Eragon, Chapter 52: Ajihad
This chapter is eighteen pages of people talking. It’s so riveting, you guys. All this sitting around and spouting off exposition is just so exciting and doesn’t make the book drag on at all.
We’re finally introduced to Ajihad, and of course he gets more of a physical description than Eragon did.
His skin gleamed the color of oiled ebony. The dome of his head was shaved bare, but a closely trimmed black beard covered his chin and upper lip. Strong features shadowed his face, and grave, intelligent eyes lurked under his brow. His shoulders were broad and powerful, emphasized by a tapered red vest embroidered with gold thread and clasped over a rich purple shirt. He bore himself with great dignity, exuding an intense, commanding air.
While it’s not masterful writing, this is leaps and bounds from “He looked human except for his crimson hair and maroon eyes.” Still a little vague (“strong features” could be expanded on some more), but now I’ve got a better image of him in my head than I’ve got for Eragon. I’m not wild about the “ebony” descriptor, but at least he didn’t make a food comparison. (Also, is anyone else picturing Benjamin Sisko as Ajihad?)
Anyway, Ajihad welcomes Eragon and Saphira to Tronjheim, and I can’t tell if he’s ignoring Murtagh on purpose or if Paolini just didn’t think about the implications of not including him.
Ajihad raised his hand and snapped his fingers. A man stepped out from behind the staircase. He was identical to the bald man beside him. Eragon stared at the two of them with surprise, and Murtagh stiffened. “Your confusion is understandable; they are twin brothers,” said Ajihad with a small smile. “I would tell you their names, but they have none.”
I do not understand Eragon and Murtagh’s reactions at all. Are twins really rare in this world? Are they considered unlucky – and if they are, are they normally killed or left in the woods to die when they’re born? How is Eragon unfamiliar with the concept of identical twins, yet doesn’t need an explanation of what twins are? (And yes, I would argue that he’s not familiar with twins, since his reaction to seeing them is stunned silence instead of momentary surprise.) This is where an info-dump might actually be a bit useful, because telling us that twins are bad luck or super-rare or cursed by the gods or whatever would actually go a long way toward explaining by everyone is freaking out so bad.
But hey, at least we finally get characters without pointless, terrible names.
Saphira hissed with distaste.
Distaste for what? The Twins? The fact that they don’t have names? The terrible decorating scheme in the room?
Ajihad stares at Eragon and Murtagh for a while before having a whispered conversation with one of the Twins. Then he addresses Murtagh, saying that he’s only been allowed into Farthen Dûr because of Eragon and Arya, and that they can’t trust him if he refuses to have his brain scanned. Murtagh tells him they wouldn’t trust him anyway, and apparently the sound of his voice is enough to clue Ajihad in to who he is:
Ajihad’s face darkened as Murtagh spoke, and his eyes flashed dangerously. “Though it’s been twenty and three years since it last broke upon my ear . . . I know that voice.” He stood ominously, chest swelling. The Twins looked alarmed and put their heads together, whispering frantically. “It came from another man, one more beast than human. Get up.”
I’m pretty sure voices are not passed on through genetics. Speech patterns and cadence would be picked up by being in close, prolonged proximity to another person, but the actual timbre of a person’s voice is not going to be identical to the parent’s. For example, I do not sound exactly like my mother – I’ve picked up a few different speech patterns from her, because I lived with her for almost twenty years, but I’ve also picked up a few phrases and patterns from roommates and my husband. My voice and hers are distinctly different. On that note, shouldn’t Murtagh sound more like his mother? Or, hell, like one of his nannies? He spent more time with them than with his father.
Murtagh warily complied, his eyes darting between the Twins and Ajihad. “Remove your shirt,” ordered Ajihad. With a shrug, Murtagh pulled off his tunic. “Now turn around.” As he pivoted to the side, light fell upon the scar on his back.
“Murtagh,” breathed Ajihad.
