Eragon, Chapter 50: Hunting for Answers
Content Note: This post discusses rape.
With Murtagh still being held at knifepoint by Baldy McObviousAntagonist, Eragon and Saphira are led into a side tunnel (where I’m suprised Saphira can fit, especially with a passenger strapped to her back).
The horses were led into a different tunnel.
Nooo! How can I go on, knowing the horses may be in danger? What about Snowfire, Paolini? What about Snowfire?!
They’re taken to a room “large enough to Saphira to move around with ease” and locked in. Eragon tries to tell their captors that Arya needs medical attention, but Baldy cuts him off and says it has to wait until they’ve been tested, then orders them to disarm.
When they were a yard apart, the man said, “Stop there! Now remove the defenses from around your mind and prepare to let me inspect your thoughts and memories. If you try to hide anything from me, I will take what I want by force . . . which would drive you mad. If you don’t submit, your companion will be killed.”
“Why?” asked Eragon, aghast.
“To be sure you aren’t in Galbatorix’s service and to understand why hundreds of Urgals are banging on our front door,” growled the bald man.
The fact that Eragon even had to ask that question tells me he’s too stupid to be a good hero.
Also, do we constantly need to be reminded that Baldy McBaldbald of the Bald Clan is bald? Paolini doesn’t quite reach bad fanfiction-levels of epithets, but it’s still redundant at best. Other than the dwarf, this guy is the only one who’s spoken to Eragon; we don’t need to be told every time he speaks that he’s bald. Wait until someone else cuts into the conversation to break out the identifying adjectives.
His close-set eyes shifted from point to point with cunning speed. “No one may enter Farthen Dûr without being tested.”
This guy is literally shifty-eyed. Man, Paolini is a master of sleight of hand. Everyone will definitely be surprised if this guy winds up being evil later, right?
The dwarf who had saved Eragon from the lake jumped forward. “Are you blind, Egraz Carn? Can’t you see that’s an elf on the dragon? We cannot keep her here if she’s in danger. Ajihad and the king will have our heads if she’s allowed to die!”
The man’s eyes tightened with anger. After a moment he relaxed and said smoothly, “Of course, Orik, we wouldn’t want that to happen.” He snapped his fingers and pointed at Arya. “Remove her from the dragon.” Two human warriors sheathed their swords and hesitantly approached Saphira, who watched them steadily. “Quickly, quickly!”
The men unstrapped Arya from the saddle and lowered the elf to the floor. One of the men inspected her face, then said sharply, “It’s the dragon-egg courier, Arya!”
“What?” exclaimed the bald man. The dwarf Orik’s eyes widened with astonishment. The bald man fixed his steely gaze on Eragon and said flatly, “You have much explaining to do.”
So let me get this straight: the person ferrying the dragon egg that all of your hopes rest on is an elf, and has been missing for months, and you’re not immediately suspicious of the fact that this bozo wanders onto your front porch carrying an elf on the back of a dragon? You have to wait until he’s begging you to help, dismissively agree to help because your boss wouldn’t like it if you let an elf die, and then get pissy because she turns out to be your missing courier and you didn’t realize it until just now? Hot damn, these Varden guys are idiots.
I mean, it’s pretty clear in the text that elves almost never come out of Du Weldenvarden. And since the only living dragon they know of is Galbatorix’s, someone showing up with a different dragon (especially a dragon the same color of the egg they’ve been passing around for decades) and an unconscious elf should immediately pique their interest. But no, we can’t have the NPCs overshadowing our hero’s greatness. Being able to put two and two together is beyond Eragon’s ken, and therefore it’s something the minor characters definitely can’t do.
On a side note, Egraz Carn isn’t the bald guy’s name. It’s dwarvish – for “Bald One”. Hey, did you know this guy doesn’t have any hair on his head? Because he doesn’t!
Eragon did not want this hairless threatening man inside his mind
Oh my god enough already! We get it. He’s bald. Hairless as a newborn babe. No grass grows on this mountaintop. Give the fucker an identity that goes past his physical appearance and move the fuck on. (Also, is anyone else getting the feeling that this guy’s lack of hair is supposed to be a moral failing or something? No? Just me? All right then.)
