Eragon blinked, disoriented as the noise and fury of battle faded and the pleasant aroma of juniper wood replaced the stench of blood. He ran his tongue over his upper teeth, trying to eradicate the taste of bile that filled his mouth.
  Murtagh.
  The name alone generated a welter of confused emotions in Eragon. On one had, he liked Murtagh. Murtagh had saved Eragon and Saphira from the Ra'zac after their first, ill-fated visit to Dras-Leona; risked his life to help extricate Eragon from Gil'ead; acquitted himself honorably in the Battle of Farthen Dur; and, despite the torments he no doubt endured as a result, had chosen to interpret his orders from Galbatorix in a way that allowed him to release Eragon and Saphira after the Battle of the Burning Plains instead of taking them captive. It was not Murtagh's fault that the Twins had abducted him; that the red dragon, Thorn, had hatched for him; or that Galbatorix had discovered their true names, with which he extracted oaths of fealty in the ancient language from both Murtagh and Thorn.
  None of that could be blamed on Murtagh. He was a victim of fate, and had been since the day he was born.
  And yet... Murtagh might serve Galbatrix against his will, and he might abhor the atrocities the king forced him to commit, but some part of him seemed to revel in welding his newfound power.
During the recent engagement between the Varden and the Empire on the Burning Plains, Murtagh had singled out the dwarf king, Hrothgar, and slain him, although Galbatorix had not ordered Murtagh to do so. He had let Eragon and Saphira go, yes, but only after defeating them in a brutal contest of strength and then listening to Eragon plead for their freedom.
  And Murtagh had derived entirely too much pleasure from the anguish he inflicted upon Eragon by revealing they were both sons of Morzan--first and last of the thirteen Dragon Riders, the Forsworn, who had betrayed their compatriots to Galbatorix.
  Now four days after the battle, another explanation presented itself to Eragon: Perhaps what Murtagh enjoyed was watching another person shoulder the same terrible burden he had carried his whole life.
  Whether or not that was true, Eragon suspected Murtagh had embraced his new role for the same reason that a dog who has been whipped without cause will someday turn and attack this mater. Murtagh had been whipped and whpped, and now he had his chance to strike back at a world that had shown him little enough kindness.
  Yet no matter what good might still flicker in Murtagh's breast, he and Eragon were doomed to be mortal enemies, for Murtagh's promises in the ancient language bound him to Galbatorix with unbreakable fetters and would forevermore.
  If only he hadn't gone with Ajihad to hunt Urgals underneath Farthen Dur. Or if I had just been a little faster, the Twins--
  Eragon, said Saphira.
  He caught himself and nodded, grateful for her intervention. Eragon did his best to avoid brooding upon Murtagh or their shared parents, but such thoughts often waylaid him when he least expected it.
  Drawing and releasing a slow breath to clear his head, Eragon tried to force his mind back to the present but count not.
  The morning after the massive battle on the Burning Plains--when the Varden were busy regrouping and preparing to march after the Empire's army, which had retreated several leagues up the Jiet River--Eragon had gone to Nasuada and Arya, explained Roran's predicament, and sought their permission to help his cousin. He did not succeed. Both women vehemently opposed what Nasuada described as "a harebrained scheme that will have catastrophic consequences for everyone in Alagaesia if it goes awry!"
  The debate raged on for so long, at last Saphira had interrupted with a roar that shook the walls of the command tent. Then she said, I am sore and tired, and Eragon is doing a poor job of explaining himself. We have better things to do than stand around yammering like jackdaws, no?... Good, now listen to me.
  It was reflected Eragon, difficult to argue with a dragon.

 

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