Chapter 8

Siege Breaker

“Didn’t you hear me?” Dorias asked. “The Varden are attacking!”

Celestine shook her head. “But I specifically warned them…”

“Snap out of it!” Murtagh said. “We have to face them. I need to get to Thorn.”

Celestine blinked and said, “I need to get my armor on.”

As they hurried through the halls together, Celestine told Murtagh, “Keep Eragon busy. I’ll handle the army. Oh, and if you have difficulty, say ‘Danetor ganra’ to Saphira—it will sap about half her strength.”

“Celestine, I can’t cast your kind of spells,” he said.

“I know and I don’t have time to explain, but it will work. Trust me.”

“Always. Dorias, stay with Celestine and protect her.”

“As you say.”

They reached a fork in the hallway—one way led to Celestine’s room, the other to the courtyard where Thorn awaited. Murtagh quickly leaned in to kiss Celestine, but she wasn’t paying attention and looked the other way. After he kissed her cheek, she looked back at him with a stern glare. “For luck,” he explained.

Her countenance softened. She nodded and all of a sudden kissed both of his cheeks. “Very well. For much luck, then.”

Celestine hurried to her room as Murtagh went to the courtyard. She was halfway in her armor when Lord Bradburn burst into her room. “The attack has begun,” he said. “You promised that you could keep my city safe. Can you?”

Eyes wide, Celestine swallowed the lump in her throat and nodded. “Of course I can,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. “Evacuate as many people as possible behind the inner gate. Try to get as many people out of the city as possible. Go!”

“You may wish to heed her,” Dorias told the hesitant lord, smirking.

Fully armed and armored, Celestine made her way to the inner wall—Dorias following close behind—and climbed the stairs to the top. From her vantage point, she could see the Shade was correct. The mass of the Varden army was now halfway to the outer wall, a massive battering ram in the lead. She looked behind, noticing Murtagh atop Thorn, who was perched on one of the castle towers. She looked ahead, surveying the city, looking for a high place. “There!” she said, pointing to a flat-roofed manor house. “We must hurry!”

She glanced at the press of the crowd being herded through the gate on her suggestion—it would be impossible to get through that way. Taking her Forcecast from its holster, she fired a shot across the top of her left gauntlet. The charms in it altered the shape of the magic flowing over it, which she took control of and formed into a bridge. She remarked to Dorias, “Be careful as you follow. The path is narrow and invisible.”

Celestine sprinted to the roof with Dorias following closely behind.

“What now?” he asked.

“I will try to reason with them.”

“And when that fails?”

Her eyes slowly shifted from the approaching onslaught to his face. Her face, usually so expressive, was now impassive. “If that fails…” she said. “If I am to cast this spell, I will have to devote a lot of concentration on it. My ability to defend myself will be severely limited.”

“Then I will protect you,” Dorias said.

“I pray you don’t have to,” Celestine replied before casting a sound amplifying dome around herself. “People of the Varden!”

The battering ram’s approach faltered less than ten meters from the main outer gate as her voice boomed throughout the area, but only for a moment. She continued, “I asked your leaders for a ceasefire for your sakes. I extend that offer to you directly. Return to your tents, do no harm to this city, and you will live. Break the walls and only death awaits you.”

The crack of the ram echoed through the streets as if in answer. Celestine began weaving her next spell as she continued, “I call upon everyone that hears my voice as witnesses against you. Let them all hear that I have offered you both life and death. Please, choose life.”

The gates groaned under the relentless blows. The sky above began to darken and then take on a reddish tinge as the clouds roiled. “Are any of you married? Return to your wife or else you may die and another man will enjoy her love. Do any of have children? Return to them now or else you may die and then who will raise them? Turn back now before it’s too late!”

The gates shattered and a cheer went up from the Varden. Celestine dissipated her sound spell and whispered, “Dayus, be merciful when you judge the souls I am about to send you. They didn’t know they would see you today.”

As the enemy swarmed through the splintered gate and into the city proper, a seething mass of liquid flame slowly coalesced in the sky and plunged to the ground. Then another. And another. It was as if someone had dipped a sponge into a fiery lake and held it aloft, letting it drip to the earth below. Screams of agony filled the air.

Celestine looked intently at the battlefield, waiting for the first sign that the siege was broken, that the army was retreating. Some of them caught outside the wall fled back to the camp, but others made mad dashes for the broken gate despite the fact that more fire rained in the city streets than outside the wall. The ones that had breached steadfastly refused to retreat, heading to the keep with grim resolve.