I’ve decided this is his theme song. You’re welcome.
Anyway, Baldy (who still doesn’t have a personality other than “mean and bald”, so I can’t really call him anything else) has the warriors take Arya to the healers, then says it’s time to probe Eragon’s mind, saying it won’t hurt unless he resists.
Eragon gasped with pain and shock as a mental probe clawed its way into his mind. His eyes rolled up into his head, and he automatically began throwing up barriers around his consciousness. The attack was incredibly powerful.
Don’t do that! cried Saphira. Her thoughts joined his, filling him with strength. You’re putting Murtagh at risk! Eragon faltered, gritted his teeth, then forced himself to remove his shielding, exposing himself to the ravening probe. Disappointment emanated from the bald man. His battering intensified. The force coming from his mind felt decayed and unwholesome; there was something profoundly wrong about it.
He wants me to fight him! cried Eragon as a fresh wave of pain racked him.
So I had this whole spiel about how lazy and ham-fisted this scene is, because it paints Baldy as obviously sadistic while still being stupidly vague (Unwholesome? Really? You had to go and use a word that you don’t normally hear from anyone but Focus on the Family types?), but I just can’t get past the fact that this reads like a rape scene.
I know, I know. Maybe I’m reading too much into this one. I want to be reading too much into this. But when the author uses phrases like “His battering intensified” and makes it profoundly clear that this guy wants Eragon to struggle so he can cause more pain? It’s kind of difficult to take it any other way. (The thing is, I don’t think this is intentional. For one thing, this is never brought up again, even though this is a clearly traumatizing experience… which would have made an interesting plot line if there was even a hint of promise that it would be handled well. And, frankly, I doubt Paolini would ever think of putting Eragon in a position where he wasn’t consenting to sex. These books are so predictably hetero-normative I wouldn’t be surprised if the author thought men couldn’t be raped.)
Anyway, while Baldy is evilly rooting through Eragon’s childhood, Eragon and Saphira work to hide what they deem important. This includes “sections of his discussions with Brom, including all the ancient words he had been taught [...] everything he remembered of Angela’s fortunetelling and Solembum [...] and lastly to Murtagh’s revelation of his true identity.” Saphira doesn’t like this last bit, pointing out that the Varden should probably know who they’ve got under their roof, but Eragon insists that he’s not going to be the one to give out that information, even if they’re going to find out anyway when they scan Murtagh. Okay, fair enough. It’s a noble little gesture, even if it is ultimately pointless.
Baldy takes his time finishing his inspection, then lets Eragon fall to the floor from exhaustion before begrudgingly saying that he’s not a threat. Murtagh refuses to be scanned next, but Baldy forces him into it and is pretty clearly shown to be torturing him before the dwarf, Orik, breaks it up and screams at him for being an asshole. They get into a pissing contest over it, and finally Orik forces Baldy to admit he learned that Murtagh can’t cast magic, so they can just keep him locked up without worrying that he’ll escape.
When his eyes opened, he ignored Orik and snapped at the warriors, “Leave, now!” As they filed through the doorway, he addressed Eragon coldly, “Because I was unable to complete my examination, you and . . . your friend will remain here for the night. He will be killed if he attempts to leave.”
So if Eragon tries to break out you’ll, what, reward him with cake?
Eragon asks Murtagh if he’s all right, and Murtagh replies that he was able to withstand Baldy’s mental assault because he’s been “well trained.” Then Eragon starts to ask about him being Morzan’s son, gets distracted because he needs to heal Saphira, and then finally gets around to asking again about Murtagh’s past.
“Why are you here?”
“If you really are Morzan’s son, Galbatorix wouldn’t let you wander around Alagaësia freely. How is it you managed to find the Ra’zac by yourself? Why is it I’ve never heard of any of the Forsworn having children? And what are you doing here?” His voice rose to a near shout at the end.
