By Christopher Paolini
Eragon knelt in a bed of trampled reed grass and scanned the
tracks with a practiced eye. The prints told him that the deer had
been in the meadow only a half-hour before. Soon they would bed down.
Three: Fancy that, carrying a bed all the way through the meadow! I wonder if it’s one of those, oh, explodeable ones? The ones that blow up?
Ienzo: *opens his mouth as if to comment, and then shakes his head and closes it again. Exploding beds are not too out of the ordinary, given Braig.*
His target, a small doe with a pronounced limp in her left forefoot,
was still with the herd. He was amazed she had made it so far without
a wolf or bear catching her.
The sky was clear and dark, and a slight breeze stirred the air. A
silvery cloud drifted over the mountains that surrounded him, its
edges glowing with ruddy light cast from the harvest moon cradled
between two peaks. Streams flowed down the mountains from stolid
glaciers and glistening snowpacks.
Ienzo: *Frowns a little. Surely that can’t be the right term?*
Three: Oh, stolid glaciers. I’ve seen a few of those. None of them melted, though. I think it had something to do with being stolid.
A brooding mist crept along the valley’s floor, almost thick enough to obscure his feet.
Three: Oh, dear. Someone really ought to cheer that mist up.
Ienzo: ...*whistles a cheery tune?*
Eragon was fifteen, less than a year from manhood. Dark eyebrows rested above his intense brown eyes.
Three: An excellent place for them to be, on a humanoid.
His clothes were worn from work. A hunting knife with a bone handle was sheathed at his belt, and a buckskin tube protected his yew bow from the mist. He carried a
Ienzo: *pointedly yawns*
The deer had led him deep into the Spine, a range of untamed
mountains that extended up and down the land of Alagaësia. Strange
tales and men often came from those mountains, usually boding ill.
Three: They really ought to see a Doctor for that. ...Not me, of course.
Despite that, Eragon did not fear the Spine-he was the only hunter
near Carvahall who dared track game deep into its craggy recesses.
Falco: I imagine it’d be pretty tough to go through life being afraid of spines. Just sayin’.
Falco: Carti- I can’t even pronounce that.
Ienzo: ...Fear of bones.
Falco: My point still stands.
It was the third night of the hunt, and his food was half gone. If
he did not fell the doe, he would be forced to return home
empty-handed. His family needed the meat for the rapidly approaching
winter and could not afford to buy it in Carvahall.
Eragon stood with quiet assurance in the dusky moonlight, then
strode into the forest toward a glen where he was sure the deer would
rest. The trees blocked the sky from view and cast feathery shadows on
Three: I was under the impression most trees were not, in fact, birds. Bugger. I think I’ve a few apology letters to write...
He looked at the tracks only occasionally; he knew the way.
At the glen, he strung his bow with a sure touch, then drew three
arrows and nocked one, holding the others in his left hand. The
moonlight revealed twenty or so motionless lumps where the deer lay in
the grass. The doe he wanted was at the edge of the herd, her left foreleg stretched out awkwardly.
Eragon slowly crept closer, keeping the bow ready. All his work of
the past three days had led to this moment. He took a last steadying
breath and-an explosion shattered the night.
Ienzo: *sighs and fetches the glue*
The herd bolted. Eragon lunged forward, racing through the grass
as a fiery wind surged past his cheek.
Three: Ienzo? Have you got any fire extinguishers with the glue?
Ienzo: *goes looking... and comes up with a hose*
He slid to a stop and loosed an arrow at the bounding doe. It missed by a finger’s breadth and hissed into darkness. He cursed and spun around, instinctively nocking
Behind him, where the deer had been, smoldered a large circle of
grass and trees. Many of the pines stood bare of their needles.
Three: *wince* Oh, that’s quite embarrassing.
The grass outside the charring was flattened. A wisp of smoke curled in
the air, carrying a burnt smell. In the center of the blast radius lay
a polished blue stone. Mist snaked across the scorched area and
swirled insubstantial tendrils over the stone.
