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: Eldest    19, 2007 10:13 pm

The songs of the dead are the lamentations of the living.
So thought Eragon as he stepped over a twisted and hacked
Urgal, listening to the keening of women who removed loved
ones from the blood-muddied ground of Farthen Dr. Behind him
Saphira delicately skirted the corpse, her glittering blue scales the
only color in the gloom that filled the hollow mountain.
It was three days since the Varden and dwarves had fought the
Urgals for possession of Tronjheim, the mile-high, conical city nestled
in the center of Farthen Dr, but the battlefield was still strewn
with carnage. The sheer number of bodies had stymied their attempts
to bury the dead. In the distance, a mountainous fire glowed
sullenly by Farthen Drs wall where the Urgals were being burned.
No burial or honored resting place for them.
Since waking to find his wound healed by Angela, Eragon had
tried three times to assist in the recovery effort. On each occasion
he had been racked by terrible pains that seemed to explode from
his spine. The healers gave him various potions to drink. Arya and
Angela said that he was perfectly sound. Nevertheless, he hurt. Nor
could Saphira help, only share his pain as it rebounded across their
mental link.
Eragon ran a hand over his face and looked up at the stars showing
through Farthen Drs distant top, which were smudged with
sooty smoke from the pyre. Three days. Three days since he had
killed Durza; three days since people began calling him Shadeslayer;
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Eldest (B) 5/22/06 12:00 PM Page 1
three days since the remnants of the sorcerers consciousness had
ravaged his mind and he had been saved by the mysterious Togira
Ikonoka, the Cripple Who Is Whole. He had told no one about
that vision but Saphira. Fighting Durza and the dark spirits that
controlled him had transformed Eragon; although for better or for
worse he was still unsure. He felt fragile, as if a sudden shock would
shatter his reconstructed body and consciousness.
And now he had come to the site of the combat, driven by a
morbid desire to see its aftermath. Upon arriving, he found nothing
but the uncomfortable presence of death and decay, not the glory
that heroic songs had led him to expect.
Before his uncle, Garrow, was slain by the Razac months earlier,
the brutality that Eragon had witnessed between the humans,
dwarves, and Urgals would have destroyed him. Now it numbed
him. He had realized, with Saphiras help, that the only way to stay
rational amid such pain was to do things. Beyond that, he no longer
believed that life possessed inherent meaningnot after seeing
men torn apart by the Kull, a race of giant Urgals, and the ground
a bed of thrashing limbs and the dirt so wet with blood it soaked
through the soles of his boots. If any honor existed in war, he concluded,
it was in fighting to protect others from harm.
He bent and plucked a tooth, a molar, from the dirt. Bouncing it
on his palm, he and Saphira slowly made a circuit through the
trampled plain. They stopped at its edge when they noticed
JörmundurAjihads second in command in the Vardenhurrying
toward them from Tronjheim. When he came near, Jörmundur bowed,
a gesture Eragon knew he would never have made just days before.
Im glad I found you in time, Eragon. He clutched a parchment
note in one hand. Ajihad is returning, and he wants you to be
there when he arrives. The others are already waiting for him by
Tronjheims west gate. Well have to hurry to get there in time.
Eragon nodded and headed toward the gate, keeping a hand on
Saphira. Ajihad had been gone most of the three days, hunting
down Urgals who had managed to escape into the dwarf tunnels
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Eldest (B) 5/22/06 12:00 PM Page 2
that honeycombed the stone beneath the Beor Mountains. The
one time Eragon had seen him between expeditions, Ajihad was in
a rage over discovering that his daughter, Nasuada, had disobeyed
his orders to leave with the other women and children before the
battle. Instead, she had secretly fought among the Vardens archers.
Murtagh and the Twins had accompanied Ajihad: the Twins because
it was dangerous work and the Vardens leader needed the
protection of their magical skills, and Murtagh because he was eager
to continue proving that he bore the Varden no ill will. It surprised
Eragon how much peoples attitudes toward Murtagh had
changed, considering that Murtaghs father was the Dragon Rider
Morzan, who had betrayed the Riders to Galbatorix. Even though
Murtagh despised his father and was loyal to Eragon, the Varden
had not trusted him. But now, no one was willing to waste energy
on a petty hate when so much work remained. Eragon missed talking
with Murtagh and looked forward to discussing all that had
happened, once he returned.
As Eragon and Saphira rounded Tronjheim, a small group became
visible in the pool of lantern light before the timber gate.