Did you ever think that maybe Murtagh’s more competent than you, and doesn’t need to be led around by the hand from plot point to plot point? Or that the “official” story about Galbatorix and the Forsworn might have left some shit out, or not been completely truthful? Or that maybe, just fucking maybe, Murtagh doesn’t owe you an explanation for his existence?
Of course not. Because badgering a “friend” into telling you their life story is what being a hero is all about.
Murtagh’s first sentence was halting, but his voice gained strength and confidence as he spoke. “As far as I know . . . I am the only child of the Thirteen Servants, or the Forsworn as they’re called. There may be others, for the Thirteen had the skill to hide whatever they wanted, but I doubt it, for reasons I’ll explain later.
Because there’s no way any of the Forsworn could have fathered a child without knowing about it. They were all in loyal, committed relationships and never dallied with a stranger while they were tooling about the country.
“My parents met in a small village – I never learned where – while my father was traveling on the king’s business. Morzan showed my mother some small kindness, no doubt a ploy to gain her confidence, and when he left, she accompanied him.
Or maybe he actually liked her. Maybe he liked the way her nose crinkled when she laughed, or thought she had a good sense of humor, or maybe he just thought she had a cute butt. Not everything he does has to be because he’s evil, does it?
They traveled together for a time, and as is the nature of these things, she fell deeply in love with him. Morzan was delighted to discover this not only because it gave him numerous opportunities to torment her but also because he recognized the advantage of having a servant who wouldn’t betray him.
“Thus, when Morzan returned to Galbatorix’s court, my mother became the tool he relied upon most. He used her to carry his secret messages, and he taught her rudimentary magic, which helped her remain undiscovered and, on occasion, extract information from people. He did his best to protect her from the rest of the Thirteen – not out of any feelings for her, but because they would have used her against him, given the chance [...]
Just because someone’s evil doesn’t mean they’re horrible in every conceivable way. It’s really fucking boring to constantly read about baby-raping, puppy-killing villains because the author can’t be bothered to give their antagonists any motivation beyond stamping “EVIL” on their foreheads. And, frankly, I find it scarier when the villain can and does feel love even while they commit atrocities, because then there’s clearly a mental disconnect between people they love and people they find it acceptable to kill.
There’s also this lovely little implication that women are weak-willed and silly, because of course Murtagh’s mom fell in love with an evil jackass over “some small kindness” like, I dunno, giving her a present or escorting her across the street or not murdering her for looking at him wrong. And of course she was easily manipulated, completely loyal, and willing to stay with a guy who tormented her for funsies. And of fucking course there’s no way Morzan could have returned that love, or even felt some sort of affection for her – no, the only reason he could possible be happy that she loved him is because he wanted to use her and torture her.
Again, I don’t think this is intentional, but it’s pretty gross nonetheless.
Anyway, Murtagh’s mom winds up pregnant, so Morzan has her taken away from Galbatorix’s court to his own private castle, then uses his magic to make it so no one but a handful of servants and Galbatorix know about his kid. Murtagh’s mom gives birth, then has to return to court and can only come to visit every few months, this continues for a few years, Morzan gives Murtagh that huge scar on his back, yadda yadda… Then Saphira’s egg is stolen, and Morzan’s sent to go search for it, and Murtagh’s mom immediately disappears. Around the same time Morzan is killed, Mommy comes back to the castle and dies a couple weeks later, so Murtagh winds up being raised in the king’s palace but ultimately ignored by Galbatorix until his eighteenth birthday, when he’s invited to a private dinner with ol’ Galby.
“When the meal was finished, he finally began to speak. You’ve never heard his voice, so it’s hard for me to make you understand what it was like. His words were entrancing, like a snake whispering gilded lies into my ears. A more convincing and frightening man I’ve never heard.
A more blatant example of telling instead of showing I’ve never read.
Galbatorix goes on about the utopia he wants to create, where everything’s perfect, the Urgals are all dead, the Empire covers the entire continent, and the Riders are back in power. Then he asks if Murtagh will help him create his paradise, and Murtagh agrees. When Galbatorix finally calls on him to do his bidding, the king is… different:
We met in private as before, but this time he was not pleasant or charming. The Varden had just destroyed three brigades in the south, and his wrath was out in full force.
