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Eldest: Chapter 7


“Wake, Knurlhiem! You cannot sleep now. We are needed at the gate—they won’t start without us.”

Eragon forced his eyes open, conscious of an aching head and sore body. He was lying on a cold stone table. “What?” He grimaced at the sick taste on his tongue.

Orik tugged on his brown beard. “Ajihad’s procession. We must be present for it!”

“No, what did you call me?” They were still in the banquet hall, but it was empty except for him, Orik, and Saphira, who lay on her side between two tables. She stirred and lifted her head, looking around with bleary eyes.

“Stonehead! I called you Stonehead because I’ve been trying to wake you for almost an hour.”

Eragon pushed himself upright and slid off the table. Flashes of memory from the night before jumped through his mind. Saphira, how are you? he asked, stumbling to her.

She swiveled her head, running her crimson tongue in and out over her teeth, like a cat that ate something unpleasant. Whole … I think. My left wing feels a bit strange; I think it’s the one I landed on. And my head is filled with a thousand hot arrows.

“Was anyone hurt when she fell?” asked Eragon, concerned.

A hearty chuckle exploded from the dwarf’s thick chest. “Only those who dropped off their seats from laughing so hard. A dragon getting drunk and bowing at that! I’m sure lays will be sung about it for decades.” Saphira shuffled her wings and looked away primly. “We thought it best to leave you here, since we couldn’t move you, Saphira. It upset the head cook terribly—he feared you would drink more of his best stock than the four barrels you already did.”

And you chastised me once for drinking! If I consumed four barrels, it would kill me!

That’s why you’re not a dragon.

Orik thrust a bundle of clothes into Eragon’s arms. “Here, put these on. They are more appropriate for a funeral than your own attire. But hurry, we have little time.” Eragon struggled into the items—a billowy white shirt with ties at the cuffs, a red vest decorated with gold braiding and embroidery, dark pants, shiny black boots that clacked on the floor, and a swirling cape that fastened under his throat with a studded brooch. In place of the usual plain leather band, Zar’roc was fastened to an ornate belt.

Eragon splashed his face with water and tried to arrange his hair neatly. Then Orik rushed him and Saphira out of the hall and toward Tronjheim’s south gate. “We must start from there,” he explained, moving with surprising speed on his stocky legs, “because that is where the procession with Ajihad’s body stopped three days ago. His journey to the grave cannot be interrupted, or else his spirit will find no rest.”

An odd custom, remarked Saphira.

Eragon agreed, noting a slight unsteadiness in her gait. In Carvahall, people were usually buried on their farm, or if they lived in the village, in a small graveyard. The only rituals that accompanied the process were lines recited from certain ballads and a death feast held afterward for relatives and friends. Can you make it through the whole funeral? he asked as Saphira staggered again.

She grimaced briefly. That and Nasuada’s appointment, but then I’ll need to sleep. A pox on all mead!

Returning to his conversation with Orik, Eragon asked, “Where will Ajihad be buried?”

Orik slowed and glanced at Eragon with caution. “That has been a matter of contention among the clans. When a dwarf dies, we believe he must be sealed in stone or else he will never join his ancestors.… It is complex and I cannot say more to an outsider … but we go to great lengths to assure such a burial. Shame falls on a family or clan if they allow any of their own to lie in a lesser element.

“Under Farthen Dûr exists a chamber that is the home of all knurlan, all dwarves, who have died here. It is there Ajihad will be taken. He cannot be entombed with us, as he is human, but a hallowed alcove has been set aside for him. There the Varden may visit him without disturbing our sacred grottos, and Ajihad will receive the respect he is due.”

“Your king has done much for the Varden,” commented Eragon.

“Some think too much.”

Before the thick gate—drawn up on its hidden chains to reveal faint daylight drifting into Farthen Dûr—they found a carefully arranged column. Ajihad lay at the front, cold and pale on a white marble bier borne by six men in black armor. Upon his head was a helm strewn with precious stones. His hands were clasped beneath his collarbone, over the ivory hilt of his bare sword, which extended from underneath the shield covering his chest and legs. Silver mail, like circlets of moonbeams, weighed down his limbs and fell onto the bier.