A troop of the Varden archers made their way through the burning chaos until they were in range. They loosed a volley of arrows at the wielder of the flames; however, Dorias intercepted them in midflight, snapping them like so many twigs. The archers soon retreated as the fire intensified near them.

The soldiers inside the city tried to find cover, gaining ground slowly and carefully between the blasts of certain death. Celestine heard a cheer go out among the men and could see the glitter of blue amid the crimson hail. Murtagh and Thorn moved to intercept. Celestine didn’t pay much attention to their fight—only keeping track of their position so as not to accidentally smite Murtagh.

After an hour, Celestine noticed three Elves draw near the manor house. Dorias said, “I’ll handle this,” and leapt from the roof. Celestine almost lost concentration with stray thoughts of concern for him, but she regained her focus upon realizing that his magic allowed him to land without harm.

Initially, she paid little attention to his struggle, giving him the same faith she put in Murtagh’s ability. She merely glanced at him from time to time to make sure everything was fine.

After another hour, Celestine noticed a small squad of swordsmen approaching the manor house with care from the other side. She tried to dissuade their advance with a few precisely aimed blasts, but they instead made a mad dash for the door. There was no time to think about it. Dorias wouldn’t be able to protect her. She engulfed the entire street leading up to the entrance with fire and tried to ignore the screams of the dying.

She then looked over at Dorias to keep her mind where it should be, but his battle seemed to have grown progressively worse. She dropped a fiery orb on one of his attackers. The Elf managed to shield herself.

Trying to maintain her concentration, Celestine considered other options. Attempting a second spell powerful enough to do something to an Elf while keeping control of the burning clouds would probably not work out. She could continue pelting them with fire, but that could prove as unhelpful to Dorias as to his adversaries. Splitting her focus with her consideration caused her to lose control of one of the vortexes. It spun and descended to ground, becoming a tornado of fire. It plowed through several houses before she regained control of it. Some Varden soldiers that had been seeking refuge in those houses ran out into the streets, their comrades attempting to put out their flames.

Suddenly, from the corner of her eye, Celestine saw Saphira streak to the ground like a blue meteor. She plowed through a small garden. Thorn landed nearby, but as he approached, Saphira managed to scramble to her feet and in a moment, she and Eragon were back in the air, flying back to the camp as fast as she could manage. The Elves pulled back shortly afterwards and the rest of the army fled in a panic immediately thereafter. Celestine stopped targeting them, only allowing a few blasts to hit the ground somewhat close to them in order to keep them aware of the danger and hasten their retreat.

The threat passed, Celestine fell to her hands and knees, breathing heavily. She wanted nothing more than to curl into a ball until the pain dulled, but she knew she still had a task. She looked down at Dorias. He leaned against a wall, bleeding. He needed her. Celestine crawled to the edge of the roof and looked for a way down. She spied a nearby trellis and used it to gingerly descend. She rushed to him, half stumbling over her own feet, and inspected his wound. The shaft of an arrow stuck out of his chest. He grinned. “Pierced through the heart. The only way to kill a Shade.”

“Hush,” she said gently. “Be still.”

She applied a healing spell that would brace him enough to remove the arrow. As she did, he gasped. “I was sure…” he said with a gasp as the pain dulled, “you hated me.”

She glanced at his red eyes before returning her gaze to his punctured chest. “Am I speaking to one of the spirits in him?”

“You are.”

“Then I do hate you,” she said. “Mother always said, ‘Despise the spirits; pity the possessed.’ In there somewhere is a poor wretch of a man. If I must save you to save him, so be it.”

“You think we like this arrangement? We did not take him; he called us to him.”

“Hush already. I’m not supposed to talk to spirits anyway—they tend to lie.”

Dorias looked off into the distance. “Say what you will. I would rather be free of him. We all would.”

Celestine grasped the arrow shaft, but faltered. She looked him straight in the eyes. “Is that true?”

“We are luminous beings,” he sighed. “We despise this corrupt matter.”

“Prove it. Leave him.”

“We would have done so a long time ago, but his spell binds us to him.” Dorias smiled. “We would have killed him long ago, but it prevents that, too.”

Celestine chewed on her bottom lip. “I shouldn’t even be listening to spirits, but if you really do want out…”

In rapid succession, she traced a six-pointed star on her palm, pressed it to his forehead, and said, “In the name of Dayus, creator and sustainer of all things, ancient past all measure, maintainer of all power, leave this man!”

Dorias screamed. “Your god is not in this world!”

