This chapter is called “a toss of the bones”. Which I assume is supposed to mean something like a toss of the dice. Though a phrase like that sounds like it’s taking about the game of knucklebones which is more of a game of skill and speed versus dice which is a game of chance. Being as Chris has never used that phrase or established what ‘tossing the bones’ means to Eragon and the rest, it means nothing. For all we know “a toss of the bones” is what they say when they’re throwing cat skeletons at each other in a ancient death ritual.
Anywho, someone bursts into a tent shouting “Sir, sir!”. Which is hilarious because that makes the first one sound measured and the second one loud. Like the guy started to ask for Roran and then realized that he was watching a lava flow roll towards the tent and it’s just taken the horse. Again, not being a paid writer my advice is probably worthless but maybe “Sir! Sir!” would have carried a little more urgency.
The guy who comes in calmly screaming for his boss, while being unable to remember his name, says that a gate is opening. This distracts Roran from the map he’s looking at and makes things exciting, right? I mean, a gate is opening! Roran even asks which one so you know it’s important.
“Which gate?” Roran asked, a deadly calm settling over him. “Be precise.” He put aside the rod he had been using to measure distances.
Wait, what? So Roran can’t read but he can use a map? When did he learn to do that? Why is he measuring distance anyway? Compared to what? What kind of map is it? I don’t think you understand, Chris, but cartography didn’t always produce the kind of maps you see in an atlas these days. Old maps were often inaccurate and not drawn to any standard and they didn’t always have a scale besides landmarks. But because this is a “medieval” setting, Roran has map reading skills and perfect maps of the countryside at his disposal.
It turns out the whole gate opening is a big deal as horsemen start pouring out, hundreds as Roran says. And apparently Roran has only about a hundred and fifty men in the camp. The others are out by the mills or at the “slate mine”—it’s called a goddamned quarry Chris, if cartilage is ok then so is that—or hanging out along the riverbank picking flowers. Being the brilliant tactician he is, Roran has the camp basically undefended during the day. I guess he didn’t expect the enemy to notice the large groups he was sending away and act on it. Of course, being as Roran has less than two hundred men, many wounded he says, versus hundreds of cavalry, there’s no chance he’ll lose.
Apparently Roran knew all this but expected the Imperials to be frightened by the weakened forces that have failed to overtake them. Brigman says that there’s nothing they can do and Roran has doomed them. I agree wholeheartedly and Roran says they can’t leave their wounded behind. Brigman complains, because he’s cowardly and bad, and Roran tells him to shut him up and stay there. Then he tells Baldor—that’s still a stupid name—to stab Brigman if he does anything Baldor doesn’t like. Because Roran knows only two ways to lead, stupidity and violence.
You know how a really good author can keep action flowing well? They make every action mean something and they keep us focused on the moment. They also don’t break down the action by the second and instead let us put the details they offer together as fast or as slow as we like. If you were to put down a timestamp for every action, it would dry the scene out. It would come across like a police report with all the emotion of tax code. And so that’s exactly what Crhis does.
Once again, he slows the action down and makes it his toothless pet, drooling at his feet. Just like the ship chase from the second book, Chris has to give us a timeframe. Roran says he has five minutes until the horsemen get to them while he tries to figure out a plan. He asks Carn if he can make an image of Saphira, he says no and now there’s only four minutes. Then he looks up and hopes for rain but there’s none coming. And then he comes up with a brilliant plan that he can’t share with us, thus ensuring it’s success.
He grabs a blanket, some knucklebones, a log, while demanding Carn get him the table from his tent and a horn of mead. Then he tells the men to go hide in their tent and stay quiet unless they’re attacked. Gee, is Roran going to play the Casual Bastard gambit? No, it’s not really a surprise Chris.
All this is arranged in less than two minutes. So Roran just sits there, awkwardly counting down the seconds as the Imperials on horseback come at him. So he starts playing knucklebones by himself. Like, the actual knucklebones game that’s been around since antiquity. I am stunned. Chris either did about five more minutes of research since the last book or he read a historical fiction novel that mentioned it in passing. I leave you to guess which is more likely.
