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ASSAULT ON HELGRIND
Daybreak was fifteen minutes away when Eragon rolled up right. He snapped his fingers twice to wake Roran and then scooped up his blankets and knotted them into a tight bundle. Pushing himself off the ground, Roran did likewise with his own
bedding. They looked at each other and shivered with excitement. “If I die,” said Roran, “you will see to Katrina?”
“Tell her then that I went into battle with joy in my heart and her name upon my lips.”
Eragon muttered a quick line in the ancient language. The drop in his strength that followed was almost imperceptible. “There. That will filter the air in front of us and protect us from the paralyz ing effects of the Ra’zac’s breath.”
From his bags, Eragon removed his shirt of mail and unwrapped the length of sackcloth he had stored it in. Blood from the fight on the Burning Plains still encrusted the once-shining corselet, and the combination of dried gore, sweat, and neglect had allowed blotches of rust to creep across the rings. The mail was, however, free of tears, as Eragon had repaired them before they had departed for the Empire.
Eragon donned the leather-backed shirt, wrinkling his nose at the stench of death and desperation that clung to it, then attached chased bracers to his forearms and greaves to his shins. Upon his head he placed a padded arming cap, a mail coif, and a plain steel helm. He had lost his own helm—the one he had worn in Farthen Dûr and that the dwarves had engraved with the crest of Dûrgrimst Ingeitum—along with his shield during the aerial duel between Saphira and Thorn. On his hands went mailed gauntlets.
Roran outfitted himself in a similar manner, although he augmented his armor with a wooden shield. A band of soft iron wrapped around the lip of the shield, the better to catch and hold an enemy’s sword. No shield encumbered Eragon’s left arm; the hawthorn staff required two hands to wield properly.
Across his back, Eragon slung the quiver given to him by Queen Islanzadí. In addition to twenty heavy oak arrows fletched with gray goose feathers, the quiver contained the bow with silver fittings that the queen had sung out of a yew tree for him. The bow was already strung and ready for use.
Saphira kneaded the soil beneath her feet. Let us be off!
Leaving their bags and supplies hanging from the branch of a juniper tree, Eragon and Roran clambered onto Saphira’s back. They wasted no time saddling her; she had worn her tack through the night. The molded leather was warm, almost hot, underneath Eragon. He clutched the neck spike in front of him—to steady himself during sudden changes in direction—while Roran hooked one thick arm around Eragon’s waist and brandished his hammer with the other.
A piece of shale cracked under Saphira’s weight as she settled into a low crouch and, in a single giddy bound, leaped up to the rim of the gulch, where she balanced for a moment before unfolding her massive wings. The thin membranes thrummed as Saphira raised them toward the sky. Vertical, they looked like two translucent blue sails.
“Not so tight,” grunted Eragon.
“Sorry,” said Roran. He loosened his embrace.
Further speech became impossible as Saphira jumped again. When she reached the pinnacle, she brought her wings down with a mighty whoosh, driving the three of them even higher. With each subsequent flap, they climbed closer to the flat, narrow clouds.
As Saphira angled toward Helgrind, Eragon glanced to his left and discovered that he could see a broad swath of Leona Lake some miles distant. A thick layer of mist, gray and ghostly in the predawn glow, emanated from the water, as if witchfire burned upon the sur face of the liquid. Eragon tried, but even with his hawklike vision, he could not make out the far shore, nor the southern reaches of the Spine beyond, which he regretted. It had been too long since he had laid eyes upon the mountain range of his childhood.
To the north stood Dras-Leona, a huge, rambling mass that ap peared as a blocky silhouette against the wall of mist that edged its western flank. The one building Eragon could identify was the cathedral where the Ra’zac had attacked him; its flanged spire loomed above the rest of the city, like a barbed spearhead.
And somewhere in the landscape that rushed past below, Eragon knew, were the remnants of the campsite where the Ra’zac had mortally wounded Brom. He allowed all of his anger and grief over the events of that day—as well as Garrow’s murder and the destruction of their farm—to surge forth and give him the courage, nay, the desire, to face the Ra’zac in combat. Eragon, said Saphira. Today we need not guard our minds and keep our thoughts secret from one another, do we? Not unless another magician should appear.
A fan of golden light flared into existence as the top of the sun crested the horizon. In an instant, the full spectrum of colors en livened the previously drab world: the mist glowed white, the water became a rich blue, the daubed-mud wall that encircled the center of Dras-Leona revealed its dingy yellow sides, the trees cloaked themselves in every shade of green, and the soil blushed red and or ange. Helgrind, however, remained as it always was—black.
The mountain of stone rapidly grew larger as they approached.
