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Video: Paolini’s latest dragon tale

TODAY books
updated 9/19/2008 10:24:35 AM ET 2008-09-19T14:24:35

Forces collide in book three of the phenomenally successful “Inheritance Cycle” by Christopher Paolini. Eragon represents the greatest hope for a better Alagaesia. Can this once simple farm boy rise to become a leader who can unite the rebel forces and defeat the king? Conflict, action and adventure await readers as Eragon and his dragon, Saphira, continue their quest against tyranny. An excerpt.

The elf smiled, revealing teeth that were sharper than normal. “I am Blödhgarm, son of Ildrid the Beautiful.” He introduced the other elves in turn before continuing: “We bring you glad tidings from Queen Islanzadí; last night our spellcasters succeeded in destroying the gates of Ceunon. Even as we speak our forces advance through the streets toward the tower where Lord Tarrant has barricaded himself. Some few still resist us, but the city has fallen, and soon we shall have complete control over Ceunon.”

Nasuada’s guards and the Varden gathered behind her burst into cheers at the news. She too rejoiced at the victory, but then a sense of foreboding and disquiet tempered her celebratory mood as she pictured elves — especially ones as strong as Blödhgarm — invading human homes. What unearthly forces have I unleashed? She wondered. “These are glad tidings indeed,” she said, “and I am well pleased to hear them. With Ceunon captured, we are that much closer to Urû’baen, and thus to Galbatorix and the fulfillment of our dreams.” In a more private voice, she said, “I trust that Queen Islanzadí will be gentle with the people of Ceunon, with those who have no love of Galbatorix but lack the means or the courage to oppose the Empire.”

“Queen Islanzadí is both kind and merciful to her subjects, even if they are her unwilling subjects, but if anyone dare oppose us, we shall sweep them aside like dead leaves before an autumn storm.”

“I would expect nothing less from a race as old and mighty as yours,” Nasuada replied. After satisfying the demands of courtesy with several more polite exchanges of increasing triviality, Nasuada deemed it appropriate to address the reason for the elves’ visit. She ordered the assembled crowd to disperse, then said, “Your purpose here, as I understand it, is to protect Eragon and Saphira. Am I right?” “You are, Nasuada Svit-kona. And we are aware that Eragon is still inside the Empire but that he will return soon.”

“Are you also aware that Arya left in search of him, and that they are now traveling together?”

Blödhgarm flicked his ears. “We were informed of that as well. It is unfortunate that they should both be in such danger, but hopefully no harm will befall them.”

“What do you intend to do, then? Will you seek them out and escort them back to the Varden? Or will you stay and wait and trust that Eragon and Arya can defend themselves against Galbatorix’s minions?”

“We will remain as your guests, Nasuada daughter of Ajihad. Eragon and Arya are safe enough as long as they continue to avoid detection. Joining them in the Empire could very well attract unwanted attention. Under the circumstances, it seems best to bide our time where we can yet do some good. Galbatorix is most likely to strike here, at the Varden, and if he does, and if Thorn and Murtagh should reappear, Saphira will need all our help to drive them off.”

Nasuada was surprised. “Eragon said you were among the strongest spellcasters of your race, but do you really have the wherewithal to thwart that accursed pair?

Like Galbatorix, they have powers far beyond those of ordinary Riders.”

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“With Saphira helping us, yes, we believe that we can match or overcome Thorn and Murtagh. We know what the Forsworn were capable of, and while Galbatorix has probably made Thorn and Murtagh stronger than any individual member of the Forsworn, he certainly won’t have made them his equals. In that regard, at least, his fear of treachery is to our benefit. Even three of the Forsworn could not conquer the twelve of us and a dragon. Therefore, we are confident that we can hold our own against all but Galbatorix.”

“That is heartening. Since Eragon’s defeat at the hands of Murtagh, I have been wondering if we should retreat and hide until Eragon’s strength increases. Your assurances convince me that we are not entirely without hope. We may have no idea how to kill Galbatorix himself, but until we batter down the gates of his citadel in Urû’baen, or until he chooses to fly out on Shruikan and confront us on the field of battle, nothing shall stop us.” She paused. “You have given me no reason to distrust you, Blödhgarm, but before you enter our camp, I must ask that you allow one of my men to touch each of your minds, to confirm that you are actually elves, and not humans Galbatorix has sent here in disguise. It pains me to make such a request, but we have been plagued by spies and traitors, and we dare not take you, or anyone else, at their word. It is not my intention to cause offense, but war has taught us these precautions are necessary. Surely you, who have ringed the entire leafy expanse of Du Weldenvarden with protective spells, can understand my reasons. So I ask; will you agree to this?”

