Eldest, Chapter 1: A Twin Disaster
Eldest opens three days after the climactic battle at the end of Eragon, with our hero stepping over bodies as he and Saphira wander around the battlefield. Like many sequels, the first few chapters are loaded with exposition recapping the event of the previous book. Under normal circumstances, this would be mildly annoying (I have never understood people who start a series in the middle), but here it’s entirely redundant considering there’s a five-page summary of Eragon directly preceding this chapter.
It was three days since the Varden and dwarves had fought the Urgals for possession of Tronjheim […] but the battlefield was still strewn with carnage. The sheer number of bodies had stymied their attempts to bury the dead. In the distance, a mountainous fire glowed sullenly by Farthen Dûr’s wall where the Urgals were being burned. No burial or honored resting place for them.
When Eragon reached Farthen Dûr in the last book, we learned that there were about 4,000 people in the Varden. Let’s say about half of those people were women and children, who were evacuated before the battle began. That’s 2,000 men, plus an unknown number of dwarves. Even accounting for Urgals that were killed during the fighting, how many people would have died to leave such a huge pile of bodies that they’re still not finished cleaning up three days later?
Since waking to find his wound healed by Angela, Eragon had tried three times to assist in the recovery effort. On each occasion he had been racked by terrible pains that seemed to explode from his spine. The healers gave him various potions to drink. Arya and Angela said that he was perfectly sound. Nevertheless, he hurt.
I actually feel quite bad for Eragon here. This is a pretty terrible thing to happen to him, and I can’t even begin to imagine how frustrated he must feel.
People have begun calling Eragon “Shadeslayer” now. He’s still shaken from the fight with Durza, and is wandering the battlefield because he feels compelled to. Predictably (though not in a bad way), he finds death instead of glory.
Before his uncle, Garrow, was slain by the Ra’zac months earlier, the brutality that Eragon had witnessed between the humans, dwarves, and Urgals would have destroyed him. Now it numbed him.
I get that Paolini is trying to make a point about death and there being no glory in war, but what does Garrow have to do with anything? His death was more like a revenge killing. A better comparison would have been Yazuac, where Eragon and Brom found all those slaughtered villagers. And wouldn’t a better conclusion be that life is precious? If it can be so easily wasted, then it’s all the more important to do the most with what little time you have.
He goes on thinking about how life has no meaning, picking up a tooth out of the dirt and playing with it while he walks. Ajihad’s second-in-command, Jörmundur, runs up and tells him that Ajihad wants to meet him by the west gate. Ajihad has been hunting Urgals in the tunnels with Murtagh and the Twins, and hasn’t been around much for the last three days. We also learn that Nasuada disobeyed his orders and stayed behind to join in the battle, fighting along with the archers. Of course Ajihad is furious, because doesn’t trust that his daughter can take care of herself.
Eragon approaches the west gate and joins a group of people that includes Orik and Arya. They’re all waiting for Ajihad and his men to emerge from a tunnel that’s a couple miles away. Why are they waiting so far away? If Ajihad or his men need help, wouldn’t they be better able to lend assistance if no one had to hike for miles?
The white bandage around her upper arm gleamed in the darkness, reflecting a faint highlight onto the bottom of her hair.
Is this bandage made out of the kind of reflective tape used for safety vests? I’m pretty sure a regular cloth bandage is not going to be that shiny.
Eragon felt a strange thrill, as he always did when he saw the elf.
Is that he calls his erection?
Apparently the dwarves are super pissed at Arya for breaking the star sapphire, even though she saved the day by doing so. They’re so angry they’ve just left all the shards lying around for people to climb over, just like your passive-aggressive aunt when someone breaks her favorite vase.
Half an hour passed before motion flickered in the distant tunnel. A group of ten men climbed out onto the ground, then turned and helped up as many dwarves. One of the men – Eragon assumed it was Ajihad – raised a hand, and the warriors assembled behind him in two straight lines. At a signal, the formation marched proudly toward Tronjheim.
