada, Saphira and I have been here for only a short while. But in that time we came to respect Ajihad, and now, in turn, you. You fought under Farthen Dûr when others fled, including the two women of the council, and have treated us openly instead of with deception. Therefore, I offer you my blade . . . and my fealty as a Rider.”
Eragon uttered the pronouncement with a sense of finality, knowing he would never have mouthed it before the battle. Seeing so many men fall and die around him had altered his perspective. Resisting the Empire was no longer something he did for himself, but for the Varden and all the people still trapped under Galbatorix’s rule. However long it would take, he had dedicated himself to that task. For the time being, the best thing he could do was serve.
Still, he and Saphira were taking a terrible risk in pledging themselves to Nasuada. The council could not object because all Eragon had said was that he would swear fealty, but not to whom. Even so, he and Saphira had no guarantee that Nasuada would make a good leader.It’s better to be sworn to an honest fool than to a lying scholar, decided Eragon.
Surprise flitted across Nasuada’s face. She grasped Zar’roc’s hilt and lifted it—staring at its crimson blade—then placed the tip on Eragon’s head. “I do accept your fealty with honor, Rider, as you accept all the responsibilities accompanying the station. Rise as my vassal and take your sword.”
Eragon did as he was bidden. He said, “Now I can tell you openly as my master, the council made me agree to swear to the Varden once you were appointed. This was the only way Saphira and I could circumvent them.”
Nasuada laughed with genuine delight. “Ah, I see you have already learned how to play our game. Very well, as my newest and only vassal, will you agree to give your fealty to me again—in public, when the council expects your vow?”
“Of course.”
“Good, that will take care of the council. Now, until then, leave me. I have much planning to do, and I must prepare for the funeral. . . . Remember, Eragon, the bond we have just created is equally binding; I am as responsible for your actions as you are required to serve me. Do not dishonor me.”
“Nor you I.”
Nasuada paused, then gazed into his eyes and added in a gentler tone: “You have my condolences, Eragon. I realize that others beside myself have cause for sorrow; while I have lost my father, you have also lost a friend. I liked Murtagh a great deal and it saddens me that he is gone. . . . Goodbye, Eragon.”
Eragon nodded, a bitter taste in his mouth, and left the room with Saphira. The hallway outside was empty along its gray length. Eragon put his hands on his hips, tilted back his head, and exhaled. The day had barely begun, yet he was already exhausted by all the emotions that had flooded through him.
Saphira nosed him and said,This way. Without further explanation, she headed down the right side of the tunnel. Her polished claws clicked on the hard floor.
Eragon frowned, but followed her.Where are we going? No answer.Saphira, please. She just flicked her tail. Resigned to wait, he said instead,Things have certainly changed for us. I never know what to expect from one day to the next—except sorrow and bloodshed.
All is not bad,she reproached.We havewon a great victory. It should be celebrated, not mourned.
It doesn’t help, having to deal with this other nonsense.
She snorted angrily. A thin line of fire shot from her nostrils, singeing Eragon’s shoulder. He jumped back with a yelp, biting back a string of curses.Oops, said Saphira, shaking her head to clear the smoke.
Oops! You nearly roasted my side!
I didn’t expect it to happen. I keep forgetting that fire will come out if I’m not careful. Imagine that every time you raised your arm, lightning struck the ground. It would be easy to make a careless motion and destroy something unintentionally.
You’re right. . . . Sorry I growled at you.
Her bony eyelid clicked as she winked at him.No matter. The point I was trying to make is that even Nasuada can’t force you to do anything.