How does Ajihad know about Murtagh’s scar? Better yet, how does Ajihad know about Murtagh? Morzan kept that information secret while he was alive, and given that Eragon and even the Twins didn’t know that Morzan had a son, Galbatorix clearly didn’t advertise that Murtagh was living under his roof for over a decade. Ajihad has been leader of the Varden for twenty years, presumably spending all or most of his time in Tronjheim, and according to InheriWiki Murtagh is nineteen at this point, so he would have been born after Ajihad came to power. So did he have spies in Galbatorix’s court, or Morzan’s castle? And did they peek in on Murtagh while he was getting undressed, or did he just run around shirtless a lot?
Ajihad yells at the Twins a bit for not knowing who Murtagh was and not telling him his name even though they didn’t know it was important. Then he says that until Murtagh consents to being probed, he’ll have to be imprisoned, since they can’t let him run free in Tronjheim and they can’t let him go because he knows where the Varden is. Murtagh refuses once again, saying that his mind is “the one sanctuary that has not been stolen from me,” so he’s taken away. Eragon just kind of shrugs and doesn’t put up a fuss, even though he and Murtagh are supposedly friends at this point. Everyone else goes with him, leaving Eragon and Saphira alone with Ajihad… who stares at the ceiling until Eragon finally gets fed up with being ignored and asks after Arya. Ajihad says she’s not in good shape, but she’ll recover, so we can look forward to Eragon’s bumbling attempts to woo her. Awesome.
Then Ajihad has Eragon tell his story. He’s particularly interested in Shades, and after Eragon describes him he says that Shades’ actual name is Durza and that they fought once. Apparently the only way to kill a Shade is to pierce the heart, so Murtagh’s arrows didn’t do anything in that last encounter.
Ajihad moves on to the subject of Saphira’s egg. Apparently, when Brom brought it to the Varden everyone wanted a piece of it. The dwarves wanted to make sure they’d have an ally in the new Rider, because there’s never been a dwarf Rider (and I guess no one ever thought to try just in case), and the elves and Varden both wanted their people to be the next Rider.
“Because of Galbatorix’s betrayals, the elves were reluctant to let any of the Varden handle the egg for fear that the dragon inside would hatch for a human with similar instabilities.
So there have been no elves in the history of Alagaësia with mental illness? None of them have been power hungry, or betrayed their people, or committed atrocities against other elves? Either the elves are all perfect and incapable of evil, or they’re being bigoted dicks.
The dwarves only aggravated the problem by arguing obstinately with both the elves and us whenever they had the chance. Tensions escalated, and before long, threats were made that were later regretted.
So what did the dwarves have to argue about? Wouldn’t it make more sense to cooperate with the elves and the Varden in order to ensure a strong alliance, rather than constantly butting heads with potential allies and proving themselves to be difficult? And what threats? Why are you skipping over the interesting parts?
Anyway, Brom finally stepped in and suggested the plan to transfer the egg between the elves and the Varden every year. This is precisely the reason that Arya was attacked, but I guess everyone is just ignoring that in favor of praising Brom. Again, why couldn’t the Varden be located closer to the elves? They’re separated by an entire continent! Or, better yet, have potential Rider candidates come to the egg, instead of the other way around. If the Empire catches on to your location, then you can move the egg, but otherwise it should be kept safely hidden instead of taken out where the enemy can get at it.
The elves agreed to Brom’s stupid plan, but only on the conditions that they can train the new Rider themselves if Brom dies before then. Then Ajihad goes on to talk about Arya’s disappearance, and says she must have been ambushed and used magic to move the egg someplace safe before she was taken captive.
“She can use magic?” asked Eragon. Arya had mentioned that she had been given a drug to suppress her power; he wanted to confirm that she meant magic.
What else could she possibly have been talking about? Has anyone used the word “power” to mean anything else in this book?
