Chapter Twenty Two – Scars of Farthen Dur
The battle under the mountain had been won by the Varden, but there still remained an extensive mopping-up operation to take care of. There was more than enough wounded for the healers to handle, and any Urgals still breathing were being dispatched by sweeping squads of swordsmen. Eragon took part in these gruelling manoeuvres, finding it much more difficult to dispatch a wounded opponent than one who was armed and fighting back. But as he thought of the destruction the monsters had caused his anger was fuelled and it became easy, almost mundane.
Of his group of friends, only Arya was in his company. Harry was still unconscious after expounding so much of his energy and suffering several broken bones, whilst Brom had received a nasty gash to his left arm during the final push that required immediate medical attention. He hadn't seen Nyos since flying off with Arya, and Murtagh...
Eragon shuddered. He didn't want to think about that.
He grunted in frustration as he plunged Zar'roc into the neck of a dying Kull, hearing it give a death rattle before slumping sideways. This was war at its finest, and its finest was truly horrific. He had to get used to the feeling, or else he would never become strong enough to defeat Galbatorix.
His only real consolation was that Saphira's injuries had been easily mended through a combination of Angela's efforts and his own patience being stretched through worry. But she needed to rest. The battle had taken its toll, and Eragon had insisted. His own power had been bolstered by the reserves he had found in Harry's crystals, power that he realised had now defeated Durza. No one seemed to know what had happened save Eragon and Arya, so the facts were rapidly becoming rumour.
Since he happened to be awake and Harry did not, many were proclaiming him as the Varden's saviour and he truly despised every second of said acclamations. Harry had been the one who had almost died, who had probably killed Durza with a mortal wound regardless of Eragon stabbing the mad bastard in the heart. There was no way the organ would have survived such intense pressure for a sustained period of time – it would have failed after mere minutes, and the Shade had had no power with which to heal the gaping wound.
In short, he had to bite his tongue to stop himself from cursing at those calling him 'Shadeslayer' every time they walked past. He didn't give a damn about such pettiness, and felt sorry for those who did. All that stopped him from acting out was the instinctive knowledge that the Varden had taken great losses in this battle, and by recognising him as a hero they could still the pain somewhat.
He would allow them their moment of self-pity for the sake of morale, but that would end soon. He didn't want any additional responsibility and certainly wasn't a saviour in any case; Harry had wrestled the victory from the Urgals. That at least had been seen by one and all. His animation charm had shocked everybody present, and thinned the enemy ranks significantly. If he remembered correctly, Angela had said many would look to both Harry and him for guidance and leadership, so was it possible that time had now arrived?
The death of Ajihad certainly suggested so, which was another reason he allowed the plaudits to continue for the time being. He would put a stop to them as soon as Harry awoke, he decided, and acknowledge his friend as the one responsible for defeating Durza; although, this would be done in moderation so as to ensure Harry was not overwhelmed or crowded by those around him. He would hate the attention even more than Eragon, having experienced such situations in the past.
He was pulled from his musings as an Urgal, missing a left arm, jumped to its feet and starting swearing in its repulsive language. Eragon didn't bat an eye. He stared the creature down, impassive, unbreakable. The Urgal growled at him and swung a battleaxe for his neck. With one hand the movement was slow and weak, allowing him to casually sidestep the intended killing blow and decapitate the aggressor with an almost bored breeziness.
"It's a good thing this is the blade of Dragon Riders, else I feel it would require a thorough cleaning," he commented airily.
"Is that an attempt to boast of how many Urgals you dispatched, little one?" Saphira replied.
"No. It's an attempt to suggest how disgusting Urgal blood is."
Eragon grimaced and wiped the blade clean with a piece of cloth he ripped from his tunic sleeve; that didn't matter, for there were enough loose threads and scratches in the embroidery that the material itself was ruined. It was to be expected.
"Eragon, report," Jörmundur said, quickly stopping his horse nearby.
Eragon glanced up briefly, before returning to his task of searching the corpse-strewn battlefield for more live Kull. He bestrewed a veteran's air with his apparent ease of speech towards the Varden's temporary commander. "Most of the Urgals in this section have been taken care of. Aside from a few through the centre and several pierced by arrows near the cave entrances I believe this task is almost complete."
"Good," Jörmundur nodded, appearing satisfied. He rubbed the bandages around his forehead. The skin had been lacerated by an armoured fist, but despite feeling woozy he still had to maintain an aura of control over the Varden's remaining warriors.
Eragon took a draught from his waterskin, face still betraying no emotion. "Orders?" he inquired, not looking up, but instead replacing the container on his belt.
"Go back and rest. You must be exhausted by now," Jörmundur said.
Eragon scoffed. "So are you," he remarked.
"True, but I've been seen by a healer already."
"I reinforced my strength with the energy stored in the emeralds above Tronjheim," Eragon reminded him. "I decided the remainder was to be given to the healers to aid them."
"A good idea," Jörmundur agreed. "And the crystals themselves?"