Among them were Orikthe dwarf shifting impatiently on his
stout legsand Arya. The white bandage around her upper arm
gleamed in the darkness, reflecting a faint highlight onto the bottom
of her hair. Eragon felt a strange thrill, as he always did when
he saw the elf. She looked at him and Saphira, green eyes flashing,
then continued watching for Ajihad.
By breaking Isidar Mithrimthe great star sapphire that was
sixty feet across and carved in the shape of a roseArya had allowed
Eragon to kill Durza and so win the battle. Still, the dwarves
were furious with her for destroying their most prized treasure. They
refused to move the sapphires remains, leaving them in a massive
circle inside Tronjheims central chamber. Eragon had walked
through the splintered wreckage and shared the dwarves sorrow for
all the lost beauty.
He and Saphira stopped by Orik and looked out at the empty
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Eldest (B) 5/22/06 12:00 PM Page 3
land that surrounded Tronjheim, extending to Farthen Drs base
five miles away in each direction. Where will Ajihad come from?
asked Eragon.
Orik pointed at a cluster of lanterns staked around a large tunnel
opening a couple of miles away. He should be here soon.
Eragon waited patiently with the others, answering comments
directed at him but preferring to speak with Saphira in the peace of
his mind. The quiet that filled Farthen Dr suited him.
Half an hour passed before motion flickered in the distant tunnel.
A group of ten men climbed out onto the ground, then turned
and helped up as many dwarves. One of the menEragon assumed
it was Ajihadraised a hand, and the warriors assembled behind
him in two straight lines. At a signal, the formation marched
proudly toward Tronjheim.
Before they went more than five yards, the tunnel behind them
swarmed with a flurry of activity as more figures jumped out. Eragon
squinted, unable to see clearly from so far away.
Those are Urgals! exclaimed Saphira, her body tensing like a
drawn bowstring.
Eragon did not question her. Urgals! he cried, and leaped onto
Saphira, berating himself for leaving his sword, Zarroc, in his
room. No one had expected an attack now that the Urgal army had
been driven away.
His wound twinged as Saphira lifted her azure wings, then drove
them down and jumped forward, gaining speed and altitude each
second. Below them, Arya ran toward the tunnel, nearly keeping
apace with Saphira. Orik trailed her with several men, while
Jörmundur sprinted back toward the barracks.
Eragon was forced to watch helplessly as the Urgals fell on the
rear of Ajihads warriors; he could not work magic over such a distance.
The monsters had the advantage of surprise and quickly cut
down four men, forcing the rest of the warriors, men and dwarves
alike, to cluster around Ajihad in an attempt to protect him.
Swords and axes clashed as the groups pressed together. Light
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Eldest (B) 5/22/06 12:00 PM Page 4
flashed from one of the Twins, and an Urgal fell, clutching the
stump of his severed arm.
For a minute, it seemed the defenders would be able to resist the
Urgals, but then a swirl of motion disturbed the air, like a faint
band of mist wrapping itself around the combatants. When it
cleared, only four warriors were standing: Ajihad, the Twins, and
Murtagh. The Urgals converged on them, blocking Eragons view
as he stared with rising horror and fear.
No! No! No!
Before Saphira could reach the fight, the knot of Urgals streamed
back to the tunnel and scrambled underground, leaving only prone
forms behind.
The moment Saphira touched down, Eragon vaulted off, then
faltered, overcome by grief and anger. I cant do this. It reminded
him too much of when he had returned to the farm to find his
uncle Garrow dying. Fighting back his dread with every step, he
began to search for survivors.
The site was eerily similar to the battlefield he had inspected earlier,
except that here the blood was fresh.
In the center of the massacre lay Ajihad, his breastplate rent
with numerous gashes, surrounded by five Urgals he had slain. His
breath still came in ragged gasps. Eragon knelt by him and lowered
his face so his tears would not land on the leaders ruined chest. No
one could heal such wounds. Running up to them, Arya paused and
stopped, her face transformed with sorrow when she saw that
Ajihad could not be saved.
Eragon. The name slipped from Ajihads lipsno more than a
whisper.
Yes, I am here.
Listen to me, Eragon. . . . I have one last command for you.
Eragon leaned closer to catch the dying mans words. You must
promise me something: promise that you . . . wont let the Varden
fall into chaos. They are the only hope for resisting the Empire. . . .
They must be kept strong. You must promise me.
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Eldest (B) 5/22/06 12:00 PM Page 5
I promise.
Then peace be with you, Eragon Shadeslayer. . . . With his last
breath, Ajihad closed his eyes, setting his noble face in repose, and
died.
