Page 17

 Christopher Paolini

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Even Saphira took a sip of mead, and finding that she liked it, the dwarves rolled out a whole barrel for her. Delicately lowering her mighty jaws through the cask’s open end, she drained it with three long draughts, then tilted her head toward the ceiling and belched a giant tongue of flame. It took several minutes for Eragon to convince the dwarves that it was safe to approach her again, but once he did, they brought her another barrel—overriding the cook’s protests—and watched with amazement as she emptied it as well.
As Saphira became increasingly inebriated, her emotions and thoughts washed through Eragon with more and more force. It became difficult for him to rely upon the input of his own senses: her vision began to slip over his own, blurring movement and changing colors. Even the odors he smelled shifted at times, becoming sharper, more pungent.
The dwarves began to sing together. Weaving as she stood, Saphira hummed along, punctuating each line with a roar. Eragon opened his mouth to join in and was shocked when, instead of words, out came the snarling rasp of a dragon’s voice.That, he thought, shaking his head,is going too far. . . . Or am I just drunk? He decided it did not matter and proceeded to sing boisterously, dragon’s voice or not.
Dwarves continued to stream into the hall as word of Isidar Mithrim spread. Hundreds soon packed the tables, with a thick ring around Eragon and Saphira. Orik called in musicians who arranged themselves in a corner, where they pulled slipcovers of green velvet off their instruments. Soon harps, lutes, and silver flutes floated their gilded melodies over the throng.
Many hours passed before the noise and excitement began to calm. When it did, Orik once more climbed onto the table. He stood there, legs spread wide for balance, tankard in hand, iron-bound cap awry, and cried, “Hear, hear! At last we have celebrated as is proper. The Urgals are gone, the Shade is dead, and we have won!” The dwarves all pounded their tables in approval. It was a good speech—short and to the point. But Orik was not finished. “To Eragon and Saphira!” he roared, lifting the tankard. This too was well received.
Eragon stood and bowed, which brought more cheers. Beside him, Saphira reared and swung a foreleg across her chest, attempting to duplicate his move. She tottered, and the dwarves, realizing their danger, scrambled away from her. They were barely in time. With a loud whoosh, Saphira fell backward, landing flat on a banquet table.
Pain shot through Eragon’s back and he collapsed insensate by her tail.
“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 chastisedmeonce 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.