Eragon, Chapter 26: The Witch and the Werecat
The next day, Eragon wakes up to discover that Brom is out and he has free reign to do what he likes for the day. Given the amount of trouble Eragon gets into on a regular basis, that seems like a poor life decision on Brom’s part, but whatever. Eragon heads outside and into the herbalist’s shop. Inside, he finds my absolute favorite character in the book: Solembum the werecat.
On a whim, Eragon reached out with his mind and touched the cat’s consciousness. Gently, he prodded it with his thoughts, trying to make it understand that he was a friend.
You don’t have to do that.
Eragon looked around him in alarm. The cat ignored him and licked a paw. Saphira? Where are you? he asked. No one answered. Puzzled, he leaned against the counter and reached for what looked like a wood rod.
That wouldn’t be wise.
Stop playing games, Saphira, he snapped, then picked up the rod. A shock of electricity exploded through his body, and he fell to the floor, writhing. The pain slowly faded, leaving him gasping for air. The cat jumped down and looked at him.
You aren’t very smart for a Dragon Rider. I did warn you.
Snarky cats are the best. Too bad he’s not around for more than a chapter or two to balance out everybody else.
Solembum tells Eragon a little bit about werecats, and then Angela walks in. She manages to immediately piss me off by talking about how the rich people who buy love potions and get their fortunes told are all fools, because she sells them placebos and lies. Okay, fine, they’re gullible, but you’re dishonest! Bilking people out of their money because they believe your bullshit is a horrible thing to do. Why am I supposed to like this woman again?
Angela offers to tell Eragon his fortune and drags out a bag of dragon knucklebones, which she claims have “true power” unlike the other tools she uses for her business. When Eragon asks why she would offer this to him, she relies:
“Because of Solembum. He may have been rude, but the fact that he spoke to you makes you special. He is a werecat, after all. I offered to do this for the other two people who talked with him. Only the woman agreed to it. Selena was her name. Ah, she regretted it, too. Her fortune was bleak and painful. I don’t think she believed it – not at first.”
Emotion overcame Eragon, bringing tears to his eyes. “Selena,” he whispered to himself. His mother’s name. Could it have been her? Was her destiny so horrible that she had to abandon me?
Of course it’s his mom. Coincidences don’t exist in fiction, and no two characters have the same name unless you’re trying to be misleading. If this Selena isn’t his mom, I’ll be very surprised.
Reading Eragon’s fortune proves difficult, but she tells him a few things:
- He’ll either live forever or much longer than he would ordinarily
- He has a lot of important choices to make
- Someone close to him will die soon
- He’ll be forced to leave Alagaësia forever
- He’ll have an “epic romance” with someone of noble birth
- A family member will betray him
I’m going to forget what I’ve read past this point for a second to talk about prophecy and fortune-telling for a minute. Using prophecy as a plot point is tricky. Too much detail, and all tension is sucked out of the story. Too vague, and you might as well have not used it at all. Eragon’s fortune manages to fall into both of these categories: I now know that (a) someone’s going to die, probably Brom or Saphira since that’ll have the most emotional impact; (b) even if Eragon wasn’t protected by dint of being Paolini’s self-insert, he’s definitely going to make it to the end of the series now; (c) since Roran’s his only remaining relative, he’ll either betray Eragon or a long-lost relative will pop out of the woodwork to stab him in the back; and (d) the next single lady he runs into who’s not a peasant is probably the one he’s going to fall in love with.
Conversely, the bit about having choices to make while “the mighty powers of this land [struggle] to control [Eragon’s] will and destiny” is so vague that it could mean anything. Of course Eragon is going to have choices to make. He’s suddenly in a very politically charged position, and he’s going to have to choose whether he sides with the king or the resistance. Obviously he won’t be going with the evil empire of pure evil, but that’s beside the point – the fact that he has hard choices to make is not a surprise to anyone.
As if to prove my point about knowing who’s going to die, Angela asks Eragon who he was with the other day and starts laughing when she finds out it’s Brom.
“No, no, don’t be upset,” said Angela, hiding a smile. “It’s only that – well, he is known by those in my profession. I’m afraid that the poor man’s doom, or future if you will, is something of a joke with us.”
If Eragon notices that she’s hiding a smile, then she’s not really hiding it all that well. Also, the fact that you find Brom’s doom funny is really not winning you any points on the decent person scale.
Solembum interrupts to tell Eragon this:
When the time comes and you need a weapon, look under the roots of the Menoa tree. Then, when all seems lost and your power is insufficient, go to the rock of Kuthian and speak your name to open the Vault of Souls.
Hooray, obvious foreshadowing that I won’t remember by the time it comes up! It doesn’t come up again in Eragon and I don’t recall it being used in Eldest either, so we’ll be two or three books removed from this information by the time it actually becomes relevant. And can we get some foreshadowing that isn’t revealed through fortune-telling and visions? Maybe spread out over the story instead of crammed into one chapter, too?