Eragon watched for danger for several long minutes,
Three: You know, it’s a common misconception that there are only one kind of minutes. Actually, they come in many varieties, depending of course on the local definition of a minute and the observer. Long minutes, of course, most commonly occur when you’re waiting for something, and short minutes usually happen on work breaks. ...Not that I’ve ever worked, of course. *coughs and turns away*
Ienzo: *tilts his head as if to inquire what else she might have done*
Three: *nervous laughter* That would just be ridiculous! Ah... Quick! Look over there!
Ienzo: *not impressed*
Three: *dives behind a couch! Er, we mean ~*~MYSTERIOUSLY DISAPPEARS~*~*
but the only thing that moved was the mist. Cautiously, he released the tension
from his bow
and moved forward. Moonlight cast him in pale shadow
Three: Oh, I love that song! Moonlight becomes you~ It goes with your hair~
as he stopped before the stone. He nudged it with an arrow, then jumped
back. Nothing happened, so he warily picked it up.
Nature had never polished a stone as smooth as this one. Its
flawless surface was dark blue, except for thin veins of white that
spiderwebbed across it. The stone was cool and frictionless under his
fingers, like hardened silk. Oval and about a foot long, it weighed
several pounds, though it felt lighter than it should have.
Eragon found the stone both beautiful and frightening.
Three: Ah. Is he often scared of rocks, this Eragon?
Ienzo: *shrugs and mimics the sound of an avalanche*
Where did it come from? Does it have a purpose? Then a more disturbing thought
came to him: Was it sent here by accident, or am I meant to have it?
If he had learned anything from the old stories, it was to treat
magic, and those who used it, with great caution.
But what should I do with the stone? It would be tiresome to
carry, and there was a chance it was dangerous. It might be better to
leave it behind. A flicker of indecision ran through him, and he
almost dropped it, but something stayed his hand.
Three: Thank Rassilon! He wouldn’t have been able to pick it up after dropping it, after all. That would just be ridiculous!
Three: Oh, please, you don’t believe that nonsense, do you? A truly frictionless surface can only be created under very special circumstances. Even a very polished rock isn’t going to cut it. *science sniff*
Ienzo: *science mode* Yes. But assuming it to be frictionless, he shouldn’t truly be able to pick it up at all. However, a truly frictionless stone would hardly be able to stay truly still no matter the situation, assuming it was set in motion in the first place.
Three: In which case, it would never have been motionless in the first place, given the constant force on it exerted by the movement of the planet.
Ienzo: *nods agreement*
Three: *would do a science high-five, if that wouldn’t be completely and utterly childish*
Falco: ...Are you guys done being the biggest nerds ever or what.
At the very least, it might pay for some food, he decided with a shrug, tucking the stone
into his pack.
The glen was too exposed to make a safe camp, so he slipped back
into the forest and spread his bedroll beneath the upturned roots of a
fallen tree. After a cold dinner of bread and cheese, he wrapped
himself in blankets and fell asleep, pondering what had occurred.
The sun rose the next morning with a glorious conflagration of
pink and yellow. The air was fresh, sweet, and very cold. Ice edged
the streams, and small pools were completely frozen over. After a
breakfast of porridge,
Three: Stolen from bears, naturally. The first one was too hot, you know.
Eragon returned to the glen and examined the
charred area. The morning light revealed no new details, so he started
The rough game trail was faintly worn and, in places, nonexistent.
Because it had been forged by animals, it often backtracked and took
long detours. Yet for all its flaws, it was still the fastest way out
of the mountains.
The Spine was one of the only places that King Galbatorix could
not call his own.
Three: ...Sorry, who? I was under the impression we were going to spend several thousand more words on this Eragon chap’s hunting trip without explaining anything.
Stories were still told about how half his army
disappeared after marching into its ancient forest. A cloud of
misfortune and bad luck seemed to hang over it. Though the trees grew
tall and the sky shone brightly, few people could stay in the Spine
for long without suffering an accident. Eragon was one of those
few-not through any particular gift, it seemed to him, but because of
persistent vigilance and sharp reflexes. He had hiked in the mountains
for years, yet he was still wary of them. Every time he thought they
had surrendered their secrets, something happened to upset his
understanding of them-like the stone’s appearance.