Close behind the body stood Nasuada—grave, sable-cloaked, and strong in stature, though tears adorned her countenance. To the side was Hrothgar in dark robes; then Arya; the Council of Elders, all with suitably remorseful expressions; and finally a stream of mourners that extended a mile from Tronjheim.

Every door and archway of the four-story-high hall that led to the central chamber of Tronjheim, half a mile away, was thrown open and crowded with humans and dwarves alike. Between the gray bands of faces, the long tapestries swayed as they were brushed with hundreds of sighs and whispers when Saphira and Eragon came into view.

Jörmundur beckoned for them to join him. Trying not to disturb the formation, Eragon and Saphira picked through the column to the space by his side, earning a disapproving glare from Sabrae. Orik went to stand behind Hrothgar.

Together they waited, though for what, Eragon knew not.

All the lanterns were shuttered halfway so that a cool twilight suffused the air, lending an ethereal feel to the event. No one seemed to move or breathe: for a brief moment, Eragon fancied that they were all statues frozen for eternity. A single plume of incense drifted from the bier, winding toward the hazy ceiling as it spread the scent of cedar and juniper. It was the only motion in the hall, a whiplash line undulating sinuously from side to side.

Deep in Tronjheim, a drum gonged. Boom. The sonorous bass note resonated through their bones, vibrating the city-mountain and causing it to echo like a great stone bell.

They stepped forward.

Boom. On the second note, another, lower drum melded with the first, each beat rolling inexorably through the hall. The force of the sound propelled them along at a majestic pace. It gave each step significance, a purpose and gravity suited to the occasion. No thought could exist in the throbbing that surrounded them, only an upwelling of emotion that the drums expertly beguiled, summoning tears and bittersweet joy at the same time.


When the tunnel ended, Ajihad’s bearers paused between the onyx pillars before gliding into the central chamber. There Eragon saw the dwarves grow even more solemn upon beholding Isidar Mithrim.


They walked through a crystal graveyard. A circle of towering shards lay in the center of the great chamber, surrounding the inlaid hammer and pentacles. Many pieces were larger than Saphira. The rays of the star sapphire still shimmered in the fragments, and on some, petals of the carved rose were visible.


The bearers continued forward, between the countless razor edges. Then the procession turned and descended broad flights of stairs to the tunnels below. Through many caverns they marched, passing stone huts where dwarven children clutched their mothers and stared with wide eyes.


And with that final crescendo, they halted under ribbed stalactites that branched over a great catacomb lined with alcoves. In each alcove lay a tomb carved with a name and clan crest. Thousands—hundreds of thousands—were buried here. The only light came from sparsely placed red lanterns, pale in the shadows.

After a moment, the bearers strode to a small room annexed to the main chamber. In the center, on a raised platform, was a great crypt open to waiting darkness. On the top was carved in runes:

May all, Knurlan, Humans, and Elves,
This Man.
For he was Noble, Strong, and Wise.

Gûntera Arûna

When the mourners were gathered around, Ajihad was lowered into the crypt, and those who had known him personally were allowed to approach. Eragon and Saphira were fifth in line, behind Arya. As they ascended the marble steps to view the body, Eragon was gripped by an overwhelming sense of sorrow, his anguish compounded by the fact that he considered this as much Murtagh’s funeral as Ajihad’s.

Stopping alongside the tomb, Eragon gazed down at Ajihad. He appeared far more calm and tranquil than he ever did in life, as if death had recognized his greatness and honored him by removing all traces of his worldly cares. Eragon had known Ajihad only a short while, but in that time he had come to respect him both as a person and for what he represented: freedom from tyranny. Also, Ajihad was the first person to grant safe haven to Eragon and Saphira since they left Palancar Valley.

Stricken, Eragon tried to think of the greatest praise he could give. In the end, he whispered past the lump in his throat, “You will be remembered, Ajihad. I swear it. Rest easy knowing that Nasuada shall continue your work and the Empire will be overthrown because of what you accomplished.” Conscious of Saphira’s touch on his arm, Eragon stepped off the platform with her and allowed Jörmundur to take his place.

When at last everyone had paid their respects, Nasuada bowed over Ajihad and touched her father’s hand, holding it with gentle urgency. Uttering a pained groan, she began to sing in a strange, wailing language, filling the cavern with her lamentations.

Then came twelve dwarves, who slid a marble slab over Ajihad’s upturned face. And he was no more.


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