Gee, you mean a person’s demeanor can change depending on the situation? What a shock!
He charged me in a terrible voice to take a detachment of troops and destroy Cantos, where rebels were known to hide occasionally. When I asked what we should do with the people there and how we would know if they were guilty, he shouted, “They’re all traitors! Burn them at the stake and bury their ashes with dung!” He continued to rant, cursing his enemies and describing how he would scourge the land of everyone who bore him ill will.
“His tone was so different from what I had encountered before; it made me realize he didn’t possess the mercy or foresight to gain the people’s loyalty, and he ruled only through brute force guided by is own passions. It was at that moment I determined to escape him and Urû’baen forever.
Okay, so I get that this is supposed to show that Galbatorix is unstable and paranoid, but Murtagh runs away based on two conversations he had with the man? We’re not going to get a moral dilemma about having to kill innocent civilians or anything? No internal conflict between fealty to the king and doing what’s right? Bo-ring.
Murtagh runs away the same night with his servant, who’s killed in the escape. Then he hides for a while, hears that the Ra’zac were sent to find and/or kill someone, and decides he needs to follow them in case they find a dragon. And that is the end of his tragic backstory. It kind of loses its impact hearing it second-hand, but whatcha gonna do?
We still don’t know if he’s telling the truth, warned Saphira.
I know, said Eragon, but why would he lie to us?
Uh, for any number of reasons? Murtagh just admitted to being recruited by Galbatorix. This whole sob story could be a ploy to gain your trust – he could be planning to draw you in because you feel sorry for him, hang around with you for a while so you think he’s loyal, then betray you when you least expect it. He did say earlier that he was well trained in keeping up his mental defenses – who better to train him than the emperor, who’s supposedly so damn good at magic that he can do whatever the fuck he wants?
Anyway, Eragon doesn’t think of this (which is just as well for him, because it never happens) and asks Murtagh why he doesn’t just join up with the Varden, since they have a common enemy.
“Must I spell everything out for you?” demanded Murtagh. “I don’t want Galbatorix to learn where I am, which is inevitable if people start saying that I’ve sided with his enemies, which I’ve never done. These,” he paused, then said with distaste, “rebels are trying not only to overthrow the king but to destroy the Empire . . . and I don’t want that to happen. It would sow mayhem and anarchy. The king is flawed, yes, but the system itself is sound. As for earning the Varden’s respect: Ha! Once I am exposed, they’ll treat me like a criminal or worse. Not only that, suspicion will fall upon you because we traveled together!”
Okay, Murtagh’s got some good points, but I’d like to focus on his assertion that it’s Galbatorix who’s the problem and not the “system.” The problem with a line like that is the reader doesn’t know the system. I couldn’t begin to deliberate on whether or not Murtagh’s right because I don’t have a damn clue what the ruling class is like in this place! Are there state-appointed governors for the major cities? Do the nobility rule their own lands or do they just own titles? Does Galbatorix micromanage everything just so he can say he controls the entire Empire? Are there provinces, or just the random cities and towns we’ve heard of? If the Forsworn are all dead, does Galbatorix have other trusted lackeys? If the Riders were in charge before, did their leader rule the country or did they have a council that decided matters? You can’t insist the system is sound if you don’t give us any clue as to what the system is like, dammit!
Eragon tries to wave away Murtagh’s concerns by saying “It isn’t that bad” like he knows anything about it, but thankfully he’s interrupted when the Varden bring them some food and Murtagh decides eating is a better use of his time than talking to Brick-brain. And then they go to sleep. Which is so awesome, because I really missed all those chapters that ended with Eragon going to bed and started with him waking up.
“She has to get the antidote! he thought frantically, knowing that even then the Skilna Bragh was fulfilling its deadly purpose within her flesh.” (pg 379)
“The walls, floor, and ceiling were made of polished white marble that reflected a ghost image of everyone, like a mirror of veined milk.” (pg 379) Is it just me or does “veined milk” sound positively disgusting?