"Inert. It seems that was a one-time boon, yet it may have saved all our skins." Jörmundur had seen how annoyed Eragon was when anyone called him Shadeslayer, and so hadn't bothered trying to emulate their words. Instead, he chose to address what was really bothering the young Rider.
"Unfortunately, you won't be in a position to 'save our skins' yourself if you don't go and sleep for at least a few hours. You've already done more than enough, as has Harry. And seeing what happened to Murtagh-"
"Don't!" Eragon said immediately, raising a hand. Jörmundur fell silent. "That was no one's fault, but he'll have to live with the repercussions for the rest of his life, regardless. Unless Harry knows of a spell that can help... but he admitted he isn't proficient with healing magic in the slightest. Maybe he'll remember something now that he's... intact... once again."
"Ah, this again... you still haven't told me-"
"And I'm afraid I have no plans to, either," Eragon interrupted. "I do apologise if I seem on-edge at all, but need I remind you one of my friends is seriously injured and another one almost killed himself before my eyes by jumping over a thousand feet? Not to mention Ajihad dying... killing untold numbers of enemies... and other things."
"Like kissing Arya," Saphira commented gleefully.
"Hush, you," Eragon said, somewhat more gently, but he silently agreed. He chanced a glance at the raven-haired elven princess standing a little away from him. She was knelt over a slain group of Varden soldiers, eyes shut in a serene manner. He hadn't approached her since killing Durza, and had no plans to do so in the near future. There were more important matters at hand, and seeing what happened to his two best friends had been a massive shock.
"It affects us all," Jörmundur continued in a gentle, understanding tone. He watched with Eragon as smoke billowed across the mountains of death in which they stood, and as numerous Urgals were put to the sword by marauding squads of warriors. Not only that, but the smell was nauseating, so stagnant that it almost left a taste in the mouth, and that was infinitely more sickening than any sight.
Finally, Eragon shook himself out of his solemn thoughts. "I'll go and rest for a while. But I'll be there for that meeting, sir. You have my word on that. I want to know what comes next."
With that he turned and walked towards the area in which Brom and Harry were located, leaving Jörmundur to reply calmly after him:
"Ellesméra is still on the table. We just need Hrothgar to move the dwarves or we go alone."
"Good luck with that," Eragon muttered to himself, narrowing his eyes.
In another part of Alagaësia, one untouched by the grim demeanour of war, laughter and typical drunken rowdiness emanated from the local tavern. Men and women alike sat in the packed establishment, drinking the finest ale on offer and still celebrating the winter's departure. They had gone through a particularly hard time recently, and drank to better fortunes for the coming year.
That would soon change.
One of their number sat there quietly, contemplating the letter in his hands. He had read it at least thirty times in the space of several months, yet still found it as shocking and enticing as upon first glance. It was part of a pair, although its less obvious half resided in his home at present.
"Oh, are you looking at that bloody thing again?" Horst asked, rolling his eyes and grinning in a half-drunken stupor.
Roran grimaced. He wasn't drunk, but slightly tipsy. He still had a level head, and wouldn't go beyond that point. "I won't rest until I know the truth, Horst," he replied calmly, pocketing the note.
"Eh? What truth? The truth is that your father was murdered by outsider scum, and that same scum managed to escape the noose by fleeing the town with your cousin," Horst said through the laughter surrounding the pair.
"You don't seem too concerned about Eragon's wellbeing, in that case," Roran said flatly. "If Harry was a murderer and a liar then Eragon would be in grave danger."
Horst shrugged. "All sorts of theories have been bandied about." He dropped his voice to a whisper. "I'm sorry, but there are some who believe both Eragon and that Harry accidentally set fire to your farm and-"
"Enough!" Roran said loudly, silencing the establishment. When no punches were pulled, those present went back to their drinks, and the ruckus was soon begun anew. Roran whispered furiously: "I won't have you slander my cousin's name in such a manner. I understand you aren't saying these things, but I will not stand for it. I'm very grateful for all of your help, Horst. Without you I doubt I could have scraped through the winter clearing away the rubble. That being said... watch it."
Horst held up his hands in a placating manner. "No offence intended, Roran. I only say what I've heard. And you have to admit that boy was a suspicious type."
"None taken," Roran said, nodding somewhat stiffly. "He may have been... but I believe he is innocent of all wrongdoing. He lived with us for a time, and then became a neighbour. He wasn't the sort to harm any innocent life, and why should he? What purpose would such actions have served?"
Horst made a thoughtful expression. "That I honestly do not have the answer to, Roran. But if the fire was accidental-"
"Then he would have admitted to it."
Horst cocked his head to one side, frowning despite his slight inebriation. "Mishandling of fire is a hanging offence, Roran. Nobody would ever admit to causing a man's death from such negligence."
"Oh, I'm not sure about that. You didn't know Harry as well as I did..." Roran muttered, thinking of the young man's stories. They were the mark of an honest man; that Harry could tell them such tales meant that there was no conceivable way they were blatant fabrications. There was at least a smattering of the truth in each and every one, especially known to Roran as he had once sneaked a view of Harry performing magic to summon a goblet and fill it with water. But Horst didn't need to know that.