He kept up a brisk pace, and the leagues steadily disappeared.
Three: Just coughed quietly and let themselves out the door.
In late evening he arrived at the edge of a precipitous ravine. The Anora
River rushed by far below, heading to Palancar Valley. Gorged with
hundreds of tiny streams, the river was a brute force, battling
against the rocks and boulders that barred its way. A low rumble
filled the air.
Three: *pats stomach* Sorry, was that me? How embarrassing. Did anyone happen to bring a snack?
Ienzo: *shakes his head*
He camped in a thicket near the ravine and watched the moonrise
before going to bed.
It grew colder over the next day and a half. Eragon traveled
quickly and saw little of the wary wildlife. A bit past noon, he heard
the Igualda Falls blanketing everything with the dull sound of a
thousand splashes. The trail led him onto a moist slate outcropping,
which the river sped past, flinging itself into empty air and down
Three: *glances up from scribbling something down on her hand* Oh, are we still reviewing this? My mind keeps slipping off it. I’ve come up with an excellent theory for brownies, though.
Ienzo: *curious about this theory!*
Before him lay Palancar Valley, exposed like an unrolled map. The
base of the Igualda Falls, more than a half-mile below, was the
northernmost point of the valley. A little ways from the falls was
Carvahall, a cluster of brown buildings. White smoke rose from the
chimneys, defiant of the wilderness around it.
Three: Too long has it been oppressed, and that sort of thing?
Ienzo: *starts humming the opening notes of “Do You Hear the People Sing”*
At this height, farms were small square patches no bigger than the end of his finger. The
land around them was tan or sandy, where dead grass swayed in the
wind. The Anora River wound from the falls toward Palancar’s southern
end, reflecting great strips of sunlight. Far in the distance it
flowed past the village Therinsford and the lonely mountain Utgard.
Three: Oh, poor thing. Someone ought to bring it tea and biscuits.
Beyond that, he knew only that it turned north and ran to the sea.
After a pause, Eragon left the outcropping and started down the
trail, grimacing at the descent. When he arrived at the bottom, soft
dusk was creeping over everything, blurring colors and shapes into
gray masses. Carvahall’s lights shimmered nearby in the twilight; the
houses cast long shadows. Aside from Therinsford, Carvahall was the
only village in Palancar Valley. The settlement was secluded and
surrounded by harsh, beautiful land. Few traveled here except merchants and trappers.
The village was composed of stout log buildings with low
roofs-some thatched, others shingled. Smoke billowed from the
chimneys, giving the air a woody smell.
Three: That sort of ‘je ne sais fire’.
The buildings had wide porches where people gathered to talk and conduct business. Occasionally a window brightened as a candle or lamp was lit. Eragon heard men
talking loudly in the evening air while wives scurried to fetch their
husbands, scolding them for being late.
Eragon wove his way between the houses to the butcher’s shop, a
broad, thick-beamed building. Overhead, the chimney belched black
Falco: That doesn’t sound healthy at all.
Three: It ought to see someone about that.
He pushed the door open. The spacious room was warm and well lit
by a fire snapping in a stone fireplace. A bare counter stretched
across the far side of the room. The floor was strewn with loose
straw. Everything was scrupulously clean, as if the owner spent his
leisure time digging in obscure crannies for minuscule pieces of
Falco: Well, scrupulously clean save for the straw all over the floor.
Three: I expect it is for horses - they could eat off the floor, after all.
Behind the counter stood the butcher Sloan. A small man, he
wore a cotton shirt and a long, bloodstained smock. An impressive
array of knives swung from his belt. He had a sallow, pockmarked face,
and his black eyes were suspicious. He polished the counter with a
Falco: This guy sounds like someone out of a slasher flick. I wanna read a story staring him.
