AROUND THE CAMPFIRE
  The low mound of coals throbbed like the heart of some giant beast. Occasionally, a patch of gold sparks flared into existence and raced across the surface of the wood before vanishing into a white-hot crevice.
  The dying remnants of the fire Eragon and Roran had built cast a dim red light over the surrounding area, revealing a patch of rocky soil, a few pewter-gray bushes, the indistinct mass of a juniper tree farther off, then nothing.
  Eragon sat with his bare feet extended toward the nest of ruby embers--enjoying the warmth--and with his back propped against the knobby scales of Saphira's thick right forelog. Opposite him, Roran was perched on the iron-hard, sun-bleached, wind-worn shell of an ancient tree trunk. Every time he moved, the trunk produced a bitter shriek that mad Eragon want to claw at his ears.
  For the moment, quiet reigned within the hollow. Even the coals smoldered in silence; Roran had collected only long-dead branches devoid of moisture to eliminate any smoke that unfriendly eyes might spot.
  Eragon had just finished recounting the day's activities to Saphira. Normally, he never had to tell her what he had been doing, as thoughts, feelings, and other sensations flowed between then as easily as water from one side of a lake to another. But in this instance it was necessary because Eragon had kept this mind carefully shielded during the scouting expedition, aside from his disembodied foray into the Ra'zac's lair.
  After a considerable gap in the conversation, Saphira yawned, exposing her rows of many fearsome teeth. Cruel and evil they may be, but I am impressed that the Ra'zac can bewitch their prey into wanting to be eaten. They are great hunters to do that ... Perhaps I shall attempt it someday.
  But not, Eragon felt compelled to add, with people. Try it with sheep instead.
  People, sheep: what difference is there to a dragon? Then she laughed deep in her long throat--a rolling rumble that reminded him of thunder.
  Leaning forward to take his weight off Saphira's sharp-edged scales, Eragon picked up the hawthorn staff that lay by his side. He rolled it between his palms, admiring the play of light over the polished tangle of roots at the top and the much-scratched metal ferrule and spike at the base.
  Roran had thrust the staff into his arms before they left the Varden on the Burning Plains, saying, "Here. Fisk made this for me after the Ra'zac bit my shoulder. I know you lost your sword, and I thought you might have need of it.... If you want to get another bland, that's fine too, but I've found there are very few fights you can't win with a few whacks from a good, strong stick." Remembering the staff Brom had always carried, Eragon had decided to forgo a new sword in favor of the length of knotted hawthorn. After losing Zar'roc, he felt no desire to take up another, lesser sword. That night, he had fortified both the knotted hawthorn and the handle to Roran's hammer with several spells that would prevent either piece from breaking, except under the most extreme stress.
  Unbidden, series of memories overwhelmed Eragon: A sullen orange and crimson sky swirled around him as Saphira dove in pursuit of the red dragon and his Rider. Wind howled past his ears.... His fingers went numb from the jolt of sword striking sword as he dueled that same Rider on the ground.... Tearing off his foe's helm in the midst of combat to reveal his once friend and traveling companion, Murtagh, whom he had thought dead.... The sneer upon Murtagh's face as he took Zar'roc from Eragon, Claiming the red sword by right of inheritance as Eragon's elder brother....

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