“There is nowhere the power of Dayus cannot be felt. He reaches to the highest heavens. Even the depths of the grave are not beyond Dayus’ might. His power will even reach into this man’s body to let you leave.”

Dorias squirmed and gasped. “The spell is too strong! We can’t leave!”

“Does Dayus command and then not give the power to act? Never! No work of man is too strong for Dayus. Stop doubting and take the power given you to leave. By the word of Dayus you will leave! Now! Begone!”

Dorias screamed and writhed. Suddenly, six glowing orbs rose from his body, hovering in the air for but a moment before soaring away at extraordinary speed. Dorias’ hair was now dark brown. He opened his eyes—now hazel—regarding Celestine with caution.

“Are you all right?” she asked.

He said nothing, but glanced down at the arrow still sticking from his chest before looking back at her.

“Sorry, right. Let’s get that out of you.” She pulled it out in one swift motion and immediately resealed the wound. “There. You’ll live, Dorias.”

He glared at her. “Live? Dorias is already dead and you killed him!”

She pointed emphatically at one of the charred corpses littering the nearby street. “That is death!” she screamed, then placed her open palm against his chest, feeling his heartbeat, and said, “Not this.”

His only response was a scowl. She stood and walked away. The former Shade eventually fell in step behind her. While they were still some distance from the inner gate, Celestine asked, “So, what is your name then?”

“Kaelin.”

“Well, Kaelin, welcome to having your life back.”

“Is life worth it when you lack the power to protect yourself?”

“Protect yourself from what? Death? Dorias didn’t protect you from that tonight. I did.”

“And do you think Kaelin could’ve protected you from three Elves?”

Before Celestine could respond, she noticed Murtagh running towards them, waving. He ran up, exclaiming, “Wasn’t that glorious? I especially liked that fiery whirlwind flourish at the end—a very nice touch.”

“It wasn’t a flourish—I lost some control over the spell,” she said, her voice on edge.
Murtagh didn’t notice her tone, instead surprised by Dorias’ change in appearance. “What happened to you?”

Kaelin frowned and replied, “She removed my spirits.”

“Amazing, I didn’t know that could be done,” he said, then looked back at Celestine. “There are few Shadeslayers in the world, and today there is but one Shadebreaker, Lady Celestine.”

Celestine snapped back, “Don’t you ever call me that again!”

Shocked, Murtagh asked, “Why not?”

“For one thing, I don’t need any self-aggrandizing titles.”

“It’s not supposed to—”

“And another thing, I didn’t break him; I fixed him!”

“I just meant—”

“And not only that, but it wasn’t even me; it was the power of Dayus!”

“As you wish. I’ll never say it again,” Murtagh said. “At any rate, let us head to the banquet hall. Lord Bradburn is already having a feast made ready to celebrate the victory.”

“A feast in the midst of a siege? Is he mad?” Celestine asked.

“It’s a display of confidence in you, Celestine. After what you did, he thinks the siege will be done inside of a week.”

“I don’t want to celebrate,” Celestine said. “I want to go to my room and be left alone.”

“Celestine, this is in your honor, and while we’re here we represent the Empire. Now, tonight we were victorious, but Eragon and the vast majority of the Varden army still camp outside those walls. The men need to know we will continue to support them ‘til it’s over— else their spirits will be as candles in a gale.”

“Fine then, let’s go be joyful over a thousand needless deaths.”

“Celestine, I heard what you said before the battle—everyone did. They brought it on themselves. Their blood is on their own heads.”

By then, they’d entered the courtyard through the inner gate and were greeted by throngs of adulating civilians. Swept up as in a tide, Celestine soon found herself seated in the banquet hall on Lord Bradburn’s left. As everyone else in the room loudly celebrated the victory, Celestine ate nothing, quietly sipping her cup of wine.

As the hours passed by, everyone’s plates were empty and in high spirits. Lord Bradburn stood and rapped the table loud enough to get everyone’s attention. “A toast!” he declared, motioning the stewards to refill everyone’s cups. As everyone stood and held aloft their goblets, he continued, “To Murtagh, champion of the Empire, and a better Rider than the Varden’s!”

The crowd cheered and drank. Murtagh spoke. “It was a hard fought battle, but Celestine gave me a word before battle and, at that word, Saphira, that great dragon, fell like lightning from the heavens!”

The crowd roared. Lord Bradburn continued the toast, “And to Celestine, a most powerful magician, who single-handedly slew a thousand of their best men!”

Everyone cheered and drank their wine—everyone except Celestine. She stood still, cup still aloft, a blank expression on her face. Her attention suddenly snapped to as the crowd took up the chant, “Speak! Speak!”

