This chapter is called “burrow grubs”.
I’ll note, sadly, that we’re still stuck with Nasuada. You know, when I started, I wondered just how Paolini was going to fill all these heavy pages. The whole story, what little of it there is, was basically over by the last book. All that remained was the triumphant march to the capital and the final showdown between Eragon and Gabby. It wasn’t enough to release a whole other book.
But Chris got both greedy and lazy. Greedy in the belief that he could tell more story than he really can and lazy in that he wouldn’t dare edit his precious book down and wrap it up. Instead he decided to just write another one and the big problem there is that Chris suffers from Epics Disease. That’s when a fantasy author feels they can’t write a sequel smaller than the last and they feel they’ve underachieved if it’s close in size to the previous. So they pad, a lot. And that’s why we’re stuck reading about Nasuada being tortured and running around mostly naked to pass the time.
We start off with a single sentence paragraph that gives us more info than Chris has offered in a long time.
They caught her at the intersection of two identical corridors, both lined with pillars and torches and scarlet pennants bearing the twisting gold flame that was Galbatorix’s insignia.
Whoa, Gabby’s sign is a twisting gold flame on a scarlet field? That means it should be the flag of the empire and the logo on all the brand t-shirts he hands out during the Imperial fair, where the fun never ends and the prices are fair. That was something that might have been nice to know back in, say, book one. It was one of those details that should have been filled in early while we still cared. Four books later and I can’t say I care
Nasuada is disappointed too but not for the same reason. She wishes her escape attempt got her further than the food court. She doesn’t go back without a fight though.
The men wore chest plates and vambraces, but she still managed to scratch their faces and bite their hands, wounding a pair of the men rather severely.
What? How is that possible? How could Nasuada scratch their faces in spite of the chest plates and vambraces? I’m think she’s secretly a witch. Gabby, you need to burn her at the stake for no mortal could possibly penetrate the face protection that vambraces offer. Why, it’s inconceivable!
Anywho, they drag her back to her cell and lock her down. Then Nasuada tells us how she made the spoon into a shiv and shanked Fred as soon as he unlocked her left arm. For some reason we’re told that he spun around exactly three times before falling over dead. She briefly feels bad but dismisses that guilt because it was necessary. I’m sure Gabby tells himself the same thing every time one of his assassins bags some old lady.
Nasuada screams and is angry, recounts her failed escape and then Gabby shows up. Gabby wants to know how this happened, someone shows him the chiseled spoon and he glares at Nasuada like she’s a dog that just won’t stop sleeping on the couch. He starts babbling about how she knew she couldn’t escape but she tried anyway. Then he says he won’t have her killing his men just to spite him. Wait, what?
I thought Gabby was supposed to be evil beyond reproach? The sentences after try to make it sound like Gabby is mad more because Nasuad did something without his permission but it comes off more that he cares about his underlings. That’s not the mark of the evil overlord who can only keep his men loyal by binding them. That makes him come across like a good guy. One that’s better than Nasuada because even though he has such a large force at his disposal he’s shown more emotion at the loss of two than she has over hundreds.
Gabby leaves while two soldiers—soldier, the generic term for Paolini’s mooks—clean up the floor and curse Nasuada. We’re not told why they’re cursing at her but I’m going to assume it’s because they were friends with Fred and now they’re short a golf partner. When Gabby comes back, he has a mysterious box of evil and ancient language that emits skree noises.
Gabby reaches in and pulls out a large maggot looking thing and tells us it’s a burrow grub. He says they’re only found in once place in Alagaёsia and they’re harder to capture than you’d think. He says that shows his respect for her. Then he puts it on her face and lets it eat her eyeballs.
Not really, of course. He places it near her inner elbow and it does crawl up to her face but Gabby tells it ‘no, bad burrow grub’ and it goes back to her elbow. Nasuada is more afraid of it than the hot poker or Gabby ruling forever. We know this because she tells us exactly that. The critter hops into the air and divides into a dozen—Nasuada counted them twice—green centipedes that start burrowing into her flesh.