"Whatever the case," Horst shrugged. "I hope your cousin is in good health. That old fool Brom is unpredictable. Maybe he thought someone was guilty and pursued them."
"Or maybe he knew they were innocent and wanted to help them escape the bastardisation of justice," Roran added.
"We may never know... and the less I see of such queer folk again, the better. No offence to your cousin. Eragon is a good lad... but that Brom was a strange character at the very least. And Harry was more than peculiar enough for half of the village to suspect him of committing the crime."
Roran sighed heavily. "Suspicions without proof," he said bitterly.
"They're all many of these people know, I'm afraid," Horst said gently, raising his tankard in a mock salute to the ineptness.
Suddenly, a man known as Quimby came bursting through the door. He practically knocked it off its hinges, and lay crumpled in a heap for a few seconds, before painfully struggling to his feet.
There was complete silence.
"Quimby?" Morn asked from behind his bar with concern. "What's the matter? Somebody help the man up!"
Roran scrambled over and hoisted the brewer to his feet. He wasn't an entirely youthful man, and needed a few moments to recapture his breath. Once he had done so, his words shocked all those present.
"Soldiers! There are soldiers in Carvahall! And some queer creature has come with them; it made my bones shudder just to look at it," he said, shivering, although not from the weather.
"What do they want?" Roran demanded, wondering if his suspicions were to be confirmed.
"You! They've come with a warrant for your arrest," Quimby told him urgently. "You have to get out of here, Roran! Run!"
"Whoa, hold up, there!" said Sloan, the butcher. He stood up at the back of the room and pointed at Roran. "Who are we to disobey royal law or direct orders? If they want the boy, let them take him! Who knows what they'll do to us if we help him escape?"
Roran ignored him. "Quimby... this creature... describe it."
Quimby shuddered again as the image sprung forth in his mind. "It was cloaked in black, but it couldn't have been human. It's hunched over and speaks with a disgusting lisp and crackle. It made my stomach turn just to hear it."
"Its face was hidden, then?"
"Roran?" Horst inquired, allowing his sober half to take precedent.
Roran thought for a moment, but then came to a stark conclusion. There could be no other explanation. "This is one of the strangers who burned my farm and killed Garrow."
There were cries of outrage, some directed at Roran and some generalised.
"Silence!" Horst roared, his powerful voice rising above all others. They heeded his command after a moment or two. "How can you possibly know that, Roran? You didn't even see the strangers last time they were here."
Scowling, Roran removed Harry's letter from his pocket and threw it onto the table in front of the blacksmith. "Read it yourself! All of you read it, if you must! But I can read it without looking. 'Two mysterious strangers... the Ra'zac... not human...working for Galbatorix...'" he said, reading separate fragments. "And Harry warns me we have to be on our guard. I don't know why these things want to capture me, but it has something to do with my cousin. Since he disappeared to try and draw them away, I can only assume he meant to protect us-"
"Protect us!" Sloan shouted with mirth. "He wanted to protect himself!"
"Funny, Sloan; the letter does also warn me to be suspicious of certain people... people who had to have given the Ra'zac information in the first place..."
"And you're accusing me?" Sloan demanded. "Present your proof!"
"Shut your fat mouth already, Sloan," Horst growled. "No matter who's right here, one fact remains: we protect our own. Unless they give adequate reason for Roran's arrest he won't be handed over."
Roran gave him a nod of gratitude. But the butcher wasn't finished.
"A pox on that! They'll cite treason or worse and there'll be nothing we can do to dispute those claims! Once they're uttered there'll be no choice but to deliver him!"
"And yet I'm dearly interested in this creature Quimby has seen," Horst said simply. "If Harry was lying, then what is it, exactly?"
Sloan opened his mouth to retort, but then shut it abruptly. He had no answer to that. No one did.
"It's more than that," Roran declared, drawing all eyes once more. "Galbatorix is a tyrant. He's enslaved us all and has never sent relief packages, even during the harshest of winters. He has murdered thousands of innocent civilians, and need I remind any of you what he did to the Dragon Riders?! We all know the tales! Do you really want a man like that ruling over you? And now he employs monsters that enjoy torture and murder to do his dirty work!"
"It's not a question of want," Morn said, crossing his arms. "The townspeople can hardly overthrow the Empire."
There were a few shouts of 'hear hear' at that.
"And yet we have the audacity to complain nevertheless," Roran retorted. "Now hear this, and hear it well: I'll go if you really want me to. I'll run, far away, and never return. But do you think the Ra'zac will stop there? They already tortured one man for information. If they suspect you had a hand in my disappearance what do you think they'll do to Carvahall?"
"We'll use force if we have to!" Sloan declared.
"No, we won't," Horst replied quietly, looking annoyed at the man's idiocy. "We don't even know why he's wanted. Is this what we've become? A feckless band of brigands who release the hounds for every simple misdemeanour and jump to conclusions without adequate proof? I'm ashamed if we have. There was no evidence to suggest either Eragon or Harry was responsible for what happened to Garrow, yet look how that turned out. Will this be more of the same?"