Ajihad explains that Arya’s ability to use magic is one of the reasons she was picked to guard Saphira’s egg, and that she was probably trying to send it to Brom since she was too far away from the Varden and the elves have a magical border around their territory. Eragon interrupts again to ask where the elves’ capital city, Ellesméra, is, and Ajihad busts out this line in the middle of telling him that he doesn’t know.
Not since the Rider’s time has anyone, dwarf or human, been elf-friend enough to walk in their leafy halls.
Yeah, you’re not Tolkien, Paolini. You will never be Tolkien. There are many pretenders to the throne, and your occasional poetic line about “elf-friends” and “leafy halls” doesn’t even begin to cut it.
AAAAAAH this is so BORING. Ajihad is just talking nonstop about random backstory and shit that we could be learning when it’s actually relevant to the plot!
Blah blah blah the dwarves don’t trust the dragons or Riders, but they let the Varden mooch off them in order to fight Galbatorix. Galbatorix has heard of the general location of both Farthen Dûr and Ellesméra, but never learned the exact locations because of reasons. The elves are capable of holding him off for now, but he keeps growing stronger.
Eragon was puzzled. “How can his power be increasing? The strength of his body limits his abilities – it can’t build itself up forever.”
“We don’t know,” said Ajihad, shrugging his shoulders, “and neither do the elves. We can only hope that someday he will be destroyed by one of his own spells.”
It’s been a hundred years. If he hasn’t blown himself up via magic after all this time, I doubt he ever will.
Actually, this bit shows how poorly thought out the magic system is. In Eragon the characters all state that magical power is limited by the strength of a person’s body, but then in later books Eragon is shown storing power in what are essentially magic batteries so he can cast more and/or bigger spells. So who’s to say that Galbatorix doesn’t have a bunch of these batteries laying around, giving him enough juice to cast all the spells he wants?
Ajihad pulls out a note that they found on the Urgals the night before, which reveals that the Urgals are working for Galbatorix. I’m pretty sure we already figured that out, thanks. Then Eragon asks what the Varden wants from him, and he gets a little demanding in the process:
“I mean, what is expected of me in Tronjheim? You and the elves have plans for me, but what it I don’t like them?” A hard note crept into his voice. “I’ll fight when needed, revel when there’s occasion, mourn when there is grief, and die if my time comes . . . but I won’t let anyone use me against my will.” He paused to let the words sink in.
I don’t think anybody’s plans for you include micromanaging your emotions to the point where they dictate whether you grieve or celebrate at the appropriate times.
“The Riders of old were arbiters of justice above and beyond the leaders of their time. I don’t claim that position – I doubt people would accept such oversight when they’ve been free of it all their lives, especially from one as young as me. But I do have power, and I will wield it as I see fit.
Remember this statement, folks. Remember that Eragon has said aloud that he doesn’t claim to be an “arbiter of justice”. Because I’m telling you now, he will claim that title and abuse the power that comes with it.
What I want to know is how you plan to use me. Then I will decide whether to agree to it.”
You’re sitting in the middle of the Varden’s stronghold, surrounded by thousands of people loyal to the organization. If Ajihad wants to force you into working for him, I think he’s got a pretty good chance of at least capturing you if you won’t cooperate.
Of course Ajihad just lets Eragon off with a mild scolding, like the precocious little scamp that he is, and says that Eragon can’t escape the politics of his position, but he needs to stay independent and make his own choices. Ajihad will, of course, have limited authority over him, but says “I believe it’s for the best.” Of course he does. Everyone thinks their authority is for the best.
Also apparently Eragon is now King Solomon or something?
“Also, despite your protests, the people here have certain expectations of you. They are going to bring you their problems, no matter how petty, and demand that you solve them.” Ajihad leaned forward, his voice deadly serious. “There will be cases where someone’s future will rest in your hands . . . with a word you can send them careening into happiness or misery. Young women will seek your opinion on whom they should marry – many will pursue you as a husband – and old men will ask which of their children should receive an inheritance. You must be kind and wise with them all, for they put their trust in you. Don’t speak flippantly or without thought, because your words will have impact far beyond what you intend.”
