Eragon, Chapter 15: Saddlemaking, and Chapter 16: Therinsford (pg 107-122)
When Eragon’s eyes opened, the memory of Garrow’s death crashed down on him. He pulled the blankets over his head and cried quietly under their warm darkness. It felt good just to lie there . . . to hide from the world outside. Eventually the tears stopped. He cursed Brom. Then he reluctantly wiped his cheeks and got up.
I feel like I should give credit where credit is due: Paolini does show Eragon grieving, as opposed to having one big reaction and then forgetting all about his uncle’s death. It’s not a whole lot – Eragon soon becomes focused mainly on killing the Ra’zac – but I think his obsession with revenge is a fairly realistic coping mechanism, if not a particularly healthy one. That said, what exactly is he cursing Brom for? Deliberately keeping Eragon in the dark? Not speaking up soon enough to possibly save Garrow? Being an asshole about not speaking up? I’m going to guess it’s the second one, but a little clarity would be nice.
Eragon pulls out the leather he stole and Brom makes a saddle for him to put on Saphira. Then Brom convinces Eragon that they’re both going to need horses, since Saphira isn’t big enough to carry the both of them and she’s too fast for any horse to keep up with her. Neither of them mention the fact that she’ll also be incredibly easy to spot in the air, which would ruin any chances of a suprise attack on the Ra’zac. Anyway, Eragon makes this lovely little statement:
“All right,” he grumbled, “we’ll get horses. But you have to buy them. I don’t have any money, and I don’t want to steal again. It’s wrong.”
That’s funny, you were positively gleeful about stealing from Sloan and damaging his property. Or is it only okay to steal from people you don’t like? Nice subjective morality there, kid.
“That depends on your point of view,” corrected Brom with a slight smile. “Before you set out on this adventure, remember that your enemies, the Ra’zac, are the king’s servants. They will be protected wherever they go. Laws do not stop them. In cities they’re have access to abundant resources and willing servants. Also keep in mind that nothing is more important to Galbatorix than recruiting or killing you – though word of your existence probably hasn’t reached him yet. The longer you evade the Ra’zac, the more desperate he’ll become. He’ll know that every day you’ll be growing stronger and that each passing moment will give you another chance to join his enemies. You must be very careful, as you may easily turn from the hunter into the hunted.”
Eragon was subdued by the strong words.
Am I the only one who finds this a tad confusing? I assume Brom’s trying to say that Eragon can’t just do what’s right, since it could very well get him killed, and that he needs to be prepared to break the law to survive. But then he segues into a lecture on how far Galbatorix will go to either capture or kill Eragon, and doesn’t actually get to the point. Telling Eragon to be careful isn’t actually telling him anything about deciding whether to do what’s right or wrong. “Be careful” could mean “Don’t leave a trail of witnesses because you felt compelled to be honest”, or it could mean “If you’re caught stealing the Empire will find you for sure”.
(On a side note, I’m getting mighty sick of Paolini telling us what impression we should get from what he’s written. Either Brom’s little speech was convincing or it wasn’t; personally, I’m not sure what Brom is trying to convince Eragon of. Either way, telling us that it was “strong” is not nearly as effective as letting Brom’s words speak for themselves – well, that and actually writing some decent dialogue.)
The next day, Brom and Eragon start following the Ra’zac’s trail out of the valley, while Saphira flies off into the mountains to avoid being seen. To pass the time, Eragon asks what exactly dragons can do, which prompts Brom to toss out some exposition about “the life cycle of dragons”. I realize it’s really convenient to have Brom around as an exposition delivery system, but all of these info dumps are boring. And while I’m sure all of this is fascinating for Eragon, the reader doesn’t need to know everything about the world and dragons to enjoy the story. As it is, the main thing we learn is that, just like in Dragonriders of Pern, dragon eggs won’t hatch for anyone but the person meant to be that dragon’s Rider.
When evening came, they were near Therinsford. As the sky darkened and they searched for a place to camp, Eragon asked, “Who was the Rider that owned Zar’roc?”
“A mighty warrior,” said Brom, “who was much feared in his time and held great power.”
“What was his name?”
“I’ll not say.” Eragon protested, but Brom was firm. “I don’t want to keep you ignorant, far from it, but certain knowledge would only prove dangerous and distracting for you right now. There isn’t any reason for me to trouble you with such things until you have the time and power to deal with them. I only wish to protect you from those who would use you for evil.”
Translation: The plot doesn’t require you to know until much, much later.
I must confess, I’m easily annoyed by plots where vital information is withheld from the main character because he or she isn’t “ready” to know about it yet. There are exceptions, of course: for example, Dumbledore not telling Harry Potter about the prophecy that says Harry will defeat Voldemort is just common sense, as an eleven-year-old probably isn’t mature enough to handle that kind of knowledge, and probably has enough to deal with being dumped into a magical world where he’s regarded as a celebrity and can’t go anywhere without people staring at him. The identity of the sword’s previous owner isn’t nearly that crucial. We find out later that the sword used to belong to Morzan, one of the thirteen Forsworn who went around being Galbatorix’s lackey until Brom killed him. While that information would certainly be unsettling to find out, it’s not like Eragon has any better chioces. He’s going to need to learn how to use a sword, it’s the one Brom has available, and if he’s going to be a Rider he might as well have a Rider’s sword.