"We should do whatever's necessary to protect ourselves!" Sloan screamed. He pointed at Roran threateningly. "And that means you are never getting anywhere near my daughter!"
Roran scoffed. "Katrina is old enough to make her own decisions. I'd like to see you try to stop her."
"I'm her father!"
"You are a fat, worthless old dotard with not a shred of honour in your body! I would challenge you to a duel, but I'd rather not taint my fists with the blood of a traitorous coward," Roran spat. He was far past being courteous. "If you have anything to say about that, now's the time!"
His glare never wavering, Sloan stepped forward. He walked up to Roran, baring his eyes into those of the young farmer relentlessly, not stopping until they were almost nose to nose. Roran could smell the ale on his breath. He gripped the glass behind his back tighter in anticipation. When the butcher made a sudden move, he quickly brought it crashing down upon his head, shattering it into dozens of pieces and knocking Sloan clean onto the floor, out cold.
"Well, that takes care of that," Horst said calmly.
"You killed him!" Morn exclaimed, rushing over.
"No, he's just unconscious," Roran replied, uncaring.
"We'll take care of him," Horst promised, sounding rather foreboding. "You'd best find Katrina and flee. Quickly!"
Roran thanked him profusely before leaving via the back exit. He ensured no soldiers were around, before darting through the shadows in the direction of Katrina's home. They would leave tonight. He wouldn't risk the village for their sake. He had to create a diversion and lure the soldiers away without involving Carvahall.
Back in the tavern, Morn, who was leaning over Sloan's body to ensure there was no permanent damage, looked at Horst and asked: "why did you let him go?"
Horst took one of Sloan's arms and helped the barman heave him into a chair, where he stooped forward and banged his head against a table. No one paid him any notice. At Horst's direction, the men present went back to their drinks. They needed to act as though nothing had happened to maintain a degree of innocence.
"Because I'm not handing him over. This way it's out of my hands," Horst said quietly.
"You're awfully loyal to the lad," Morn mumbled. "There's a good chance they'll kill us."
"How so? They'll search the farmlands first. All it takes is one slip to indicate he's gone into the Spine and..." he trailed off deliberately.
Morn's eyes widening in recognition. "And then they'll have to search for him. Good, this way we appear neutral but still aid one of our own. Very good."
Horst nodded. "We can send them in the opposite direction. The Spine is a big place. I'll have one of my boys tell Roran where to hide, then we can get in touch when things die down a little. We just need a scapegoat," he muttered, scratching his beard. "They'll demand to know who tipped him off."
Both came to the same conclusion simultaneously. The irony was almost acidic.
Horst smirked. Perhaps if he had been entirely sober this wouldn't even be a consideration, but as it was... he simply didn't care. "Yes, why not? I'm sure he'll enjoy waking up with the soldiers questioning him. And if they kill him... that's too bad. He's made plenty of us suffer in the past by overcharging during the winter. You fine gentlemen did see Sloan warn Roran about the soldiers and then slip and bang his head, correct?"
There was a unanimous sea of nods.
"My hands are free of this," Morn said, despite his grin. Come, Quimby. You can have an ale on the house. You look exhausted, man."
"And so, we've concluded there are no more injuries which are life-threatening, courtesy of Eragon's additional strength," Trianna said, finishing her status update to Jörmundur.
"I'm pleased to hear it, although I gather that doesn't account for those which will still require a set amount of time to fully heal?" the temporary commander questioned.
Trianna nodded. "Some will lose limbs, but their lives are secure. Many require rest due to mental fatigue... and others will be permanently disfigured," she said lowly, gazing briefly at Eragon. She had been incredibly worried about Harry, whether as a friend... or more.
Eragon himself blinked back his distress. He had to maintain face in this command tent. Besides the three of them, Arya and Hrothgar were also present. It wouldn't do to let his composure slip.
"We're all saddened to hear that," Hrothgar said gently. "It is a terrible part of war."
"It's the only true face of war, your grace," Eragon said in a low voice. He could hardly muster the strength to raise it higher; not from physical exhaustion, however.
"This is true... and horrible," Hrothgar nodded. "Let us hope our comrades' sacrifices have not been in vain."
"We'll make sure of it," Jörmundur swore. "Our families are waiting for us several leagues to the east, and we intend to join them. Trianna has tasked Du Vrangr Gata with loading the supply wagons and carts as much as possible. We'll be departing after a brief respite to gain our strength, and then we leave for Ellesméra. Arya has promised us the queen will be more than willing to offer help for redevelopment once she finds her daughter alive and well."
"You have my word on that," Arya said, giving a slight bow.
"I thank you for it."
Normally Eragon would have felt embarrassed for so much as looking at the elven beauty, but this time it was the opposite way around. Not that the elf felt sheepish in the slightest by gazing at him, but he didn't return the look. He kept his head down, and arms folded.