This tunnel is two miles away. How can Eragon see all of this? I could buy the explanation that his body and senses are becoming more elf-like, except the very next paragraph negates all this:
Before they went more than five yards, the tunnel behind them swarmed with a flurry of activity as more figures jumped out. Eragon squinted, unable to see clearly from so far away.
See? He can see twenty people, correctly identify which race they are, guess which one is Ajihad, describe their gestures and the way they move… and now he can’t tell what’s going on?
Consistency does not just refer to the texture of cookie dough, Paolini.
Saphira determines that Urgals are attacking, and she and Eragon fly over to try and help. Arya runs after them, somehow keeping pace with Saphira, and she’s followed by Orik and a bunch of men. Eragon can’t do magic from so far away, so he’s forced to watch as the group is cut down. Eventually only Ajihad, Murtagh, and the Twins are left standing. The Urgals converge on them, then swarm back into the tunnel.
The moment Saphira touched down, Eragon vaulted off, then faltered, overcome by grief and anger. I can’t do this. It reminded him to much of when he had returned to the farm to find his uncle Garrow dying. Fighting back his dread with every step, he began to search for survivors.
The site was eerily similar to the battlefield he had inspected earlier, except that here the blood was fresh.
This bit’s actually pretty decent. I like the comparison to the current massacre and the battle scene from earlier. This also would have been a better point to bring up Garrow than his musing about there being no glory in war.
In the middle of all this bloodshed is Ajihad, who is very obviously mortally wounded. He’s surrounded by five Urgals he managed to kill. How do we know he killed them? Are their bodies artfully arranged in a secret code? Does his sword automatically carve “Ajihad was here” across their face? Anyway, Eragon manages to catch him just before he dies.
“Eragon.” The name slipped from Ajihad’s lips – no more than a whisper.
“Yes, I am here.”
“Listen to me, Eragon. . . . I have one last command for you.” Eragon leaned closer to catch the dying man’s words. “You must promise me something: promise that you . . . won’t let the Varden fall into chaos. They are the only hope for resisting the Empire. . . . They must be kept strong. You must promise me.”
“Then peace be with you, Eragon Shadeslayer. . . .” With his last breath, Ajihad closed his eyes, setting his noble face in repose, and died.
This scene has no emotional impact on me at all. If Ajihad had been developed better as a character, I might care that he’s dead. Instead, I’m just kind of annoyed that the token black guy was killed off – especially in such a cheap way. It’s like he served his purpose in the last book, so Paolini had to kill him off before he started becoming something other than a stock character.
At least he didn’t say that Eragon was the only hope against the Empire.
Arya comments that Ajihad’s death will cause a lot of friction, then says that Eragon needs to avert the incoming power struggle and that she’ll help where she can. Saphira notes that Murtagh and the Twins aren’t among the bodies. She and Eragon conclude that they were taken by the Urgals, who aren’t known to take prisoners. Eragon doesn’t want to go after them, convinced that he’ll get lost in the tunnels and won’t catch up anyway, so Saphira suggests asking Arya to go.
Arya! Eragon hesitated, torn between his desire for action and his loathing to put her in danger.
She’s been in worse danger before and come out alive. If anything, she’s demonstrated that she can take care of herself a hell of a lot better than you.
Arya takes off into the tunnels, while Eragon sits with Ajihad’s body. Orik gets there, followed by Jörmundur and a bunch of the Varden, and Eragon tells them what happened, but not what Ajihad’s last words were. He won’t repeat them for anyone but the “right person”. Jörmundur says Arya shouldn’t have gone after Murtagh and the Twins, but it’s too late to do anything now. They won’t be able to find dwarf guides for at least an hour (seriously? How is it going to take you an hour to find dwarves in a dwarven city?), and everyone “important” has to stay in Tronjheim until they choose the next leader of the Varden. Arya will just have to fend for herself… which she could do anyway, so it’s not like she needs rescuers or anything.
Jörmundur makes a rousing speech about Ajihad dying a warrior’s death (seriously how can they tell he killed all those Urgals? Did he brand them before he died?), then everyone lays his body on their shields and marches him back to Tronjheim.