Blödhgarm’s eyes were feral and his teeth were alarmingly sharp as he said, “For the most part, the trees of Du Weldenvarden have needles, not leaves. Test us if you must, but I warn you, whomever you assign the task should take great care he does not delve too deeply into our minds, else he may find himself stripped of his reason. It is perilous for mortals to wander among our thoughts; they can easily become lost and be unable to return to their bodies. Nor are our secrets available for general inspection.”

Nasuada understood. The elves would destroy anyone who ventured into forbidden territory. “Captain Garven,” she said.

Stepping forward with the expression of a man approaching his doom, Garven stood opposite Blödhgarm, closed his eyes, and frowned intensely as he searched out Blödhgarm’s consciousness. Nasuada bit the inside of her lip as she watched. When she was a child, a one-legged man by the name of Hargrove had taught her how to conceal her thoughts from telepaths and how to block and divert the stabbing lances of a mental attack. At both those skills she excelled, and although she had never succeeded at initiating contact with the mind of another, she was thoroughly familiar with the principles involved. She empathized, then, with the difficulty and the delicacy of what Garven was trying to do, a trial only made harder by the strange nature of the elves.

Leaning toward her, Angela whispered, “You should have had me check the elves. It would have been safer.”

“Perhaps,” said Nasuada. Despite all the help the herbalist had given her and the Varden, she still felt uncomfortable relying upon her for official business.

For a few moments longer, Garven continued his efforts, and then his eyes snapped open and he released his breath in an explosive burst. His neck and face were mottled from the strain, and his pupils were dilated, as if it were night. In contrast, Blödhgarm appeared undisturbed; his fur was smooth, his breathing regular, and a faint smile of amusement flickered about the corners of his lips.

“Well?” asked Nasuada.

It seemed to take Garven a longish while to hear her question, and then the burly captain with the crooked nose said, “He is not human, my Lady. Of that I have no doubt. No doubt whatsoever.”

Pleased and disturbed, for there was something uncomfortably remote about his reply, Nasuada said, “Very well. Proceed.” Thereafter, Garven required less and less time to examine each elf, spending no more than a half-dozen seconds on the very last of the group. Nasuada kept a close eye on him throughout the process, and she saw how his fingers became white and bloodless, and the skin at his temples sank into his skull like the eardrums of a frog, and he acquired the languid appearance of a person swimming underwater.

Having completed his assignment, Garven returned to his post beside Nasuada. He was, she thought, a changed man. His original determination and fierceness of spirit had faded into the dreamy air of a sleepwalker, and while he looked at her when she asked if he was well, and he answered in an even enough tone, she felt as if his spirit was far away, ambling among dusty, sunlit glades somewhere in the elves’ mysterious forest. Nasuada hoped he would soon recover. If he did not, she would ask Eragon or Angela, or perhaps the two of them together, to attend to Garven. Until such time as his condition improved, she decided that he should no longer serve as an active member of the Nighthawks; Jörmundur would give him something simple to do, so she would not suffer guilt at causing him any further injury, and he might at least have the pleasure of enjoying whatever visions his contact with the elves had left him with.

Bitter at her loss, and furious with herself, with the elves, and with Galbatorix and the Empire for making such a sacrifice necessary, she had difficulty maintaining a soft tongue and good manners. “When you spoke of peril, Blödhgarm, you would have done well to mention that even those who return to their bodies do not escape entirely unscathed.”

“My Lady, I am fine,” said Garven. His protestation was so weak and ineffectual, hardly anyone noticed, and it only served to strengthen Nasuada’s sense of outrage.

The fur on Blödhgarm’s nape rippled and stiffened. “If I failed to explain myself clearly enough before, then I apologize. However, do not blame us for what has happened; we cannot help our nature. And do not blame yourself, either, for we live in an age of suspicion. To allow us to pass unchallenged would have been negligent on your part. It is regrettable that such an unpleasant incident should mar this historic meeting between us, but at least now you may rest easy, confident you have established our origins and we are what we seem to be: elves of Du Weldenvarden.”

Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf & Crown Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive

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