Content note: Contains description of torture
Eragon, Chapter 42: A Warrior and a Healer
Saphira lands back in Murtagh’s camp to let Eragon tends to the wounds she sustained from the escape attempt. At Eragon’s urging, she flies ahead carrying the elf while Eragon and Murtagh follow on horseback. They ride until dawn, when they have to stop for rest, and they start to discuss the situation. Murtagh tells Eragon he saw the Urgals give him to the Shade, and that they must be working for both Shades and the Empire.
Eragon’s mind flashed back to the Urgals he had spoken with at Teirm and the “master” they had mentioned. They meant the king! I insulted the most powerful man in Alagaësia!
I was wondering how long it would take him to piece that together.
Then he remembered the horror of the slaughtered villagers in Yazuac. A sick, angry feeling welled in his stomach. The Urgals were under Galbatorix’s orders! Why would he commit such an atrocity on his own subjects?
Because he is evil, stated Saphira flatly.
No. People are rarely evil for evil’s sake. It is a poor villain that does things simply to be evil. And it is a poor writer who uses “s/he’s just plain evil” as justification for their ham-fisted writing.
Paolini established early on that Galbatorix was “driven mad” by his first dragon’s death, and that this was the catalyst to his destruction of the Riders. The fact that this “madness” is justification for him being evil is insultingly lazy, both to the reader’s intelligence and the millions of real people who suffer from mental illness. (Not to mention it’s drawing from, and adding to, the stigma that the mentally ill are unpredictable and dangerous.)
But, hey, who has time to establish their villain as a fully-rounded character? Just slap some buzzwords like “crazy” and “insane” on there and no one will blink twice when he has his minions massacre entire villages at random!
Eragon says that once people hear about this they’ll rebel and join the Varden, but Murtagh rightly points out that Galbatorix not only has enough manpower to close down the country’s borders, but is also in the position to spread anti-Varden propaganda and raise the Urgals up as misunderstood allies. Saphira pipes up to suggest that Galbatorix is gathering an army of Urgals in the Hadarac Desert to the east, which is the direction they need to head to get to the Varden.
Eventually Eragon decides they should make a bed for the elf so she’s not laying on Saphira’s back the whole time, but while trying to fix her ripped sleeve he discovers that she’s badly injured:
The elf’s arm was mottled with a layer of bruises and cuts; some were half healed, while others were fresh and oozing. Eragon shook his head with anger and pulled the sleeve up higher. The injuries continued to her shoulder. With trembling fingers, he unlaced the back of her shirt, dreading what might be under it.
As the leather slipped off, Murtagh cursed. The elf’s back was strong and muscled, but it was covered with scabs that made her skin look like dry, cracked mud. She had been whipped mercilessly and branded with hot irons in the shape of claws. Where her skin was still intact, it was purple and black from numerous beatings. On her left shoulder was a tattoo inscribed with indigo ink. It was the same symbol that had been on the sapphire of Brom’s ring. Eragon silently swore an oath that he would kill whoever was responsible for torturing the elf.
I can understand being horrified by the torture that Arya has clearly undergone, but Eragon doesn’t actually know her. He’s seen her in a couple visions – visions that, for all he knows, could have been planted to lure him to Gil’ead and take a spy back to the Varden. He has no personal stake in her survival, and swearing vengeance on her behalf when he doesn’t even know her name is creepy and possessive. (Also, is it just me or does anyone else find it dehumanizing that the narration keeps referring to Arya as “the elf”? I realize at this point Eragon doesn’t know her name, but she’s still a woman, and she shouldn’t be defined solely by her race.)
“Can you heal this?” asked Murtagh.
“I – I don’t know,” said Eragon. He swallowed back sudden queasiness. “There’s so much.”
Eragon! said Saphira sharply. This is an elf. She cannot be allowed to die. Tired or not, hungry or not, you ust save her. I will meld my strength with yours, but you are the one who must wield the magic.
You do know that could very well kill him, right Saphira? Brom even warned him about healing magic and how it takes a lot of energy from the caster. Even with your help, he can only heal so much before he puts himself in danger.
As Eragon toiled, he marveled that the elf was still alive. She had been repeatedly tortured to the edge of death with a precision that chilled him.
Yeah, this is starting to approach Stuffed Into the Fridge territory for me. Especially since later, Arya seems to have very little reaction to what she endured, while Eragon reacts visibly when she recounts her story. It only comes up so Eragon can angst over it on Arya’s behalf.
Although he tried to preserve the elf’s modesty, he could not help but notice that underneath the disfiguring marks, her body was exceptionally beautiful.
Oh hey creepy constant reminder of how irresistible Arya is! I sure didn’t miss you at all.
Eragon finally finishes healing her, though she’s still unconscious and he’s not sure she’ll live. He’s exhausted, but insists that he can sleep in the saddle while they travel. I hope he falls out of the saddle, hits his head, and dies.