Murtagh sure is a handy guy. Just when things look bleak, his arrows come sailing in from out of nowhere. Just ask the prison guards at Gil'ead, or the Ra'zac, or even Durza the Shade. The beneficiary of these well-placed arrows is, each time, our hero Eragon.
Murtagh claims to be following Eragon out of curiosity, and because he's fleeing his own past himself. And their pairing makes sense. Certainly, the two have a lot in common—from their equal sword fighting abilities, to their broken home life, right down to their matching back scars. Surely, though, there's more to Murtagh than just being Eragon's sidekick.
After he joins up with Eragon and Saphira, Murtagh provides us with a glimpse of what it means not to belong to anything. In a lot of ways, it's freeing, as Murtagh points out: "I do not belong to the Varden or the Empire. Nor do I own allegiance to any man but myself" (38.7). In that way, Murtagh presents a case study of Eragon's very possible future. Will Eragon join the Varden? Will he stay independent? We see Eragon struggle with a lack of direction after both Garrow and Brom die. Is Murtagh someone Eragon would like to be?
Let's see if we can't answer that question: Mmm…no. Although Eragon is not sure about joining up with one side or the other in this epic conflict, he gets a first-hand glimpse at what being detached from any meaningful institution can do to a person.
Torkenbrand the slaver gets an even closer look, since he's the one who gets his head cut off by Murtagh after a battle. Now, we're not going to shed any great tears for the death of a person who sells slaves. At the same time, though, come on. The guy was stunned, and defenseless. Murtagh's defense? "You must be willing to protect yourself and what you cherish, no matter what the cost" (47.38). We don't know about you, but all we hear is "Me, me, me, me." Eragon sure is disgusted with him. Although they eventually become friends, Murtagh allows Eragon to peek down a potential future path of isolation and ruthlessness, and luckily steer himself clear.
Here's a question: do we trust Murtagh? We're hoping that the rest of the Inheritance cycle answers that question for us, but for now, it's important to keep an eye on him. Eragon sure does:
[H]e was unsure if he wanted Murtagh to stay. I like him, Eragon confessed to himself, but I'm no longer certain if that's a good thing. (48.21)
Our characters don't quite trust him fully, so should we? After all, why would he be siding with the group who killed his father? Hasn't he ever seen The Princess Bride?
We're just sayin'.