Eragon, Chapter 57: The Shadows Lengthen
In the middle of the night, a dwarf wakes Eragon up to tell him he’s been summoned by Ajihad. When he gets to Ajihad’s office, where Orik, Arya, and some guy named Jörmundur (who’s Ajihad’s second-in-command) are also waiting, Ajihad explains why they’re all here:
“I roused the five of you because we are all in grave danger. About half an hour ago a dwarf ran out of an abandoned tunnel under Tronjheim. He was bleeding and nearly incoherent, but he had enough sense left to tell the dwarves what was pursuing him: an army of Urgals, maybe a day’s march from here.”
Ajihad then feels the need to spell it out and says that the Urgals “aren’t approaching over land, but under it. They’re in the tunnels . . . we’re going to be attacked from below.” I thought this was obvious, considering the dwarf ran out of the underground tunnels and claimed to be chased by Urgals, but the Varden haven’t shown themselves to have a very good grasp on logic so I guess it must be necessary.
Eragon whines that they should have known about this earlier, and Orik tells him they’re lucky to know about it at all; the only dwarves that go into the uninhabited tunnels are hermits. I guess Eragon must have missed that part about the tunnel being abandoned? That, or he thought the dwarf was going for a morning jog in there.
With Orik’s help, they figure out that one of the abandoned dwarf cities has been taken over by the Urgals, and that they got in through collapsed tunnels. No one knows how many Urgals there are or if Galbatorix’s men are with them, but Ajihad says if the Urgals are accompanied by the Emperor’s soldiers, they don’t stand a chance. They decide the best course of action is to block off all but three main tunnels, to channel the Urgals into the plain outside Tronjheim. They can’t collapse all the tunnels, because that would weaken the ground beneath Tronjheim and the city could sink into the ground.
The women and children are being evacuated, Nasuada included. Y’know, if you trained some of your women to fight you would have more hands to fend off the Urgals… but then that would ruin the whole pseudo-chivalry wetdream Paolini’s got going on here, so the women and children have to go.
According to Ajihad, if Tronjheim falls, then everyone is doomed – the dwarves will fall, the Varden will be put to death, and Surda and the elves will eventually fall as well. This is why you shouldn’t keep your entire resistance movement in one place, people. Spread out! Have multiple cells around the country working to weaken the system! Don’t put all your leaders AND your army AND your most vulnerable members all in one place, because when you’re attacked you’ve got that much more to lose!
Eragon spends the next few hours collapsing the tunnels with magic. I question the wisdom in having him use precious energy that he’s going to need for the battle, but I guess he’s got the power of the plot backing him up. At the very least he should be working in tandem with the dwarves; they all just sit around waiting for him to collapse the tunnel, then fill it in with rubble, when it seems like it would go faster if they worked on another tunnel at the same time.
Once he’s done with that, Orik tells him that Ajihad wants him to join the army, and brings him a set of dragon armor. That’s actually pretty cool. I mean, if you can have armored war-horses, I don’t see why an armored dragon would be much of a stretch. The added weight would make flying more difficult, but Saphira acknowledges that the armor will slow her down, and frankly I don’t see a point in arguing about how a dragon can fly with plate armor. Whether or not it would be physically impossible for a standard fantasy dragon to fly while armored is kind of a moot point anyway.
Eragon gets his own set of armor as well. This is all well and good, but you’d think they might have brought it out earlier so Eragon could get used to wearing it. But I guess we don’t have to worry about him getting tired earlier from carrying extra weight or anything like that, huh?
They join up with the rest of the army on the battlefield and help dig trenches for a while. Then Murtagh shows up, much to Orik’s displeasure. Murtagh says Ajihad released him so he could “prove [his] good intentions.” Ajihad appears to back him up when Orik assumes Murtagh is lying. He then informs Eragon that one of the Twins is staying in Tronjheim “to watched the battle from the dragonhold and relay information from his brother to me.” Because Eragon can communicate mentally with them, he has to tell the Twins about anything unusual he sees during the battle, and they’ll be relaying his orders to Eragon. He talks to Eragon a bit more and then leaves.
That’s when Eragon notices Arya on the field.
Though he knew it was unreasonable, he had hoped she might accompany the other women out of Farthen Dûr. Concerned, he hastened to her. “You will fight?”
No, she’s gonna bake cookies for snack time. She’s just trying to decide whether she’s going to make chocolate chip or snickerdoodles.
At least he admits it’s unreasonable for him to wish she’d evacuated. Arya is clearly more than qualified to beat the ass of everyone around her. If I had to take bets on the last person standing, I’d put all my money on her.
“I do what I must,” Arya said calmly.
“But it’s too dangerous!”
Her face darkened. “Do not pamper me, human. Elves train both their men and women to fight. I am not one of your helpless females to run away whenever there is danger. […] You forget that I am stronger with magic than many here, including you. If the Shade comes, who can defeat him but me? And who else has the right?”
I really wish Arya could tell Eragon off without disparaging other women in the first place. She even acknowledges that the elves have a different take on gender roles than humans, but then she immediately calls human women “helpless” and implies that they’re cowards for running away – when it’s what they’ve been socialized to do. You’d think that, being the envoy between the elves and humans, she would be more likely to understand that. I mean, the humans would have treated her differently than the male elves she was accompanied by. You’d think she would have some sympathy for human women given how the men treat them. But, no, we’re just going to have her declare that she’s not like those other girls. That’s what makes for a Strong Female Character.
Eragon stared at her helplessly, knowing she was right and hating the fact. “Then stay safe.” Out of desperation, he added in the ancient language, “Wiol pömnuria ilian.” For my happiness.
Arya turned her gaze away uneasily, the fringe of her hair obscuring her face. She ran a hand along her polished bow, then murmured, “It is my wyrd to be here. The debt must be paid.”
Eragon has had exactly one previous conversation with Arya, and already he’s pressuring her to bow to his feelings. After insulting her and implying that she can’t hold her own in battle. Fuck off Eragon, you gross little child. You barely know this woman (creeping on her while she’s unconscious doesn’t count) and it’s completely unreasonable for you to make demands of her. Especially the kind of demands usually made by a lover or family member.
Everyone spends the night waiting around on the battlefield. I’m not a tactician, so I don’t know if this is a good idea. It seems to me like it would be better to have at least half your men resting, so they’re not exhausted and keyed-up from anticipation, and have scouts keeping an eye out for signs that the army is approaching… but again, I have no idea if that would work or not.
Eragon eventually goes to sleep at Orik’s suggestion. He has vague nightmares and wakes up just in time for the chapter to end.