See, this is why you need middle men. How is Eragon supposed to get anything done if people are constantly pestering him to make decisions for them? Just appoint an advisor, or a committee or something! And didn’t Eragon just get done telling us he didn’t think people would want to submit to his authority because he’s barely an adult and they’ve been “free” for decades now? Most of these people were probably born after the fall of the Riders – why would they automatically decide to seek advice from one now?
And of course women are obsessed with marriage. That’s all they ever think about, marriage and babies and landing powerful, rich husbands. And no young man is going to ask for relationship advice; that’s a woman’s job. Men just grunt and let the women do all the talking.
Ajihad leaned back, his eyes hooded. “The burden of leadership is being responsible for the well-being of the people in your charge. I have dealt with it from the day I was chosen to head the Varden, and now you must as well. Be careful. I don’t tolerate injustice under my command. Don’t worry about your youth and inexperience; they will pass soon enough.”
Yeah, don’t worry about your youth and inexperience. It’s not like it matters that you’re unqualified to give marriage advice when you’ve never even kissed anybody, or that you haven’t even been alive as long as some of these children whose inheritance you’re deciding on. You’ve just been put in charge of deciding everyone’s happiness – no pressure!
Oh, wait, I get it now. Ajihad’s been dealing with all the petty crap the Varden folks keep throwing at him, and now he’s foisting it off on Eragon. I can’t decide whether that’s a clever move designed to keep the new Rider busy while they figure out exactly what to do with him, or Ajihad’s just being a lazy jerk.
Ajihad gives Eragon his sword back, saying that he probably shouldn’t wear it in Tronjheim because I guess everyone can instantly recognize an individual Rider’s sword even when they never met him? Also he gives Eragon Brom’s ring, and then seems to remember that there was a dragon in the room the entire time and turns to address Saphira.
“Do not think that I have forgotten you, O mighty dragon. I have said these things as much for your benefit as for Eragon’s. It is even more important that you know them, for to you falls the task of guarding him in these dangerous times. Do not underestimate your might nor falter at his side, because without you he will surely fail.”
“I haven’t forgotten about you, but I’m going to say less than a hundred words to you and make them all about Eragon. So really I have forgotten you and this is just a footnote to catch my mistake. Don’t screw this up.”
Saphira’s taken in by his lame attempt at flattery and says if he’d tried to kill Eragon, she would have murdered everything in sight. Ajihad says the Twins would have put a stop to that, but Eragon disagrees, saying:
“Then they must be much stronger than they appear. I think they would be sorely dismayed if they ever faced a dragon’s wrath. The two of them might be able to defeat me, but never Saphira. You should know, a Rider’s dragon strengthens his magic beyond what a normal magician might have. Brom was always weaker than me because of that. I think that in the absence of Riders, the Twins have overestimated their power.”
Good grief, what a smug little brat. And hey, right there we have a partial explanation for why Galbatorix is so powerful – his dragon. Funny how the elves never thought of it, or that Eragon never brought it up while they were talking about it, or that neither he nor Ajihad think of it while they’re having this very conversation. It’s almost like the author just threw in whatever sounded cool and didn’t actually care about filling in the plot holes.
Now that they’re finally done talking, Ajihad calls Orik into the room to punish him for his insubordination. He mentions that the penalty for defying a direct order is death, but then instead he just demotes Orik to being Eragon’s babysitter/tour guide. Death? Really? Not, say, twenty lashes or a few days in a holding cell or even a fine, just outright death for what appears to be a first-time offense? That’s fucking brutal.
As they’re leaving, Eragon asks where Arya is, and Ajihad says no one is allowed to visit her. Good. We got enough of Eragon mooning creepily over an unconscious woman in the last hundred pages to last the rest of the series.