Celestine called out, “For what do you honor me?”

Someone in the crowd called back, “For the heaps of charred Varden!”

The crowd cheered.

She raised her cup a bit higher and said, “Then this wine is the blood of the slain.”

The crowd cheered again, raising their cups to participate in the toast. Their cheer died down as Celestine slowly poured the red wine out all over the table. “Dayus forbids the drinking of blood,” she said, tossing the empty cup to the floor as she stormed out of the hall.

Everyone began looking at each other and at Bradburn, murmuring. Finally, Murtagh stood and began heading to the exit. He turned briefly to say, “She’s from a distant land.” He continued towards the door, turning one more time to add, “They have different customs there.”

As Murtagh left, Bradburn announced, “You see, she pours out the blood as an offering to her god. Be cheered for we now have a god fighting for us!” And the crowd roared with approval.

Murtagh made his way through the halls. As he neared her room, he noticed cracks in the stones leading to her chamber. He opened her door. She had thrown her bedsheet over the mirror. There were cracks in the stones in her room, too, and the wooden bedposts were bowed outward. Celestine kneeled by the bed, her upper body draped over it as she whispered fervently, her body wracked by heaving sobs. It looked like a shadow was growing over her back, but it would lighten and every time it did, a new crack appeared near her.

“Celestine!”

Startled, she jumped to her feet and turned to face him. She wiped her tears from her cheeks and said, “Leave me alone!”

“No!”

She flung herself at him, shouting, “Get out of here!”

Murtagh caught her and held her close. “No, I won’t.”

She began weeping into his chest, asking over and over again, “Was there another way? What else could I have done?”

He cradled her head and told her, “There was no other way. There was nothing else that would’ve stopped them. You did nothing wrong.”

“Nothing wrong? A thousand men all with hopes, dreams, friends, family—all cast headlong into the grave—and there’s nothing wrong?!”

“And what of the people you saved? The men, women, children of this city who would have suffered at their hands?”

Her entire body trembled as she continued speaking. “When the Harcadian army attacked the Mage Empire, Daistros faced them alone. He wove a spell of such skill that their entire army could not move forward, could not move to the side, could only move away. Even their most powerful wizards could do nothing to disrupt his magic. If only I were more skillful. If only I were better, then I could make everyone do what they should. I could make them all… Everyone… Then no one would have to die.”

“You did your best. By the gods, you can forgive the man that scarred your back, but you can’t forgive yourself for doing the only thing that would stop a band of marauders from pillage and plunder?”

Suddenly, one of the castle soldiers burst into the room and said, “Murtagh, sir!”

Murtagh interposed himself between Celestine in the door. He turned his head to the young man and yelled through clenched teeth, “It can wait!”

“But, sir, it’s about the egg room.”

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Comment

  1. VikingBoyBilly on 27 August 2012, 15:17 said:

    Was Eragon ever this emotionally distraught after all the people he’s killed? Celestine is so much more of an empathetic character.

  2. Taku on 28 August 2012, 08:03 said:

    I love Celestine’s characterisation. Her reactions to death, her fury at being given a stupid honorific, her compassion, and her sense of duty to her god, are all really well done. This is that hero that Eragon should have been.

    I like your writing style, too. Fast-paced, but with excellent balance between action, description and effective dialogue.

  3. Asahel on 31 August 2012, 15:49 said:

    Thanks both of you for the comments (and very complimentary comments, too!). Glad you’ve enjoyed this latest installment, and here’s hoping it continues to an interesting and satisfactory conclusion.

    Oh, and about the question:

    Was Eragon ever this emotionally distraught after all the people he’s killed?

    Kind of a yes and no here. There are some passages with Eragon angsting over the people he’s killed, but (as usual) it’s very inconsistent. I could bring up the unarmed boy that he killed even as the lad was trying to run away (he never even feels remorse for that one). I could bring up Lord Bradburn’s retainers in the 4th book that were clearly ready to surrender at the slightest show of force and he still killed several of them (oh, but at least he was glad he did have to kill more). So, the passages where he’s so concerned about people dying ring hollow. Not to mention they’re practically abandoned in the 4th book. I’m still continuing my review on it—sorry that’s a bit behind—but if I recall, he doesn’t have any more moments of remorse or distress.

  4. Finn on 1 September 2012, 15:30 said:

    Yes! This was well worth the wait. I love the idea of “fixing” the shade, rather than destroying him. Will we get to see any more of the former Shade? Celestine once again is really well-characterized. Good job!