Eragon bowed his head. He had trouble breathing past the lump
in his throat, which was so hard it hurt. Arya blessed Ajihad in a
ripple of the ancient language, then said in her musical voice,
Alas, his death will cause much strife. He is right, you must do all
you can to avert a struggle for power. I will assist where possible.
Unwilling to speak, Eragon gazed at the rest of the bodies. He
would have given anything to be elsewhere. Saphira nosed one of
the Urgals and said, This should not have happened. It is an evil doing,
and all the worse for coming when we should be safe and victorious. She
examined another body, then swung her head around. Where are the
Twins and Murtagh? Theyre not among the dead.
Eragon scanned the corpses. Youre right! Elation surged within
him as he hurried to the tunnels mouth. There pools of thickening
blood filled the hollows in the worn marble steps like a series of
black mirrors, glossy and oval, as if several torn bodies had been
dragged down them. The Urgals must have taken them! But why?
They dont keep prisoners or hostages. Despair instantly returned. It
doesnt matter. We cant pursue them without reinforcements; you
wouldnt even fit through the opening.
They may still be alive. Would you abandon them?
What do you expect me to do? The dwarf tunnels are an endless maze!
I would only get lost. And I couldnt catch Urgals on foot, though Arya
might be able to.
Then ask her to.
Arya! Eragon hesitated, torn between his desire for action and
his loathing to put her in danger. Still, if any one person in the
Varden could handle the Urgals, it was she. With a groan, he explained
what they had found.
Aryas slanted eyebrows met in a frown. It makes no sense.
Will you pursue them?
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Eldest (B) 5/22/06 12:00 PM Page 6
She stared at him for a heavy moment. Wiol ono. For you.
Then she bounded forward, sword flashing in her hand as she dove
into the earths belly.
Burning with frustration, Eragon settled cross-legged by Ajihad,
keeping watch over the body. He could barely assimilate the fact
that Ajihad was dead and Murtagh missing. Murtagh. Son of one of
the Forswornthe thirteen Riders who had helped Galbatorix destroy
their order and anoint himself king of Alagasiaand
Eragons friend. At times Eragon had wished Murtagh gone, but
now that he had been forcibly removed, the loss left an unexpected
void. He sat motionless as Orik approached with the men.
When Orik saw Ajihad, he stamped his feet and swore in
Dwarvish, swinging his ax into the body of an Urgal. The men only
stood in shock. Rubbing a pinch of dirt between his callused
hands, the dwarf growled, Ah, now a hornets nest has broken;
well have no peace among the Varden after this. Barzln, but this
makes things complicated. Were you in time to hear his last
words?
Eragon glanced at Saphira. They must wait for the right person
before Ill repeat them.
I see. And whered be Arya?
Eragon pointed.
Orik swore again, then shook his head and sat on his heels.
Jörmundur soon arrived with twelve ranks of six warriors each.
He motioned for them to wait outside the radius of bodies while
he proceeded onward alone. He bent and touched Ajihad on the
shoulder. How can fate be this cruel, my old friend? I would have
been here sooner if not for the size of this cursed mountain, and
then you might have been saved. Instead, we are wounded at the
height of our triumph.
Eragon softly told him about Arya and the disappearance of the
Twins and Murtagh.
She should not have gone, said Jörmundur, straightening, but
we can do naught about it now. Guards will be posted here, but it
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Eldest (B) 5/22/06 12:00 PM Page 7
will be at least an hour before dwarf guides can be found for another
expedition into the tunnels.
Id be willing to lead it, offered Orik.
Jörmundur looked back at Tronjheim, his gaze distant. No,
Hrothgar will need you now; someone else will have to go. Im
sorry, Eragon, but everyone important must stay here until Ajihads
successor is chosen. Arya will have to fend for herself. . . . We could
not overtake her anyway.
Eragon nodded, accepting the inevitable.
Jörmundur swept his gaze around before saying so all could hear,
Ajihad has died a warriors death! Look, he slew five Urgals where
a lesser man might have been overwhelmed by one. We will give
him every honor and hope his spirit pleases the gods. Bear him and
our companions back to Tronjheim on your shields . . . and do not
be ashamed to let your tears be seen, for this is a day of sorrow that
all will remember. May we soon have the privilege of sheathing our
blades in the monsters who have slain our leader!
As one, the warriors knelt, baring their heads in homage to
Ajihad. Then they stood and reverently lifted him on their shields
so he lay between their shoulders. Already many of the Varden
wept, tears flowing into beards, yet they did not disgrace their duty
and allow Ajihad to fall. With solemn steps, they marched back to
Tronjheim, Saphira and Eragon in the middle of the procession.
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