Rightfully so, she freaks out because it’s burrowing into her but the way it’s narrated is almost clinically cold. She screams for mercy and babbles and Gabby laughs and she passes out. When she comes to her senses, she’s alone and hurting and wondering if the burrow grubs are still inside her. She’s worried she can’t hold out anymore
Murtagh comes in and she sees how concerned he is and she puts on a brave face. He heals her a little but says he can’t do more. She asks him to consult his eldunari, Nasuada being an expert on dragon lore now, and he says they don’t know anything more either. Apparently they were young dragons who knew nothing about magic. Right, and doubtless they didn’t talk to each other or with the older eldunari because the just never became bored.
Nasuada then asks why his magic didn’t stop the pain. He says he doesn’t know because burrow grubs are special and different. Though good news, they’re not still under her skin but Gabby won’t use them on her again. Also, Murtagh had never heard of burrow grubs before today just like us. He gives her his cape and she leans against him to cry.
Nasuada remembers how Murtagh hurt her despite it not being his fault and flinches when he touchers her. That makes sense but then she sees how bad he feels at her reaction so she grabs his hand and holds him. He goes all soft and says he swears he’ll free her even if it’s too late for him and Thorn. He doesn’t know how but just a few days he’s sure he’ll have something figured out.
He tells her then that now Gabby will start messing with her head. If that doesn’t work, Gabby will force his way into Nasuada’s mind and no one wins those contests. He shows her what it’s like to have someone poking around her consciousness while also teaching her to distinguish between him and someone else. That way she can be sure that the Murtagh offering her help isn’t a mere illusion.
After some debate, she lets him in and sees his inner self. She decides, from her years of expertise scanning minds no doubt, that it’s almost impossible to fake your inner self. She feels closer to him because the image she describes is a cold heart with inky vines of sad loneliness. He pulls out and asks if she’ll be able to recognize him. She nods and he says that’s the one thing Gabby can’t fake, conveniently enough. Then he shares the army schedule with her.
“Fortunately, we have some time. The Varden are only three days hence, and the elves are fast approaching from the north. Galbatorix has gone to oversee the final placement of Urû’baen’s defenses and to discuss strategy with Lord Barst, who has command of the army now that it’s garrisoned here in the city.”
Who’s lord Barst again? Oh yeah, the super strong henchman created specifically for this book who’ll serve as a midlevel boss later on. Murtagh says Gabs has other plans for him though he hasn’t said what. Then Murtagh wants to know if Nasuada killed those men out of spite and she says she had to do something.
He says that means it was spite and she goes ‘ok, maybe. So what?’ He just smiles and pats her on the head for being awesome. Because that’s not crazy at all. This is starting to sound like the budding romance of two serial killers. I’m fully expecting them to start trading mutilation techniques and favorite kills. ‘Oh man, there was this one guy who I hamstrung and then chased as he bled out. It was so sweet.’ ‘That’s nothing Nasuada. I once locked guy in a manacle and swung him around until his foot tore off. Then I made him eat it.’
Nasuada says she might have even escaped to which Murtagh says “and dragons might start eating grass”. What a briskly amusing observation, Chris. Does your hilarity know no bounds? He tells her not to try the Great Escape again and she asks for his word that he’ll help her get away. He promises to have the dragon waiting outside while she robs the bank which seals the deal.
Then they start talking about boring things. Murtagh talks about the “modifications” he did to the saddle he got from Gabby while Nasuada talks about the street markets in Surda. Yup, just a torturer and his victim, sitting on the stone and having a nice little chat. Nasauda says she likes Murtagh because he’s intelligent and well educated and has a “mordant” wit. Hello Gary Stu number two, how do you do?
After their chat, which only happened so Chris could tell us how awesome Murtagh is, he lock Nasuada back up. She stops him just as he’s about to leave. She asks if he can just go ahead and slit her throat now and save us a few chapters. Or she asks him why and the question is supposed to be implied as to why he’s bothering to save her.
He stared at her for the longest while, and then, in a low, hard voice, he said, “You know why.”
I hope she does because I sure as hell don’t. So let me make up a reason. It’s because she’s an available female, attractive and she has a name. The only other named women are elves, which I can’t blame him for shying away from, or taken. Oh sure, there’s always Trianna but she’s a human magician. In Chris’s universe that’s basically asking for every venereal disease ever including dwarf crabs.
Stockholm Syndrome: Don’t let it happen to you.