Roran starts believing that they’ll ride right over him which makes him whine about how he’s going to die leave a child fatherless behind. And for no apparent reason he feels pleased knowing that he’ll live on and how having a child isn’t immortality like Eragon has but it’s sort of so he’s okay with that. What? Since when has Roran, the dumb, uneducated and illiterate farm boy, cared about immortality? Or is Chris just illustrating that, although he thinks Roran is cool, he’s still not Eragon?
The riders stop just before by a guy who repeats himself like an alcoholic with Alzheimer’s. I guess they don’t think it’s sporting to run down an enemy too stupid to pay attention. But then Chris demonstrates that it’s not just the protagonists that can’t keep their words down when the unidentified man starts vomiting verbiage at us.
“Ho there, my fine fellow!” said the same man who had ordered the soldiers to halt. “Ho there, I say! Who are you to sit here this splendid morning, drinking and enjoying a merry game of chance, as if you hadn’t a care in the world? Do we not merit the courtesy of being met with drawn swords? Who are you, I say?”
A merry game of chance? Knucklebones isn’t about chance, last I checked. But then again I didn’t spear my frontal lobe with a barbecue fork and serve it to the dog. Roran looks up slowly, maintaining the air of casualness.
“I’m nobody’s fine fellow , and certainly not yours,” Roran said, making no effort to conceal his dislike at being addressed in such a familiar manner. “Who are you, I might ask, to interrupt my game so rudely?”
‘I’m not your buddy, guy!’ ‘I’m not your guy, friend!’…The man says his name is Tharos, and Roran introduces himself like a braggart. Tharos is unimpressed but instead of killing him for being a douche, which would be fitting, he asks how he can verify that claim but says Roran is famous on his own right.
Blah blah blah, Roran offers Tharos a drink, Tharos says it’s strong and prefers wine, the spell caster that came with Tharos is getting pale, blah blah. Tharos gets back on his horse and says maybe one day he’ll entertain him inside the walls and then he goes on for an extended paragraph talking about wine and the making of.
Which I’m guessing is supposed to be rife with subtext because Roran says something about having to spill wine to clear the table. The problem is it comes across like two people talking past each other. Tharos wants to chat about wine and vineyards while Roran wants to pretend he’s a member of clan badass. Then Roran pours out the rest of the mead.
I figured with the latent threat and that action Tharos would have decided to strike and kill the idiot then. Instead they mount up and head back towards the city walls. Remember, these are the bad guys who have no sense of honor or respect and they must be killed if they don’t relinquish the power they obviously don’t deserve.
Everyone cheers Roran and Carn explains, needlessly, how he wore out the enemy magician. Then a Varden rider comes racing back to the camp. Apparently they found all the barges they need for their secret plan and are building sleds to move them. Oh, and the young messenger keeps calling Roran sir and he keeps telling him not to. That’s right, Roran suffers from the “Don’t Call Me Sir” disease off and on.
Then Roran, feeling smug, tells everyone to get to work fortifying the camp. Carn says he might not want to wear the men out before their big attack and Roran says that battle gives men new energy. And that solidifies the image of Roran as an adrenaline junkie, sociopath. Roran tells us how he won over the hearts of his men without words and worries about his plan being stupid. And then Chris is stupid in a way that baffles me.
All through the late morning, afternoon, and early evening, a sense of sick hopelessness grew within Roran, and he cursed himself for deciding upon such a complicated and ambitious plan. I should have known from the start that we didn’t have the time for this, he thought. But it was too late to try some other scheme. The only option left was to strive their utmost and hope that, somehow, it would be enough to wrest victory from the mistakes of his incompetence. When dusk arrived, a faint spark of optimism leavened his pessimism, for all of a sudden, the preparations began to come together with unexpected speed. And a few hours later, when it was fully dark and the stars shone bright overhead, he found himself standing by the mills along with almost seven hundred of his men, having completed all of the arrangements needed if they were to capture Aroughs before the end of the following day.
So Roran laughs and then congratulates his soldiers, probably on not drowning themselves and says they attack at dawn. Yeah, they’ll never see that one coming. The enemy camp will be empty, there’ll be no activity in sight and somehow they’ll be caught unaware. ‘Oh my god! I thought they’d simply abandoned the camp they spent all day fortifying! This is a total shock!’