Even from the air, it was intimidating. Diving toward the base of Helgrind, Saphira tilted so far to her left, Eragon and Roran would have fallen if they had not already strapped their legs to the saddle. Then she whipped around the apron of scree and over the altar where the priests of Helgrind observed their ceremonies. The lip of Eragon’s helm caught the wind from her passage and produced a howl that almost deafened him.
“Well?” shouted Roran. He could not see in front of them.
“The slaves are gone!”
A great weight seemed to press Eragon into his seat as Saphira pulled out of her dive and spiraled up around Helgrind, searching for an entrance to the Ra’zac’s hideout.
Not even a hole big enough for a woodrat, she declared. She slowed and hung in place before a ridge that connected the third lowest of the four peaks to the prominence above. The jagged buttress magni fied the boom produced by each stroke of her wings until it was as loud as a thunderclap. Eragon’s eyes watered as the air pulsed against his skin.
A web of white veins adorned the backside of the crags and pillars, where hoarfrost had collected in the cracks that furrowed the rock. Nothing else disturbed the gloom of Helgrind’s inky, windswept ramparts. No trees grew among the slanting stones, nor shrubs, grass, or lichen, nor did eagles dare nest upon the tower’s broken ledges. True to its name, Helgrind was a place of death, and stood cloaked in the razor-sharp, sawtooth folds of its scarps and clefts like a bony specter risen to haunt the earth.
Casting his mind outward, Eragon confirmed the presence of the two people whom he had discovered imprisoned within Helgrind the previous day, but he felt nothing of the slaves, and to his concern, he still could not locate the Ra’zac or the Lethrblaka. If they aren’t here, then where? he wondered. Searching again, he noticed something that had eluded him before: a single flower, a gentian, blooming not fifty feet in front of them, where, by all rights, there ought to be solid rock. How does it get enough light to live?
Saphira answered his question by perching on a crumbling spur several feet to the right. As she did, she lost her balance for a moment and flared her wings to steady herself. Instead of brushing against the bulk of Helgrind, the tip of her right wing dipped into the rock and then back out again.
Saphira, did you see that!
Leaning forward, Saphira pushed the tip of her snout toward the sheer rock, paused an inch or two away—as if waiting for a trap to spring—then continued her advance. Scale by scale, Saphira’s head slid into Helgrind, until all that was visible of her to Eragon was a neck, torso, and wings.
It’s an illusion! exclaimed Saphira.
With a surge of her mighty thews, she abandoned the spur and flung the rest of her body after her head. It required every bit of Eragon’s self- control not to cover his face in a desperate bid to pro tect himself as the crag rushed toward him.
An instant later, he found himself looking at a broad, vaulted cave suffused with the warm glow of morning. Saphira’s scales refracted the light, casting thousands of shifting blue flecks across the rock. Twisting around, Eragon saw no wall behind them, only the mouth of the cave and a sweeping view of the landscape beyond.
Eragon grimaced. It had never occurred to him that Galbatorix might have hidden the Ra’zac’s lair with magic. Idiot! I have to do better, he thought. Underestimating the king was a sure way to get them all killed.
Roran swore and said, “Warn me before you do something like that again.” Hunching forward, Eragon began to unbuckle his legs from the saddle as he studied their surroundings, alert for danger.
The opening to the cave was an irregular oval, perhaps fifty feet high and sixty feet wide. From there the chamber expanded to twice that size before ending a good bowshot away in a pile of thick stone slabs that leaned against each other in a confusion of uncertain angles. A mat of scratches defaced the floor, evidence of the many times the Lethrblaka had taken off from, landed on, and walked about its surface. Like mysterious keyholes, five low tunnels pierced the sides of the cave, as did a lancet passageway large enough to accommodate Saphira. Eragon examined the tunnels carefully, but they were pitch-black and appeared vacant, a fact he confirmed with quick thrusts of his mind. Strange, disjointed murmurs echoed from within Helgrind’s innards, suggesting unknown things scurrying about in the dark, and endlessly dripping water. Adding to the chorus of whispers was the steady rise and fall of Saphira’s breathing, which was over loud in the confines of the bare chamber.
The most distinctive feature of the cavern, however, was the mixture of odors that pervaded it. The smell of cold stone domi nated, but underneath Eragon discerned whiffs of damp and mold and something far worse: the sickly sweet fetor of rotting meat.
Undoing the last few straps, Eragon swung his right leg over Saphira’s spine, so he was sitting sidesaddle, and prepared to jump off her back. Roran did the same on the opposite side.
