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Maybe so, but if I must break it to keep you safe, or to do the right thing, I will not hesitate. It is a burden I could easily carry. Because I’m joined to you, my honor is inherent in your pledge, but as an individual, I’m not bound by it. If I must, I will kidnap you. Any disobedience then would be no fault of your own.
It should never come to that. If we have to use such tricks to do what’s right, then Nasuada and the Varden will have lost all integrity.
Saphira stopped. They stood before the carved archway of Tronjheim’s library. The vast, silent room seemed empty, though the ranks of back-to-back bookshelves interspersed with columns could conceal many people. Lanterns poured soft light across the scroll-covered walls, illuminating the reading alcoves along their bases.
Weaving through the shelves, Saphira led him to one alcove, where Arya sat. Eragon paused as he studied her. She seemed more agitated than he had ever seen her, though it manifested itself only in the tension of her movements. Unlike before, she wore her sword with the graceful crossguard. One hand rested on the hilt.
Eragon sat at the opposite side of the marble table. Saphira positioned herself between them, where neither could escape her gaze.
“What have you done?” asked Arya with unexpected hostility.
She lifted her chin. “What have you promised the Varden?What have you done? ”
The last part even reached Eragon mentally. He realized just how close the elf was to losing control. A bit of fear touched him. “We only did what we had to. I’m ignorant of elves’ customs, so if our actions upset you, I apologize. There’s no cause to be angry.”
“Fool! You know nothing about me. I have spent seven decades representing my queen here—fifteen years of which I bore Saphira’s egg between the Varden and the elves. In all that time, I struggled to ensure the Varden had wise, strong leaders who could resist Galbatorix and respect our wishes. Brom helped me by forging the agreement concerning the new Rider—you. Ajihad was committed to your remaining independent so that the balance of power would not be upset. Now I see you siding with the Council of Elders, willingly or not, to control Nasuada! You have overturned a lifetime of work!What have you done? ”
Dismayed, Eragon dropped all pretenses. With short, clear words, he explained why he had agreed to the council’s demands and how he and Saphira had attempted to undermine them.
When he finished, Arya stated, “So.”
“So.”Seventy years. Though he knew elves’ lives were extraordinarily long, he had never suspected that Arya was that old, and older, for she appeared to be a woman in her early twenties. The only sign of age on her unlined face was her emerald eyes—deep, knowing, and most often solemn.
Arya leaned back, studying him. “Your position is not what I would wish, but better than I had hoped. I was impolite; Saphira . . . and you . . . understand more than I thought. Your compromise will be accepted by the elves, though you must never forget your debt to us for Saphira. There would be no Riders without our efforts.”
“The debt is burned into my blood and my palm,” said Eragon. In the silence that followed, he cast about for a new topic, eager to prolong their conversation and perhaps learn more about her. “You have been gone for such a long time; do you miss Ellesméra? Or did you live elsewhere?”
“Ellesméra was, and always shall be, my home,” she said, looking beyond him. “I have not lived in my family’s house since I left for the Varden, when the walls and windows were draped with spring’s first flowers. The times I’ve returned were only fleeting stays, vanishing flecks of memory by our measurement.”
He noticed, once again, that she smelled like crushed pine needles. It was a faint, spicy odor that opened his senses and refreshed his mind. “It must be hard to live among all these dwarves and humans without any of your kind.”
She cocked her head. “You speak of humans as if you weren’t one.”
“Perhaps . . . ,” he hesitated, “perhaps I am something else—a mixture of two races. Saphira lives inside me as much as I live in her. We share feelings, senses, thoughts, even to the point where we are more one mind than two.” Saphira dipped her head in agreement, nearly bumping the table with her snout.
“That is how it should be,” said Arya. “A pact more ancient and powerful than you can imagine links you. You won’t truly understand what it means to be a Rider until your training is completed. But that must wait until after the funeral. In the meantime, may the stars watch over you.”
With that she departed, slipping into the library’s shadowed depths. Eragon blinked.Is it me, or is everyone on edge today? Like Arya—one moment she’s angry, the next she’s giving me a blessing!
No one will be comfortable until things return to normal.
Roran trudged up the hill.
He stopped and squinted at the sun through his shaggy hair.Five hours till sunset. I won’t be able to stay long. With a sigh, he continued along the row of elm trees, each of which stood in a pool of uncut grass.
This was his first visit to the farm since he, Horst, and six other men from Carvahall had removed everything worth salvaging from the destroyed house and burned barn. It had been nearly five months before he could consider returning.
Once on the hilltop, Roran halted and crossed his arms. Before him lay the remains of his childhood home. A corner of the house still stood—crumbling and charred—but the rest had been flattened and was already covered with grass and weeds. Nothing could be seen of the barn. The few acres they had managed to cultivate each year were now filled with dandelions, wild mustard, and more grass. Here and there, stray beets or turnips had survived, but that was all. Just beyond the farm, a thick belt of trees obscured the Anora River.