Eragon decides it’s time to leave and goes to visit Saphira. She tells him to remember what Solembum said and that the names he mentioned feel powerful, then says that he can tell Brom if he wants but that Brom has “no right to know [Eragon’s] future.” It’s still okay for Eragon to demand to know everything about Brom’s past, though.
When Eragon gets back to Jeod’s house, Brom complains that he couldn’t get access to the records because the official in charge of them is a stand-up guy who doesn’t take bribes. He seriously says that he prefers greedy, corrupt nobles to honest ones who take their jobs seriously – because fuck other people who might suffer under their rule, Brom’s got to look out for number one!
When he seemed to have calmed, Eragon asked tentatively, “So, what now?”
“I’m going to take the next week and teach you how to read.”
“And after that?”
A smile split Brom’s face. “After that, we’re going to give Brand a nasty surprise.” Eragon pestered him for details, but Brom refused to say more.
I’m not an expert on teaching literacy, but is one week really long enough to teach a person to read? I mean, Eragon could probably pick up the basics in a week, but he’s not going to be reading a novel anytime soon. And he’s not going to pick it up as quickly as he would if he were ten years younger. Brom’s still going to have to give him lessons past this one week.
Also, it’s good to know that Brom is consistently a self-serving asshole. He can’t just say that they’ll have to find another way to get their hands on those records, he has to make it about paying back a guy who was just doing his job. It’s like Paolini wants me to hate this guy.
Chapter 27: Of Reading and Plots
This chapter is rather short and little more than filler. Eragon spends the next week either learning to read, sparring with Brom (and putting on quite a show for the household, apparently), or visiting Saphira. There’s talk of attacks along the coast and people going missing only to turn up brutally murdered, but that’s a detail that really doesn’t go anywhere. It doesn’t even spark the beginning of a new plot thread. I know there’s supposed to be unrest within the kingdom, but the violence within Teirm is constantly being mentioned and yet nothing is done with this information.
The days passed quickly, and soon a week had gone by. Eragon’s skills were rudimentary, but he could now read whole pages without asking Brom’s help. He read slowly, but he knew that speed would come with time. Brom encouraged him, “No matter, you’ll do fine for what I have planned.”
Again, I’m no expert on literacy rates, but I really think Eragon’s learning too fast here. I suppose one could assume that one of the perks of being a Rider is that you pick up new skills faster, but nothing like this is ever mentioned so it’s just a hypothesis at this point.
Brom details his plan to Jeod and Eragon, but it’s not revealed to the reader. Since they’re making their move tonight, Eragon lays down for a nap.
He lay on the bed and stared at the ceiling. His hands shook slightly, and there was a lump in his throat. As sleep overcame him, he felt a wave of confusion. I don’t want to leave Teirm, he suddenly realized. The time I’ve spent here was been – almost normal. What I would give not to keep uprooting myself. To stay here and be like everyone else would be wonderful. Then, another thought raged through him, But I’ll never be able to while Saphira is around. Never.
This is, hands down, my favorite passage in the book. Here is Eragon at his most vulnerable, his most human. He hasn’t given himself a chance to sit and breathe and think about what he wants past killing the Ra’zac. He hasn’t given a thought to what he wants past killing the Ra’zac. He’s never even stopped to really consider what being a Rider really means for him – what it means for his future. Here he finally realizes that being a Rider means giving up the life he used to have, before he found the egg and his uncle died.
It’s really disappointing that Paolini doesn’t manage to draw a parallel between the change Eragon dreaded in the beginning of the story, when Roran left, to the changes that Eragon is currently going through. I think he could have made a decent statement about the inevitability of change and the need to stop clinging to the comfortable and familiar. But, unsurprisingly, this is never brought up again. And that last line, that could be a decent plot point where Eragon struggles with reconciling his devotion to Saphira with his desire for a normal life, but so far I haven’t seen that addressed much.
Eragon dreams about a crying woman chained up in a cell, and wakes up crying himself only to roll over and go back to sleep. That’s about it for the chapter, really. I think I might need to start keeping a tally of the times chapters end with Eragon going to sleep and start with Eragon waking up.
Times Eragon is noted as being special: 3
“Because of Solembum. He may have been rude, but the fact that he spoke to you makes you special.” (pg 202)
“This,” she said, wiping her mouth, “is the hardest reading I’ve ever done. […] Your fortune is nigh impossible to see. I’ve never known of anyone’s fate being so tangled and clouded.” (pg 203)
“Infinity or long life,” said Angela quietly. “This is the first time I have ever seen it come up in someone’s future.” (pg 203)
“A single tear rolled down her cheek, like a liquid diamond.” (pg 212)