Chapter 45 – The Sound of His Voice, The Touch of His Hand
Given previous chapters, this is either going to be creepy Murtagh-Nasuada romance, or extraordinarily creepy torture porn.
Oh good lord, it’s the second one.
Also, is that one of the cheapest ways to introduce suspense? I suspect it might be.
I spoke too soon.
“His question and her answer had become a ritual between them, a call-and-response such as children might use in a game, except that in this game she lost even when she won.”
“Rituals were all that allowed Nasuada to maintain her sanity. By them, she ordered her world–by them, she was able to endure from one moment to the next, for they gave her something to hold on to when all else had been stripped from her.”
What are you doing.
“Rituals of thought, rituals of action, rituals of pain and relief: these had become the framework upon which her life depended. Without them, she would have been lost, a sheep without a shepherd, a devotee bereft of faith… a Rider without her dragon.”
“Unfortunately, this particular ritual always ended with another taste of the iron.
Shew screamed and bit her tongue, and blood filled her mouth. She coughed, trying to clear her throat, but there was too much blood and she began to choke. Her lungs burned from a lack of air, and the lines on the ceiling wavered and grew dim, and then her memory ceased and there was nothing, not even darkness.”
After the torture, Galby (who else?) sits and talks to her. Conveniently positioned so that all Nasuada can see of him is “a golden-edged shadow”. Lovely.
“His voice was too powerful, too seductive; it left her wanting to do whatever he desired just so she could hear him utter a tiny morsel of praise.”
PAOLINI. CHRISTOPHER. Stop. You’re doing it wrong. Just stop. I shouldn’t even need to explain this to you.
There’s a bit of discussion about Ajihad, and about Galby’s justification for overthrowing the riders:
“Everything in this world must be paid for, whether in gold, time, or blood. Nothing is without its price, not even the Riders. Especially not the Riders.”
“… they kept the peace, but they also stifled the races of this land, the elves and dwarves just as much as us humans.”
“On the whole, the order of things remained exactly the same as it had been when the Riders first rose to prominence.”
“Does that not seem the most evil thing to you, Nasuada? Life is change, and yet the Riders suppressed it so that the land lay in an uneasy slumber, unable to shake off the chains that bound it, unable to advance or retreat as nature intended… unable to become something new. I saw with my own eyes scrolls in the vaults at Vroengard and here, in the vaults of Illirea, that detailed discoveries–magical, mechanical, and from every sphere of natural philosophy– “
It’s a nice touch that he calls it “natural philosophy”, actually. Appropriate, for once, for the time and place he’s writing in.
“– discoveries that the Riders kept hidden because they feared what might happen if those things might become generally known.”
“Theirs was a gentle tyranny, but a tyranny nonetheless.”
I kind of like Galby. Where the hell was he for the first three books?
There’s more discussion along those lines, and in a rare turn of evens for a Paolini book, it’s actually rather interesting. Galby talks about how he found “hints of a greater truth” in the scrolls, makes some moral observations about the nature of magic in a law-abiding world, and how to enforce the law within a magic-system as completely screwed-sideways as Paolini’s. And of course, Galby considers himself to be the only person in the world trustworthy enough to decide who gets to use magic, and when. Because he has been so responsible with it, himself.
“You call me evil. You curse my name and seek to overthrow me. But remember this, Nasuada: it was not I who started this war, and I am not responsible for those who have lost their lives as a result. […] You are the ones, after all, who have been rampaging across the countryside, burning and pillaging as you please, not I. And yet you have the audacity to claim that I am in the wrong!”
Nasuada calls him out on not stopping the Varden sooner, and – and now we’re back to the torture porn.
“She clenched her fists, digging her nails into her skin, and her muscles began to tremble, despite her best efforts to hold them still. One of the iron rods scraped against the lip of the brazier as Murtagh pulled it free. He turned to face her, and she could not help but stare at the tip of the glowing metal. Then she looked into Murtagh’s eyes, and she saw the guilt and self-loathing contained, and a sense of profound sorrow overcame her.”
“What fools we are, she thought. What sorry, miserable fools.”
Rather than ending the chapter on that, erm, striking note, there’s another page or so of description and Nasuada thinking about what Galby had said. She is Internally Conflicted, you see, about the fact that both Galby and Murtagh have promised they would never lie to her, but obviously because they’re the Villains, they had to have been lying about that. Because Villains lie, of course.
The reasoning is flawless.
There’s a bit of back-story exposition about Nasuada’s first torture session:
“The first time Galbatorix and Murtagh had visited her, she had been far more courageous. […] Galbatorix had made her suffer for her insolence […] The iron made her timid; even the memory of it made her want to curl into a tight little ball.”
And then she remembers about that one time drunken-Murtagh visited, and started rambling drunkenly about his reasons for kidnapping Nasuada.
“It was the only way I could keep him from killing you….I’m sorry….I’m sorry.” [sic] (Yes, even the four-point ellipses).
There follows some more emotional outbursts, and then guess what? Creepy Nasuada-Murtagh romance! Just like I predicted. Even still, Nasuada remains just slightly more awesome than I expected.
“She found the whole episode maudlin and self-pitying, and his weakness did nothing but inspire contempt in her”
“Some of the tortures he described were worse then her own and, if true, gave her a slight measure of sympathy for his own plight.”
Murtagh eventually takes away her pain with magic, and chapter ends with Nasuada saying:
“I cannot forgive…but I can understand.”
Whereupon he nodded and stumbled away, leaving her to wonder if she had found a new ally.
If I may betray my late-80s/early-90s roots, will somebody please gag me with a spoon.
So there we have it: a rare moment of eloquence and logic, given to entirely the wrong character and surrounded by extraordinary creepiness which reminds me horrible of 50 Shades in places, and awkwardly-shoehorned (and also unimaginative) torture that almost seems to go against the main villain’s characterisation. For a fellow who has been absent for three quarters of this series, I really wish we’d met him sooner. If I hadn’t read ahead, I might have thought Paolini was pulling a switch on us–the one that most of us said would be the only thing to save the series beck when Brisingr came out. Remember back when “Eragon is the bad guy” was the theory on every anti’s lips? This chapter feels like it is acknowledging the potential, at the same time as throwing it out the window.