"Alas, the clans have yet to make a decision," Hrothgar said with regret. "Many are convinced that to stay and die in the halls of our ancestors is more worthy an end than to run and hide in the forest. It will take some time before any air of finality can be brought to the debate, and no matter what I offer or threaten them with... there is no difference. They'll speak for themselves, as it has always been."
Jörmundur was silent for a minute, before shaking his head. "I'm sorry, your majesty. We can't wait any longer. We have to leave. Our own survival is at stake, as is yours. I understand you have civilians in many other cities throughout the mountains, but we can afford to tarry no more. The Varden will head north, and there we shall make our new home."
"It is with great regret that I see you leave us, but know that I will always offer your people my undying support," Hrothgar swore. He clasped hands tightly with Jörmundur. "Well met, my friend."
"Well met, your grace," Jörmundur replied, bowing.
Hrothgar gave a solemn smile. "I am still my people's clan leader. Although I cannot send Dûrgrimst Igneitum to war as a whole, I will give you some of my warriors for protection on your road to the forest. Orik can lead them. Once you settle they will remain with you, and await further orders. If the decision is made and we are to remain, they will then return. Otherwise, the company can stay as a part of your permanent protection until the dwarven nation can join you."
"I am honoured, King Hrothgar," Jörmundur said respectfully, inclining his head.
Hrothgar hesitated. "I should have no right to say this, but I feel my time as king is drawing to a close. Wait until you're out of the mountain range, and then inform Orik he is to adapt the mantra of Grimstborith. The word comes from me."
"Are you... are you certain?" Jörmundur asked, clearly shocked.
"Yes, I believe so," Hrothgar smiled. "He will make a fine leader one day. Ah, yes! This entire discussion has reminded me..." he muttered, trailing off as he searched for something inside his pockets. "Here we are! Eragon, I have something for you."
Eragon looked up, surprised. The dwarven king was holding a simple necklace in his hand, one made from silver and decorated with a hammer at the front, the insignia of his clan. He also held two additional appendages in his other palm.
"I am sorry, but I could find no more than these three... I think you will all agree the Riders need protection, and this will aid you in that regard," he announced, proffering the jewellery toward him.
Eragon accepted it graciously, eyeing the metal with appreciation. It was simple, yet still outmatched many human trinkets with ridiculous ease. "Thank you, sir. But... what will this protect me from, I must ask?"
"It, and these other two, is bolstered with magical runes, which will prevent any magician from scrying you. The spell draws upon your own strength, so be careful. When wearing it, however, any who try to see your location will observe nothing but blackness. I thought it may come in handy," the king explained.
Eragon certainly agreed. He thanked the dwarf once more before slipping it around his neck, and accepting the other two with gratitude, both of which he slipped into his pocket. Something like this for Arya would have been nice, but the king did have a point. The Riders had to be protected above all others, as much as he would have preferred to ensure the safety of his friends first.
"Now we must burden ourselves with a troubling matter," Jörmundur said with worry. "Our other Rider. How is Harry?"
"Bad," Eragon stated. "He still hasn't awoken, or Angela would have contacted me. Brom should be okay soon enough, and I found Nyos aiding a group of healers wandering through the battlefield a little while ago."
"And your friend Murtagh?" Hrothgar queried.
There was silence.
Eragon shook his head ever so slightly. "The damage is... extensive. He should be able to walk, talk and fight... we hope. But that bastard Urgal got in a cheap shot, and since he was still wearing his armour at the time... fucking magician..." Eragon whispered, eyes wide as he shook his head and stared at the dirt beneath his feet.
"I'm very sorry to hear that," Hrothgar said with condolences.
"As are we all," Jörmundur replied. "There are, however, many wounded besides. Trianna, I need you to convey a message to Nasuada with the civilians. Tell her we'll be departing within the day."
Trianna nodded and left. She hoped to visit Harry for a few minutes, and so moved quickly.
"Eragon, Arya... both of you go back. You know our next move now, and I want you to rest up."
"Again?" Eragon sighed.
"Yes. You're of no use to me half-dead."
"It might be better if I were to depart immediately," Arya said.
Eragon looked at her, alarmed. "Why would you do that?"
She gave him a sad look. "It only makes sense. The sooner my people find out I am safe all the more quickly we can aid yours."
Jörmundur shook his head. "Forget it," he said flatly. "Even with your speed you'd never get there and back before we're well out and moving. I want you helping guard our most vulnerable during the course of this escapade. They need you. We can work out a compromise with your mother when we arrive. I won't rest easy until we're deep within the borders of Du Weldenvarden."
Arya thought for a moment, then nodded. "As you wish. Your way also makes sense to me."
"Good. Now, both of you, get out and go restore your energy," he said sharply, eliciting a grin from Hrothgar.
They both diligently departed, basking in an awkward silence. The day itself had not been so bad before growing dark, not that it really matter within the mountain's heart. Many of the bodies had been cleared away, but some Urgals still remained beside the tunnel-mouth. They would be dealt with lastly. Eragon and Arya walked together towards the city; still finding it odd that many people had deserted, Eragon found the silence unnerving. But at least they would soon be joining the other residents in their self-imposed exodus.