Before he released his hold, Eragon heard, amid the many rustlings that teased his ear, a score of simultaneous clicks, as if someone had struck the rock with a collection of hammers. The sound repeated itself a half second later.
He looked in the direction of the noise, as did Saphira.
A huge, twisted shape hurtled out of the lancet passageway. Eyes black, bulging, rimless. A beak seven feet long. Batlike wings. The torso naked, hairless, rippling with muscle. Claws like iron spikes.
Saphira lurched as she tried to evade the Lethrblaka, but to no avail. The creature crashed into her right side with what felt to Eragon like the strength and fury of an avalanche.
What exactly happened next, he knew not, for the impact sent him tumbling through space without so much as a half-formed thought in his jumbled brain. His blind flight ended as abruptly as it began when something hard and flat rammed against the back of him, and he dropped to the floor, banging his head a second time.
That last collision drove the remaining air clean out of Eragon’s lungs. Stunned, he lay curled on his side, gasping and struggling to regain a semblance of control over his unresponsive limbs.
Eragon! cried Saphira.
The concern in her voice fueled Eragon’s efforts as nothing else could. As life returned to his arms and legs, he reached out and grasped his staff from where it had fallen beside him. He planted the spike mounted on the staff’s lower end into a nearby crack and pulled himself up the hawthorn rod and onto his feet. He swayed. A swarm of crimson sparks danced before him.
The situation was so confusing, he hardly knew where to look first.
Saphira and the Lethrblaka rolled across the cave, kicking and clawing and snapping at each other with enough force to gouge the rock beneath them. The clamor of their fight must have been unimaginably loud, but to Eragon they grappled in silence; his ears did not work. Still, he felt the vibrations through the soles of his feet as the colossal beasts thrashed from side to side, threatening to crush anyone who came near them.
A torrent of blue fire erupted from between Saphira’s jaws and bathed the left side of the Lethrblaka’s head in a ravening inferno hot enough to melt steel. The flames curved around the Lethrblaka without harming it. Undeterred, the monster pecked at Saphira’s neck, forcing her to stop and defend herself.
Fast as an arrow loosed from a bow, the second Lethrblaka darted out of the lancet passageway, pounced upon Saphira’s flank, and, opening its narrow beak, uttered a horrible, withering shriek that made Eragon’s scalp prickle and a cold lump of dread form in his gut. He snarled in discomfort; that he could hear.
The smell now, with both Lethrblaka present, resembled the sort of overpowering stench one would get from tossing a half- dozen pounds of rancid meat into a barrel of sewage and allowing the mix ture to ferment for a week in summer.
Eragon clamped his mouth shut as his gorge rose and turned his attention elsewhere to keep from retching.
A few paces away, Roran lay crumpled against the side of the cave, where he too had landed. Even as Eragon watched, his cousin lifted an arm and pushed himself onto all fours and then to his feet. His eyes were glazed, and he tottered as if drunk.
Behind Roran, the two Ra’zac emerged from a nearby tunnel. They wielded long, pale blades of an ancient design in their mal formed hands. Unlike their parents, the Ra’zac were roughly the same size and shape as humans. An ebony exoskeleton encased them from top to bottom, although little of it showed, for even in Helgrind, the Ra’zac wore dark robes and cloaks.
They advanced with startling swiftness, their movements sharp and jerky like those of an insect.
And yet, Eragon still could not sense them or the Lethrblaka. Are they an illusion too? he wondered. But no, that was nonsense; the flesh Saphira tore at with her talons was real enough. Another explanation occurred to him: perhaps it was impossible to detect their presen...
Perfect for fans of Lord of the Rings, the New York Times bestselling Inheritance Cycle about the dragon rider Eragon has sold over 35 million copies and is an international fantasy sensation.
Oaths sworn . . . loyalties tested . . . forces collide.
Following the colossal battle against the Empire’s warriors on the Burning Plains, Eragon and his dragon, Saphira, have narrowly escaped with their lives. Still there is more at hand for the Rider and his dragon, as Eragon finds himself bound by a tangle of promises he may not be able to keep.
First is Eragon’s oath to his cousin Roran: to help rescue Roran’s beloved, Katrina, from King Galbatorix’s clutches. But Eragon owes his loyalty to others, too. The Varden are in desperate need of his talents and strength—as are the elves and dwarves. When unrest claims the rebels and danger strikes from every corner, Eragon must make choices— choices that take him across the Empire and beyond, choices that may lead to unimagined sacrifice.
Eragon is the greatest hope to rid the land of tyranny. Can this once-simple farm boy unite the rebel forces and defeat the king?
From the Hardcover edition.
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Description du livre Random House Inc. Etat : New. N° de réf. du vendeur 9780375858208