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<anon I1="BLANK" I2="BLANK">Eragon stared at the dark tower of stone wherein hid the monsters who had murdered his uncle, Garrow. He was lying on his belly behind the edge of a sandy hill dotted with sparse blades of grass, thornbushes, and small, rosebud-like cactuses. The brittle stems of last year's foliage pricked his palms as he inched forward to gain a better view of Helgrind, which loomed over the surrounding land like a black dagger thrust out from the bowels of the earth. The evening sun streaked the low hills with shadows long and narrow and--far in the west--illuminated the surface of Leona Lake so that the horizon became a rippling bar of gold. To his left, Eragon heard the steady breathing of his cousin, Roran, who was stretched out beside him. The normally inaudible flow of air seemed preternaturally loud to Eragon with his heightened sense of hearing, one of many such changes wrought by his experience during the Agaet' Bladhren, the elves' Blood-oath Celebration. He paid little attention to that now as he watched a column of people inch toward the base of Helgrind, apparently having walked from the city of Dras-Leona, some miles away. A contingent of twenty-four men and women, garbed in thick leather robes, occupied the head of the column. This group moved with many strange and varied gaits--they limped and shuffled and humped and wriggled; they swung on crutches or used arms to propel themselves forward on curiously short legs--contortions that were necessary because, as Eragon realized, every one of the twenty-_four lacked an arm or a leg or some combination thereof. Their leader sat upright upon a litter borne by six oiled slaves, a pose Eragon regarded as a rather amazing accomplishment, considering that the man or woman--he could not tell which--consisted of nothing more than a torso and head, upon whose brow balanced an ornate leather crest three feet high. "The priests of Helgrind," he murmured to Roran. "Can they use magic?" "Possibly. I dare not explore Helgrind with my mind until they leave, for if any are magicians, they will sense my touch, however light, and our presence will be revealed." Behind the priests trudged a double line of young men swathed in gold cloth. Each carried a rectangular metal frame subdivided by twelve horizontal crossbars from which hung iron bells the size of winter rutabagas. Half of the young men gave their frames a vigorous shake when they stepped forward with their right foot, producing a dolorous cacophony of notes, while the other half shook their frames when they advanced upon the left foot, causing iron tongues to crash against iron throats and emit a mournful clamor that echoed over the hills. The acolytes accompanied the throbbing of the bells with their own cries, groaning and shouting in an ecstasy of passion. At the rear of the grotesque procession trudged a comet's tail of inhabitants from Dras-Leona: nobles, merchants, tradesmen, several high-ranking military commanders, and a motley collection of those less fortunate, such as laborers, beggars, and common foot soldiers. Eragon wondered if Dras-Leona's governor, Marcus Tabor, was somewhere in their midst. Drawing to a stop at the edge of the precipitous mound of scree that ringed Helgrind, the priests gathered on either side of a rust-colored boulder with a polished top. When the entire column stood motionless before the crude altar, the creature upon the litter stirred and began to chant in a voice as discordant as the moaning of the bells. The shaman's declamations were repeatedly truncated by gusts of wind, but Eragon caught snatches of the ancient language--strangely twisted and mispronounced--interspersed with dwarf and Urgal words, all of which were united by an archaic dialect of Eragon's own tongue. What he understood caused him to shudder, for the sermon spoke of things best left unknown, of a malevolent hate that had festered for centuries in the dark caverns of people's hearts before being allowed to flourish in the Riders' absence, of blood and madness, and of foul rituals performed underneath a black moon. At the end of that depraved oration, two of the lesser priests rushed forward and lifted their master--or mistress, as the case might be--off the litter and onto the face of the altar. Then the High Priest issued a brief order. Twin blades of steel winked like stars as they rose and fell. A rivulet of blood sprang from each of the High Priest's shoulders, flowed down the leather-encased torso, and then pooled across the boulder until it overflowed onto the gravel below. Two more priests jumped forward to catch the crimson flow in goblets that, when filled to the rim, were distributed among the members of the congregation, who eagerly drank. "Gar!" said Roran in an undertone. "You failed to mention that those errant flesh-mongers, those gore-bellied, boggle-minded idiot-worshipers were cannibals." "Not quite. They do not partake of the meat." When all the attendees had wet their throats, the servile novitiates returned the High Priest to the litter and bound the creature's shoulders with strips of white linen. Wet blotches quickly sullied the virgin cloth. The wounds seemed to have no effect upon the High Priest, for the limbless figure rotated back toward the devotees with their lips of cranberry red and pronounced, "Now are you truly my Brothers and Sisters, having tasted the sap of my veins here in the shadow of almighty Helgrind. Blood calls to blood, and if ever your Family should need help, do then what you can for the Church and for others who acknowledge the power of our Dread Lord._._._._To affirm and reaffirm our fealty to the Triumvirate, recite with me the Nine Oaths._._._._By Gorm, Ilda, and Fell Angvara, we vow to perform homage at least thrice a month, in the hour before dusk, and then to make an offering of ourselves to appease the eternal hunger of our Great and Terrible Lord._._._._We vow to observe the strictures as they are presented in the book of Tosk._._._._We vow to always carry our Bregnir on our bodies and to forever abstain from the twelve of twelves and the touch of a many-knotted rope, lest it corrupt_._._." Excerpted from Brisingr by Christopher Paolini All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.</anon>
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Horn Book Review
(Middle School) Eragon the Dragon Rider and his dragon Saphira continue their quest to defeat the tyrant magician Galbatorix, who enslaved a human empire and threatens the elf and dwarf sovereignties of Alagaesia. So entranced is author Paolini with his creation, however, that Book Three spilled into two volumes, this first of which is episodic rather than plot-driven: a daring rescue of his cousin Roran's betrothed; a skirmish against Galbatorix's dragon-rider team Murtagh (Eragon's half-brother) and Thorn; ally Orik's ascension to the kingship of the dwarves; and the forging of Eragon's new sword Brisingr. At the end, Eragon bids farewell to his mentor and mentor dragon, who have joined the resistance. Ironically, the author's self-indulgence may also be his saving grace: if the book's 700-plus pages are packed with extraneous scenes and dialogue, Paolini's enthusiasm and transparent love of his own story keep the proceedings from bogging down completely, and readers who share his delight will enjoy the full-sense immersion in his world. Even they might cavil at the lightweight climax, but Paolini promises that the fourth and final projected volume is "going to be the most exciting installment in the series" -- hopeful words indeed. From HORN BOOK, (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.