Eragon watches Thorn and Murtagh's rise as Narheim curses Murtagh for his slaughter of Hrothgar. Arya turns her eyes away from the sight and tells Nasuada that she must stop the soldiers that are approaching from the Jiet River before they reach the camp, or else they will wreak untold havoc. King Orrin is unimpressed, asking if Arya doubts their prowess, but Arya holds her ground, stating that Galbatorix must have placed spells on the men to aid them and that they are more than they appear. Eragon, getting over his shock, states that they don't want to let Thorn fly over the camp, as he could set fire to half of it. Nasuada wonders why the soldiers announced their presence and Narheim replies that it is a trap to make sure that Eragon and Saphira engage Murtagh and Thorn in the air. Arya says that they should spring that trap, as they have an unexpected advantage: the presence of thirteen elves to support Saphira and Eragon.
Nasuada says that she is convinced and begins issuing orders to the Varden's various contingents. Narheim asks about the dwarves and Nasuada asks that they guard the pertimeter. Narheim is not pleased by this and tries to argue that his people should be in the front lines, but Nasuada says that they would just be trampled and that it is best that they wait on the ground. Should any warriors reach, they would be those of tremendous skill, and then the dwarves could demonstrate their prowess. Narheim is not happy with this, but grumbles his consent. Eragon is buffeted by a mental shout from a soldier of the Varden stating that the soldiers will not die, apparently from Barden, one of King Orrin's spellcasters. Before anyone can give consideration to it, however, Murtagh shouts at Eragon, urging him to come out from behind Nasuada's skirts if he is not a coward. Saphira roars in response then discharges a twenty-foot jet of blue fire, causing the nearby horses to all bolt. Arya walks over to Eragon and gives him a gift of energy, then tells him to be careful. Saphira launches and the elves wish to fly well. Eragon opens his mind to the elves, with Arya serving as a focal point.
Eragon shares with Saphira that he's glad he took the time last night to fortify his new falchion with magic. Let us hope your spells hold, replies Saphira. The combat begins and Saphira immediately notes that Thorn has grown another four feet since they last saw him, now nearly as big as her, even though he is barely older than a hatchling. Eragon considers Murtagh, whose face has gone hard, and who tells Eragon that Galbatorix was furious with him and Thorn for letting them go and they have both suffered horribly because of it. He draws back to strike, but Eragon tells him to wait, saying that he knows a way to release them from their vows. Murtagh is reluctant, but agrees to listen and Eragon tells him that when he was with the elves, he learned that a person's true name can change over time, if their personality changes. He tells Murtagh and Thorn that if they can change some element of their personalities, then Galbatorix would no longer have hold over them. Murtagh responds that he is not evil and that if he had to become evil to subvert his vows, then the cure would be worse than the affliction. Eragon argues that he need not become either, but merely find some path that he had not taken, such as letting go of his anger at the Empire. Murtagh laughs at that notion, but agrees that the idea of changing his true name is intriguing, though doing so would likely trigger some spell that would force him and Thorn to return to Galbatorix. He suggests that he and Eragon might work on it together when they're in Urû'baen, though Galbatorix might not allow them to be together. He asks if Eragon will come willingly, but Eragon states that he would sooner tear out his own heart. "Better to tear out my hearts," replies Murtagh, then he twirls Zar'roc with a wild war cry.
The battle begins. Thorn flies to climb above Saphira, hoping to immobilize her with a single bite at the base of her skull, but Saphira does not wait, striking Thorn on his left side with her tail. Thorn tumbles, unable to continue flying, but then Murtagh removes an object imbued with energy and swiftly repairs Thorn's wound. Eragon wonders how he did it. Arya explains and Eragon says that they should have thought of that. Now completely healed, Thorn begins flying towards Saphira again and sends a jet of a red fire forth. The conflict continues and Saphira is wounded. Eragon decides that it would be okay to mend her wing, as Murtagh will not use magic to slay, since his orders are to capture. He realizes that this means that he can use any other spell he wishes. He begins to heal Saphira's wing, but Arya tells him to let her and the other elves do it, as it might throw Murtagh off-guard. Eragon agrees and she completes the spell, but urges Eragon & Saphira to guard themselves better if they can. The battle continues, with Eragon and Murtagh eventually engaging in swordplay. Eragon stabs at Murtagh's right shoulder, hoping to deal a serious enough blow to end the fight, only to be shocked when Murtagh raises his shield to block the falchion. He then strikes back, dealing Eragon an injury that reaches bone. In return, Eragon slices Murtagh across the cheek, telling him that he should have worn a helmet.
Eragon asks Arya if she and the other elves should attend to his wound and Arya agrees, thinking that it might catch Murtagh off-guard. Eragon realizes that he has to give her permission or else his wards would block the spell. Arya says that they need to have a talk about his wards, as there are more elegant solutions to his problem. Arya and the elves heal the wound, allowing Eragon and Saphira to make their move. Saphira seizes Thorn by the flanks and Eragon engages Murtagh in a mental struggle on the ground. With the combined power of the elves, Eragon overcomes Murtagh's mental resistance and then uses the spell "Letta!" to hold him in place. After a continued struggle, Murtagh's resistance vanishes. Eragon asks if they should take Murtagh and Thorn as prisoners. Saphira replies that she must fly. She releases Thorn and begins her flight, but then Eragon blacks out.
