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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,
For he was Noble, Strong, and Wise.
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.