That silence was finally broken.
"Are we to ever speak of this?" Arya dutifully asked him, still staring ahead.
Eragon sighed, knowing exactly what she was referring to. "I said I would apologise, and I do. I beg your forgiveness."
"No. I meant Murtagh and Harry," Arya said with a little worry. It made her uneasy that Eragon did not pick up on that immediately; not because he didn't care – he cared more about those he loved than many she had ever before met – but rather since he seemed to be blocking the images out. Saphira was probably helping to ease his pain, but it should still be greater than this.
"I have no tears to shed," Eragon said flatly. "What I've had to do I have already done. Of course Harry's glamour charms will help if they are wanted, too. Did you know he uses one on himself?"
"I... did not," Arya admitted. She hadn't been able to spot the magic involved.
"Yes, Durza blinded him in one eye when they fought in Teirm. The entire iris turned crimson, but he masks the appearance. I don't think even Trianna knows," Eragon explained.
Arya was aghast! She had no idea the young Rider was half-blind! That was a seriously crippling blow! "Why am I only now hearing of this?" she demanded.
"Because of that reason in itself," Eragon said patiently. "The fact that you haven't noticed speaks a testament to his self-imposed supersensory charm, which allows him to feel magic nearby as though the wind were rushing against him. You wouldn't even think his vision was slightly impaired."
Arya now understood, and that broke her heart. Eragon was trying to convince himself that there would be hope for Murtagh. That was why. But convincing himself was difficult, and so he hoped she could help him with that endeavour.
"I'm certain things will work out in the end," she told him. Convincing herself it was for the sake of friendship only, she gently took his hand in her own. But something clicked inside her. His earlier actions had affected her more than Arya wanted to admit. Not even she yet understood how. But the fact remained that she couldn't help wanting to comfort him.
As he gave her a small smile, she found herself in desperate need of much more convincing than that.
"Eragon?" she asked quietly.
"Yes, my lady?" he replied courteously.
"You are forgiven."
From his spot nearby, Harry watched with folded arms as Roran grabbed Katrina's hand and both silently fled into the Spine, leaving only the sound of crickets in their wake. His face was a bastion of concentration as he observed the act with interest and concern, knowing instinctively who they were running from. His fears were not quelled as a group of soldiers marched around the side of a nearby house, casting glances in all directions, before turning and stalking off.
Knowing they had looked directly at him but seen nothing, Harry unfolded his arms and turned into the woods, following the young couple through the trees. It was not that he could use magic, but every branch in sight almost seemed to move for him, so that he was able to walk unimpaired. He finally found the two perched at a nearby log, gazing over the top into Carvahall discreetly. Katrina looked terrified.
"Oh, Roran!" she cried. "They have my father!"
Harry frowned and moved beside them, crouching next to Roran. He watched through a noticeable gap in the trees as the soldiers dragged Sloan out onto the grass next to...
The hooded monstrosity stood like a demon of hell, glaring the butcher down with unseen eyes. Sloan would definitely piss himself in fear when he awoke. Although judging from his wounds, that may take a while.
"Don't worry," Roran told her urgently, grabbing her face to draw her eyes away from the scene. She looked at him, tears running down both cheeks. He wiped them away. She looked very pretty even when sad, her elegant copper hair tumbling to her waist. "I'm going to get us both out of here. I promise you that."
"And my father?" she asked fearfully, looking pleadingly towards him.
Roran bowed his head ever so slightly. "I'll try to help him, but he wanted to sell me out, Katrina. He was ready to give me to the soldiers like a piece of meat, and he swore the two of us would never be together, either."
"He said that?" Katrina asked, distraught.
"What the hell is going on here?" Harry asked out-loud, screwing up his face. "Aren't I supposed to be in Farthen Dur, fighting Durza?"
Neither of the two heard him.
"Hello?" Harry asked, snapping his fingers in their faces. When they didn't respond, he tried to poke Roran in the side of the face, only to discover his hand when straight through, like that of a ghost. Only, unlike a ghost, his friend didn't even seem to notice. He kept his attention fixed firmly on Katrina, comforting her.
Harry sighed. "Okay, this is getting ridiculous. Is Durza inside my mind? Is this his idea of a mental attack? If it is, I feel sorry for you!"
Harry groaned and sat himself down on top of the log, watching over his shoulder as the guards attempted to wake Sloan by kicking him. The man finally responded, groaning and rolling over. The Ra'zac made an indication with its hand, and the soldiers dragged him away towards its tent.
"We need to go," Roran whispered to Katrina. "We can stay in a small clearing a few miles east from here. When it's clear Horst will give us the all-clear. I managed to see Baldor before getting some food."
With her nod of consent, he took his love by the hand and began to lead her quickly away.