Eragon glared at him. “You know what? I think you just enjoy speaking in riddles. I’ve half a mind to leave you so I don’t have to be bothered with them. If you’re going to say something, then say it instead of dancing around with vague phrases!”
I have to agree with Eragon here. Brom seems to have spent a little too much time as storyteller; it seems like he’s deliberately trying to create an aura of suspense to keep Eragon interested in what’s going on. Like he’s saying, “If you want to find out the answers to all your questions, you have to stick with me!”
They set up camp for the night, and after dinner Brom practically ambushes Eragon with sword-fighting practice. On the one hand, it makes sense for him to do this – Eragon needs to learn how to use a sword quickly, and his opponents aren’t all going to announce their intentions to fight. On the other hand, just throwing him a stick and expecting him to defend himself would work a lot better if he’d maybe had some drills or something beforehand. I mean, just look at this:
[Brom’s] arm moved in a blur, and there was an explosion of pain on the side of Eragon’s head. He collapsed like an empty sack, dazed.
A splash of cold water roused him to alertness, and he sat up, sputtering. His head was ringing, and there was dried blood on his face. Brom stood over him with a pan of melted snow water. “You didn’t have to do that,” said Eragon angrily, pushing himself up. He felt dizzy and unsteady.
Brom arched an eyebrow. “Oh? A real enemy wouldn’t soften his blows, and neither will I. Should I pander to your . . . incompetence so you’ll feel better? I don’t think so.” He picked up the stick that Eragon had dropped and held it out. “Now, defend yourself.”
[Bolding is mine.]
Eragon has had absolutely no training in sword fighting. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d never held a sword before. He would probably be a bit more competent if he had any clue what he should be doing. There’s something to be said for immersion training, but I would think that using a weapon is not the sort of thing that would work well in that kind of program.
Brom does eventually show Eragon a couple of moves, but then he goes right back to beating the tar out of the kid. I really don’t understand why he couldn’t spend, say, an hour or two showing Eragon a couple new maneuvers each night, letting him get comfortable with the movements, then spar with him afterwards so he can practice using those maneuvers on an actual person. Starting slowly and gradually increasing the difficulty of an exercise is how you teach; just throwing Eragon a stick and expecting him to fend you off just makes it look like you enjoy beating up kids.
The next day they reach Therinsford, and Brom asks Eragon to tell Saphira to fly ahead so no one in town spots her.
“Why don’t you tell her yourself?” challenged Eragon.
“It’s considered bad manners to interfere with another’s dragon.”
“You didn’t have a problem with it in Carvahall.”
Brom’s lips twitched with a smile. “I did what I had to.”
Again with the selective morality and ethics! It must be a Rider thing. I’m starting to get really uncomfortable with how easily Brom justifies bending or outright breaking the rules. To prove my point, in the next scene the two are stopped by a guy demanding a high toll to let them cross a bridge into town. Brom pays the man, then cuts his purse and plays it off like it’s a joke:
“[…] you can’t argue with all of the fools in the world. It’s easier to let them have their way, then trick them when they’re not paying attention.” Brom opened his hand, and a pile of coins glinted in the light.
“You cut his purse!” said Eragon incredulously.
Brom pocketed the money with a wink. “And it held a surprising amount. He should know better than to keep all these coins in one place.”
Seriously? You’re trying to teach this young man to be a good Rider and you’re openly condoning theft? It doesn’t matter if you only steal from jerks who are out to screw you over; you’re still stealing from people.
Brom and Eragon go to a stable to buy horses, where Eragon discovers that he can communicate with animals in a similar fashion to how he talks to Saphira. Meanwhile, Brom manages to convince the hostler to sell him Snowfire, a “magnificent” stallion whose name we’ll be hearing a lot, because Paolini can’t just write “the horse” like a normal author. Them Brom sends Eragon just out of town to do some snooping and comes back to tell Eragon that the Ra’zac passed this way. Eragon tells him about being able to “touch the [horse’s] mind”, to which Brom replies:
“It’s unusual for one as young as you to have the ability. Most Riders had to train for years before they were strong enough to contact anything other than their dragon.”
Hey, here’s a thought: tell Eragon what to expect from his powers. You should have told him that this was possible right off the bat so he wouldn’t be surprised. Normally I would let something like this go, but later Brom yells at Eragon for using an ability he was never informed of in the first place. And of course Eragon is more gifted than usual! We can’t have an average Rider as our hero, can we?
They leave Therinsford, heading out of the valley. On the way they pass an old tower that used to be a Rider outpost. Eragon muses that “[a] legacy of tradition and heroism that stretched back to antiquity had fallen upon him.” Not that you’d know it from the narration, since we mostly focus on Eragon and his quest. Tradition doesn’t really seem to have much of an impact on his training. They stop for the night at the edge of a huge grassland, Eragon names his horse Cadoc, and Brom spars with him again, still not actually teaching him anything useful beforehand.