Eragon, Chapter 55: Hall of the Mountain King
There’s a dwarf waiting for Eragon when he gets back to the dragonhold, who tells him that Orik’s waiting for him and then runs away. Saphira urges Eragon to wear Zar’roc, saying that while it may have a bloody history he should wield a Rider’s sword and he can use it for good. Which makes sense, especially considering most people’s reactions to the sword are to go on about how terrible Morzan was. Eragon’s not being shunned for using this sword, or being pelted with rotten vegetables, or anything like that. He’s just being subjected to endless yammering about a dead villain.
So Saphira and Eragon fly down to the main gates where Orik lets them in. Hrothgar, the dwarf king, wants a private audience with Eragon and Saphira. They’re led to a throne room underneath Tronjheim, where Hrothgar is waiting for them. He apologizes for not meeting with them the day before. Apparently some of the dwarf clans wanted him to expel Eragon from Farthen Dûr and he had to argue with them all day. Then he segues into his next question by giving us some random history (which really means that Paolini dumped a bunch of meaningless exposition on us for no reason):
The king accepted his thanks, then lifted a gnarled hand and pointed. “See there, Rider Eragon, where my predecessors sit upon their graven thrones. One and forty there are, with I the forty-second. When I pass from this world into the care of the gods, my hírna will be added to their ranks. The first statue is the likeness of my ancestor Korgan, who forged this mace, Volund. For eight millennia – since the dawn of our race – dwarves have ruled under Farthen Dûr. We are the bones of the land, older than both the fair elves and the savage dragons.” Saphira shifted slightly.
Wait, Hrothgar was described as holding a hammer when Eragon walked in. Is he talking about a mace that the statue was holding, or does Paolini not know the difference between a mace and a hammer? Also, does no one in this damn book have any situational awareness? Because I swear Hrothgar is the third person to say something offhand that makes it sound like he’s not aware there’s a dragon standing right in front of him.
Hrothgar asks what Eragon intends to do in Tronjheim. Eragon says that right now he wants to “find sanctuary,” and that he’s not planning to leave unless Ajihad sends him to the elves. This is apparently not a satisfactory answer:
“Then it was only the desire for safety that drove you?” asked Hrothgar. “Do you just seek to live here and forget your troubles with the Empire?”
Eragon shook his head, his pride rejecting that statement. “If Ajihad told you of my past, you should know that I have grievances enough to fight the Empire until it is nothing but scattered ashes.
The problem with this statement is that Eragon’s grievances are the only ones we see. Let’s take a look at what the Empire has done to Eragon, shall we?
- Killed his uncle
- Imprisoned him
- Drugged and interrogated him
- Chased him across the continent
- Killed his mentor
I can guarantee that any one of those things has been done to people in the Varden as well. Not all of them – I’m sure a good chunk of the refugees living in Tronjheim are family members who left with the victims – but let’s say at least a quarter of these people have been directly victimized by the Empire. And when I say directly victimized, I mean they’ve probably been: threatened (whether with imprisonment, torture, death, or the death of a loved one); imprisoned, whether it’s under false charges, or for saying the wrong thing or not paying their taxes or whatever; beaten, tortured, or driven out of their homes; had personal property destroyed by agents of the Empire; or lost someone close to them, whether that person was killed outright or quietly disappeared. Eragon acts like he has more reason than most to fight the Empire, but any one of these is reason enough – and he’s certainly not the only one to suffer multiple injustices at the Empire’s hands.
What this book needs is a scene where Eragon learns what other refugees have gone through. We need to hear from the family that lost everything because the taxes were so high they couldn’t afford to eat; from the young widow whose husband went out to meet with like-minded revolutionaries and never came home; from the old man who can barely walk because he was so badly beaten for badmouthing the Emperor. If nothing else, this would provide some much-needed believability. For all his worldbuilding, Paolini really got hung up on the physical details and forgot about atmosphere. And Eragon has all these revelations about death and slavery, but what he really needs is a kick in the head and a reminder that he’s not the only one who has suffered.
Hrothgar asks Saphira the same question, and her answer is appropriately bloodthirsty – she wants to kill Galbatorix and free the two dragon eggs he still holds. Then there’s some prattle about obligations, Hrothgar joins the horde of people pointing out that Eragon is carrying an evil sword, we find out Orik is Hrothgar’s nephew, and finally Eragon is dismissed. He meets up with Orik outside, who says that Eragon is now super popular thanks to that blessing he performed the other day – every mom is out to get Eragon to bless their kids. Saphira goes back to the dragonhold to meet somebody, while Eragon says he wants to keep looking around (while simultaneously wanting to stay out of sight – good luck with that one).
Orik takes Eragon to the library, and Eragon amuses himself by skimming the book titles.
He was somewhat disheartened by how hard reading was after months of neglect.
Oh for the love of – didn’t he only learn to read, what, three months ago? Over the course of a week? And then had no opportunity to practice between fleeing for his life and being imprisoned? Of course reading is going to be hard!