"Yeah, great! Just leave me here!" Harry shouted after them in annoyance. With a grumble, he jumped to his feet and made his way down towards the soldiers, curious as to what was happening. He found that many were heading towards Morn's inn, whilst others were simply patrolling the village, apparently having enforced a curfew upon its inhabitants.
But why would- unless... they're after Roran himself. That's what this is! They don't want information on Eragon, they want a bargaining tool!
Harry felt a stab of panic. This wasn't good. Somehow, he needed to get Roran the hell out of there. Deep down, he remembered Eragon killing the Shade, although why that was only now registering he had no idea. Everything was fuzzy. Even his connection with Aru appeared to have been temporarily disabled.
If it was the case, he could finally apparate here and then back to the Varden, thus taking Roran and Katrina out of harm's way. But unless... no, that wouldn't work. The soldiers would burn the village to the ground for spite. He knew the Ra'zac would sanction the move. Hell, it would probably order it done even if Roran was captured in the first place.
Mind made up, he jogged towards the Ra'zac's tent and found the flap uncovered. He strode inside, gritting his teeth at the screams of pain.
What he found was just sickening.
He hated Sloan. He really did. But no one deserved to have their eyes burned out with Seithr Oil, except maybe Galbatorix. The butcher had two smoking holes inlaid in his skull, and was whimpering with undiluted agony. The soldiers holding his arms released him, and he fell to the ground heavily, powerless to resist as they began kicking him and beating him with wooden objects.
"The irony is I don't sympathise wholly," Harry told him with contempt, knowing he couldn't be heard. "You killed Garrow, and almost killed Eragon and myself through your words. I'm sure many more graves are from a fault of your prices. This is no less than you deserve."
"But... I'll help you. I'll get you out... if you're still alive by the time I figure out how to wake up, that is," he admitted.
With a sudden jerk, Harry found himself gasping. He was yanked from the vision and lay instead on his back, staring at an opaque gleam of unidentifiable white that stretched eternally into the horizon of his vision.
"You see it now."
"That voice..." Harry whispered, recognising it immediately. "Fírnen?"
"I think you know by now that is not my name, Harry Potter," came the patient reply.
"Then what is it?" Harry asked quickly, hoping this chance wouldn't pass.
"Call it a 'protection' of sorts," Fírnen said.
"No, I meant: what's your real-"
"Now, listen! We don't have time for this. I haven't got long before this connection must be severed. What you just saw is very real. It's happening as we speak, and it must be stopped. Even the Ra'zac knows a man under torture who continues to babble must be telling the truth in some form. It will start interrogating the entire village after but a little while."
"Oh, no!" Harry said under his breath. "I have to get them out of there. No matter what they thought me guilty of I can't leave them to this fate."
"Yes... quite. But you are still weak. I can feel it. You will need to recover somehow, and then travel with a powerful companion to their aid. I would not advise you risk your own life under any other circumstances than saving that of your fellow Rider's."
"Eragon? What's happened to him?" Harry asked fearfully.
"Nothing yet. He will, however, not be able to cope with his cousin's death. Which is why you must save him, Harry Potter. Go now. Go with the blessing of dragons. I give you another small amount of my strength. I'm afraid it is all I can spare. This has weakened me..."
"Wait! This time tell me how to find you!"
There was a brief silence, then:
"It will happen in time. Do not concern yourself with trying."
Harry awoke as though he had been doused with a bucket of icy water. His face, however, was completely dry. It had been a mental effect, nothing more. He found his arm in a sling and his ribs aching, but the pain in his leg had been strangely subdued. He flopped his head back onto the pillow.
How the hell am I going to fight like this? He thought, disgusted.
Then he remembered.
His memory itself was much clearer than it previously had been, courtesy of reabsorbing his soul fragment. Certain things now made themselves known with ease that had previously been difficult to recall, such as the spell Lockhart had attempted – and miserably failed – in repairing his broken wrist, as well as one Tonks had utilised. That was due to Aru. Thanks to the young dragon he could now sift through his own memories with relative ease and since those were now more vocal than before, this was relative child's play.
Another Riders' benefit.
The spell itself he had never cast, but it was worth a try. He found his wand lying next to him on a small wooden counter as his armour had been removed, and quickly leaned over to retrieve it, sucking in his breath as his ribs strained with the movement. Taking a breath to steady himself, he pointed it at his leg and shut his eyes.
The incantation was difficult to remember, but once he had done so, the power began to flow from his wand like a faucet. There was a horrific cracking sound and he yelled out in pain, eyes flying open. He laughed then, however. His toes could be wiggled around without any aches, whilst his ankle had been twisted back into the correct direction.
"What is all this noise about?" Angela demanded, striding into the room and slamming the door behind her. She looked quite haughty. "I leave you alone for half an hour and you get attacked by something!"
"I wasn't being attacked!" Harry said, affronted. Much to his chagrin, the fortune teller made a 'hmph' sound and threw a set of clothes at his feet. "Hey, watch it!"
"I wanted to see if your leg had healed."
"What? How did you know?"