When Eragon awakes, he hears a mental shout from a great distance. It is Arya, telling him to end his spell, before they all pass into the void. Eragon feels the spell he used on Murtagh still draining his strength and brings it to an end. Saphira points out Murtagh and Thorn, who are winding their way up the Jiet River. How? wonders Eragon and Saphira explains that Murtagh healed Thorn again, then the two of them took off before Eragon regained consciousness. Murtagh's voice calls out, telling Eragon that he has not won and that when they next meet, he and Thorn shall be even stronger than now. Eragon wonders if they should try to capture Murtagh and Thorn, noting that he forgot about the energy in Brom's ring, Aren, and that even now they could still use it. He argues this possibility with Arya, but she notes that he is tired and they don't have the means to hold a rider and dragon. She also thinks that killing Murtagh and Thorn wouldn't be as easy as Eragon assumes.
Eragon and Saphira review the battle, Eragon complimenting Saphira for outflying Thorn at nearly every turn. He wonders, though, when they will be able to defeat their enemies on their own. He then notices horsemen that have gathered around him and Saphira and wonders what they are doing there. Saphira responds that they are there to protect them and Eragon asks why they haven't killed the soldiers yet. He calls out to Arya, asking her what happened, and she explains that "Du Vrangr Gata has heard nothing but gibberish from Orrin's spellcasters." Just then, they hear King Orrin shouting "We have him!" They rush over to him and find a single soldier, laughing madly, approaching from 40 feet away. The man continues his approach despite having been wounded in a number of places and blood gashing from his ribs. Orrin asks if he is some sort of monster, kin of the Ra'zac perhaps. The soldier replies "I am a man" and when Orrin challenges this, he continues that nothing can pain him because Galbatorix used magic to make him and the other soldiers impervious to pain. "You cannot even surrender to us, for we take no prisoners." The soldier resumes his approach and Orrin orders his archers to shoot him. They do, but the soldier still does not die, resorting to a crawl. Swearing violently, King Orrin asks for an ax from the nearest Urgal, then limps over to the soldier and chops off his head, which puts an end to his giggling and his life.
Orrin orders the man's head mounted on a pole and tells everyone to spread the word that the soldiers can be killed, either by chopping off their heads or otherwise goring them in the face. Eragon asks if the soldiers were all like that and Garzhvog says that they were, as if the gods had turned against them. Eragon replies that that is nonsense, it is merely a spell of Galbatorix's. To himself, he is unsettled and also worries that the idea of the men without pain will demoralize the Varden's soldiers. The battle is completed and Eragon offers to tend to King Orrin's wounds, but Orrin replies that he has his own physicians. Nasuada asks Orrin what went wrong, and Orrin gives a grisly account of how his men dealt what they thought were deathblows, only for the soldiers to rise back up, at which point his men panicked and broke formation, only for the madness to then spread once the Urgals and Nasuada's warriors reached them. "How could Galbatorix have done this?" asks Nasuada and Arya explains that it would only require a simple spell for Galbatorix to block most, but not all, of a person's ability to feel pain. In all, nearly a thousand of Orrin and the Vardens' soldiers were lost, against the Empire's force of 300. Nasuada agrees that it was a grievous defeat.
She turns to Eragon and Saphira and asks how it went with them. After listening to their account, she is heartened, as she had simply hoped that Eragon and Saphira would be able to escape Murtagh and Thorn. Instead, Eragon and Saphira proved that with enough spellcasters, they might have a chance at defeating Murtagh and Thorn. Eragon asks if she wishes to capture them and she replies that she wishes a great many things. She asks after Arya's spellweavers and Arya says that some fainted, but they all recovered. Nasuada asks Eragon to inform Trianna that she wants her to find a way to replicate Galbatorix's spell, then tells him that although Roran begged to be included in the fighting, she did not allow it on account of his impending marriage. She asks Eragon to let her know if Roran and Katrina still intend for the wedding to be held today, as it would hearten the Varden.
Eragon pays a visit to the elves that fainted, then informs Trianna of Nasuada's request. He then visits Roran and Katrina. Katrina asks if they are injured. When Eragon says that they were, but aren't any longer, she expresses how strange that is, as she never really believed the tales of magic that she heard in Carvahall. Eragon asks if they still wish to marry that day, though tomorrow might be considered more seemly. "No," says Roran, since the Empire could strike again at any moment. Katrina notes that the food has been cooked and everything is ready. She strokes Roran's beard and he smiles at her in return and places his arm around her. Eragon thinks that he doesn't understand half what goes on between them and asks when the wedding will be, to which Roran replies "In an hour."