Eventually he became immersed in a translation of poems by Dóndar, the tenth dwarf king.
Either those are some really easy poems to read, or reading is a skill you can pick up in about ten minutes.
Anyway, Eragon hears people moving around in the library, and he gets paranoid, starts trying to find Orik, and runs into the Twins… and this is where the weirdest scene in the book starts.
The Twins stood together, their shoulders meeting, a blank expression on their smooth faces. Their black snake eyes bored into him. Their hands, hidden within the folds of their purple robes, twitched slightly. They both bowed, but the movement was insolent and derisive.
Someone please tell me how bowing can be “insolent and derisive”. Are they maintaining eye contact when they should be looking at the floor? Bowing too low, or too shallow, for someone of Eragon’s station? And how can Eragon tell what’s going on with the Twins’ hands if they’re hidden?
“We have been searching for you,” one said. His voice was uncomfortably like the Ra’zac’s.
Eragon suppressed a shiver. “What for?” He reached out with his mind and contacted Saphira. She immediately joined thoughts with him.
“Ever since you met with Ajihad, we have wanted to . . . apologize for our actions.” The words were mocking, but not in a way Eragon could challenge. “We have come to pay homage to you.” Eragon flushed angrily as they bowed again.
Careful! warned Saphira.
He pushed back his rising temper. He could not afford to be riled by this confrontation. An idea came to him, and he said with a small smile, “Nay, it is I who pay homage to you. Without your approval I never could have gained entrance to Farthen Dûr.” He bowed to them in turn, making the movement as insulting as he could.
Yeah, okay, there is not nearly enough detail here for this scene to make any sense. What is Eragon doing to make that would make bowing insulting? What is the cultural context for bowing? It appears to be a formal gesture, much like it is in the real world, but does social standing affect how you’re supposed to bow? Is there some misunderstanding here – is Eragon making himself out to be a lot more important than other people see him? Do the Twins assume he’s just a trumped-up yokel who should be kneeling at their feet in awe? It makes sense for Eragon to be angry that they’re mocking him, but there needs to be some sort of context so we can tell how he’s being mocked. This just makes it look like bowing is this huge insult in their culture, while also being a sign of respect.
There was a flicker of irritation in the Twins’ eyes, but they smiled and said, “We are honored that one so . . . important . . . as yourself thinks so highly of us. We are in your debt for your kind words.”
Now it was Eragon’s turn to be irritated. “I will remember that when I’m in need.”
Paolini was clearly going for a falsely polite, passive-aggressive tone, but it really just reads like people in this world view politeness with suspicion at best, and as a grave insult at worst. Or like it’s the height of rudeness to be polite to someone you despise.
The Twins invite Eragon to join their little magic club, Du Vrangr Gata. They claim they want to show Eragon what they’ve learned, and if he wants to share his own knowledge with them that would be totally awesome. Eragon sees through them and yells at them that he won’t share what Brom taught him (what happened to not getting riled up?). The Twins threaten to make his magic test particularly unpleasant, then stalk off. Eragon decides it’s time to go back to the dragonhold. He tries to find Angela’s room again, so he can ask her about the Twins, but he can’t remember the way and he eventually heads back.
On his way back into the dragonhold, he hears a woman’s voice. Saphira says she’ll distract her while he comes in, and Eragon enters the dragonhold to discover a young woman with “skin the same deep shade as Ajihad’s” asking Saphira where she can find him. Eragon comes up from behind and surprises her. She introduces herself as Nasuada, and Eragon asks what she wants.
Nasuada smiled charmingly. “My father, Ajihad, sent me here with a message. Would you like to hear it?”
That’s… a really odd way to tell someone you have a message for them. Why wouldn’t he want to hear it?
The Varden’s leader had not struck Eragon as one inclined to marriage and fatherhood. He wondered who Nasuada’s mother was – she must have been an uncommon woman to have attracted Ajihad’s eye.
Am I the only one who finds this passage kind of racist? Because it sounds like Eragon’s making this assumption off the stereotype that black men sleep around and aren’t active in their kids’ lives. Ajihad’s been in one scene, and mostly he’s come across as stern and commanding – which doesn’t really preclude marriage or children. There are plenty of stern, commanding fathers out there. (Of course, it should be no surprise that the only two black people in the book are related to each other.)
Anyway, Ajihad’s message is that Eragon probably shouldn’t do any more blessings, and that he needs to be tested on his abilities as soon as possible. She also mentions that he’s now allowed to visit Murtagh, and gives him directions. Eragon, wonderful friend to Murtagh that he is, immediately asks if he can see Arya. Thankfully, no one’s allowed to see her except a handful of people, what with her being imprisoned, tortured, poisoned, and put into a magical coma.
Nasuada leaves, and Eragon realizes that Solembum is sitting on Saphira’s back. I think this would have been a much better way to reveal that Angela and Solembum were in Tronjheim, but whatever. Eragon resolves to go visit Murtagh the next day, and the chapter ends.