Sloan’s mouth twisted as Eragon entered. “Well, the mighty hunter
joins the rest of us mortals. How many did you bag this time? ”
“None, ” was Eragon’s curt reply. He had never liked Sloan. The
butcher always treated him with disdain, as if he were something
unclean. A widower, Sloan seemed to care for only one person-his
daughter, Katrina, on whom he doted.
Three: Hmph. I think I manage exposition much better than that. He should try running and shouting while he delivers it, much more exciting.
Falco: I bet the butcher’s daughter has a hard time keeping boyfriends. I wouldn’t wanna piss that guy off.
“I’m amazed, ” said Sloan with affected astonishment. He turned
his back on Eragon to scrape something off the wall. “And that’s your
reason for coming here? ”
“Yes, ” admitted Eragon uncomfortably.
“If that’s the case, let’s see your money. ” Sloan tapped his
fingers when Eragon shifted his feet and remained silent. “Come
on-either you have it or you don’t. Which is it? ”
“I don’t really have any money, but I do-”
Falco: “give a mean lap dance!”
“What, no money? ” the butcher cut him off sharply. “And you
expect to buy meat! Are the other merchants giving away their wares?
Should I just hand you the goods without charge? Besides, ” he said
abruptly, “it’s late. Come back tomorrow with money. I’m closed for
the day. ”
Three: You know, that’s what most merchants tell me. Honestly, that beetle was extremely valuable on many planets!
Ienzo: *eyebrow raise*
Eragon glared at him. “I can’t wait until tomorrow, Sloan. It’ll
be worth your while, though; I found something to pay you with. ” He
pulled out the stone with a flourish and set it gently on the scarred
counter, where it gleamed with light from the dancing flames.
“Stole it is more likely, ” muttered Sloan, leaning forward with
an interested expression.
Three: I think he’d prefer ‘indefinitely borrowed’.
Ignoring the comment, Eragon asked, “Will this be enough? ”
Sloan picked up the stone and gauged its weight speculatively. He
ran his hands over its smoothness and inspected the white veins. With
a calculating look, he set it down. “It’s pretty, but how much is it
“I don’t know, ” admitted Eragon, “but no one would have gone to
the trouble of shaping it unless it had some value. ”
Three: I’m not certain that logic quite holds up. An awful lot of things tend to have shapes to them.
“Obviously, ” said Sloan with exaggerated patience. “But how much
value? Since you don’t know, I suggest that you find a trader who
does, or take my offer of three crowns. ”
“That’s a miser’s bargain! It must be worth at least ten times
that, ” protested Eragon. Three crowns would not even buy enough meat
to last a week.
Sloan shrugged. “If you don’t like my offer, wait until the
traders arrive. Either way, I’m tired of this conversation. ”
Three: Capital chap. I’m quite tired of it as well.
The traders were a nomadic group of merchants and entertainers who
visited Carvahall every spring and winter. They bought whatever excess
the villagers and local farmers had managed to grow or make, and sold
what they needed to live through another year: seeds, animals, fabric,
and supplies like salt and sugar.
But Eragon did not want to wait until they arrived; it could be a
while, and his family needed the meat now. “Fine, I accept, ” he
Three: Brittle, isn’t he?
“Good, I’ll get you the meat. Not that it matters, but where did
you find this? ”
“Two nights ago in the Spine-”
“Get out! ” demanded Sloan, pushing the stone away. He stomped
furiously to the end of the counter and started scrubbing old
bloodstains off a knife.
Three: A bit touchy, isn’t he?
“Why? ” asked Eragon. He drew the stone closer, as if to protect
it from Sloan’s wrath.
“I won’t deal with anything you bring back from those damned
mountains! Take your sorcerer’s stone elsewhere. ”
Three: *sniff* An archaic form of science.
Sloan’s hand suddenly slipped and he cut a finger on the knife, but he seemed not
to notice. He continued to scrub, staining the blade with fresh blood.
Three: Goodness, that was... certainly important to know, wasn’t it?