Harry rolled his eyes, then froze in the act of getting out of bed as he looked under the sheet. "Where are my clothes?!"
"I threw them away," she informed him simply. "Those were little more than rags after what you've been through. Take those instead," she said, indicating the bundle at his feet.
"You... err... you took my clothes off?" Harry asked, blushing.
"Of course not! Trianna wouldn't hear of it! She did it herself. Has hardly left your side but to heal others. Now, get dressed. If you've found a way to heal yourself I could use your help."
Knowing his face was the colour of scarlet, Harry watched Angela leave again before wordlessly repairing the damage to his left arm and ribcage. The latter ached as they snapped back to their correct position; no one ever said the 'episkey' charm was gentle. It was merely effective. He removed the sling and quickly pulled on the simple undergarments, shirt and breeches Angela had left for him, relieved that the pain was mostly gone. He still had an assortment of bruises all across his body and a cut above his eye, but those would vanish by themselves with a little time.
Harry jumped to his feet after tying his boots, feeling a little wobbly from numbness. He waited a few seconds for that sensation to subside, before grabbing his sword from the table nearby. It had been badly battered during the skirmish, but a simple pair of cleaning and repairing charms mended any would-be problems. The blade itself now looked brand-new once more, whilst the hilt and belt were freed from any dirt. He attached it to his waist, strangely used to the weight, and placed his wand in the special holster he merged it together with beforehand.
Taking a breath, he strode to the door and opened it. This was a private room, but he doubted the same privilege had been afforded to many of the other wounded warriors. Harry didn't like the idea. He was surprised, therefore, when he found that this was actually Angela's quarters.
She now stood at her cauldron, brewing a mysterious concoction he had never before seen. Solembum was curled up in a basket close-by, and he almost chuckled when he saw Aru draped around the werecat, fast asleep. Angela looked up with a smile.
"Those two are becoming close friends, I believe. Saphira as well. I can only suppose being an exceptional creature of magic is the reason for their intermittent bonding," she said cheerfully.
"True," Harry said, raising his eyebrows. "What news can you give me?"
"Hmm... I can give you news about all sorts of matters."
"Okay... what news from the battle's aftermath?" Harry asked deliberately.
"Ah, yes! That old thing! Good, for the most part. The Urgals were routed, with much praise given to your spell. I must say it fascinated me," Angela beamed. "Quite ingenious, really."
"Eragon killed Durza," Harry said suddenly.
"Yes, he did at that, although he refuses to accept the credit," Angela said, frowning as she added a pinch of some sulphuric powder to her cauldron. It gave an audible hiss in response and unleashed a pillar of dark green smoke.
"What? Why?" Harry asked, confused. He took a seat at her 'dining' table, for want of a better term. It was smaller than most. She didn't seem to care.
"You should ask him. After all, he's the one doing it, not me."
"And if you had to guess?"
Angela grinned. "In that case I would say he believes you deserve the credit."
"Oh, piss on that," Harry scoffed, sounding dismissive. "I didn't draw enough energy and the bastard didn't go down. Simple. He saved me. Just as simple."
"Perhaps," she said distractedly, now sprinkling various other ingredients over the top of her mixture. "But you saved the Varden."
"For all we know the Urgals would have stopped fighting after the Shade was killed."
"That's speculative, and nothing more, I'm afraid. You're just going to have to accept that," Angela told him.
Harry thought for a moment. "You said 'good, for the most part'? What was bad?"
"Well, you already know about Ajihad. That by itself would be a serious problem, although Jörmundur has taken temporary command until Brom is back on his feet. It's nothing serious," she added, catching his look of grave concern, "just a little concussion. He'll be fine. Your friend Murtagh, on the other hand..."
"What happened to Murtagh?" Harry asked, alarmed.
Angela looked at him consolingly. "Harry, I want you to know that it wasn't your fault-"
"What. Happened?" Harry asked slowly. He would accept no bullshit on this point.
Angela blinked, before turning her back on him. "When you cast that magic every idle weapon raised itself up and began to attack any Urgal within sight. Unfortunately, Durza then destroyed these-"
"I know all this," Harry said impatiently.
"Well, what you may not know is that the pulse of energy momentarily knocked the stuffing out of everybody fighting for our side. It also knocked Brom unconscious, which meant that the last of his energy was depleted."
Harry realised then what she was talking about. "His wards. I thought he had to retract them before that already?"
"No. It may be that he thought those of us who are proficient with magic could defend ourselves, but Murtagh could not. His remained... until that incident occurred."
"And then what?" Harry asked, feeling greatly anxious.
"He took the full brunt of a powerful incantation to the face and body... one of dark fire," Angela said lowly.
"What! You mean 'brisingr'?" Harry demanded, waking up the slumbering pair in the centre. Aru yawned and promptly jumped onto his shoulder, but Harry took no notice. It was second nature to him now.
Harry ignored him. "Angela?" he asked sharply.
Slowly, the witch nodded. "Eragon and Arya are staying by his side, but I fear their efforts won't be enough. We're losing him."