I am tired, she admitted, but not hungry. Not yet. Once I have rested, then I will need to eat. Right now, I do not think I could stomach so much as a rabbit…. The earth is unsteady beneath me; I feel as if I am still flying.
If they had not been apart for so long, Eragon might have reproached her for being reckless, but as it was, he was touched and grateful that she had pushed herself. Thank you, he said. I would have hated to wait another day for us to be together again.
As would have I. She closed her eyes and pressed her head against his hands as he continued to scratch behind her jaw. Besides, I could hardly be late for the coronation, now could I? Who did the clanmeet—
Before she could finish the question, Eragon sent her an image of Orik.
Ah, she sighed, her satisfaction flowing through him. He will make a fine king.
I hope so.
Is the star sapphire ready for me to mend?
If the dwarves have not already finished piecing it together, I’m sure they will have by tomorrow.
That is good. Cracking open an eyelid, she fixed him with her piercing gaze. Nasuada told me of what Az Sweldn rak Anhûin attempted. Always you get into trouble when I am not with you.
His smile widened. And when you are?
I eat the trouble before it eats you.
So you say. What about when the Urgals ambushed us by Gil’ead and took me captive?
A plume of smoke escaped from between Saphira’s fangs. That does not count. I was smaller then, and not as experienced. It would not happen now. And you are not as helpless as you once were.
I’ve never been helpless, he protested. I just have powerful enemies.
For some reason, Saphira found his last statement enormously amusing; she started laughing deep within her chest, and soon Eragon was laughing as well. Neither of them was able to stop until Eragon was lying on his back, gasping for air, and Saphira was struggling to contain the darts of flame that kept shooting out of her nostrils. Then Saphira made a sound Eragon had never heard before, a strange jumping growl, and he noticed the oddest feeling through their connection.
Saphira made the sound again, then shook her head, as if trying to rid herself of a swarm of flies. Oh dear, she said. I seem to have the hiccups.
Eragon’s mouth dropped open. He held that pose for a moment, then he doubled over, laughing so hard, tears streamed down his face. Every time he was about to recover, Saphira would hiccup, bobbing her head forward like a stork, and he would go off into convulsions again. At last he plugged his ears with his fingers and stared at the ceiling and recited the true names of every metal and stone he could remember.
When he finished, he took a deep breath and stood.
Better? Saphira asked. Her shoulders shook as another hiccup racked her.
Eragon bit his tongue. Better…. Come on, let’s go to Tronjheim. You should have some water. That might help. And then you should sleep.
Cannot you cure hiccups with a spell?
Maybe. Probably. But neither Brom nor Oromis taught me how. Saphira grunted her understanding, and a hiccup followed an instant later. Biting his tongue even harder, Eragon stared at the tips of his boots. Shall we?
Saphira extended her right foreleg in invitation. Eragon eagerly climbed up onto her back and settled into the saddle at the base of her neck.
Together, they continued through the tunnel toward Tronjheim, both of them happy, and both of them sharing in each other’s happiness.
The Drums of Derva sounded, summoning the dwarves of Tronjheim to witness the coronation of their new king.
“Normally,” Orik had told Eragon the previous night, “when the clanmeet elects a king or queen, the knurla begins their rule at once, but we do not hold the coronation for at least three months, so that all who wish to attend the ceremony may have time to place their affairs in order and to travel to Farthen Dûr from even the most distant parts of our realm. It is not often we crown a monarch, so when we do, it is our custom to make much of the event, with weeks of feasting and song, and with games of wit and strength and contests of skill at forging, carving, and other forms of art…. How ever, these are hardly normal times.”
Eragon stood next to Saphira just outside the central chamber of Tronjheim, listening to the pounding of the giant drums. On either side of the mile-long hall, hundreds of dwarves crowded the archways of each level, peering at Eragon and Saphira with dark gleaming eyes.
Saphira’s barbed tongue rasped against her scales as she licked her chops, which she had been doing ever since she finished devouring five full-grown sheep earlier that morning. Then she lifted her left foreleg and rubbed her muzzle against it. The smell of burnt wool clung to her.
Stop fidgeting, said Eragon. They’re looking at us.
A soft growl emanated from Saphira. I can’t help it. I have wool stuck between my teeth. Now I remember why I hate eating sheep. Horrible, fluffy things that give me hair balls and indigestion.
I’ll help you clean your teeth when we are finished here. Just hold still until then.
Did Blödhgarm pack any fireweed in the saddlebags? That would settle your stomach.
I don’t know.
Mmm. Eragon thought for a moment. If not, I’ll ask Orik if the dwarves have any stored in Tronjheim. We ought to—
He cut himself off as the final note from the drums faded into silence. The crowd shifted, and he heard the soft rustle of clothes and the occasional phrase of murmured Dwarvish.
A fanfare of dozens of trumpets rang forth, filling the city-mountain with its rousing call, and somewhere a choir of dwarves began to chant. The music made Eragon’s scalp tingle and prickle and his blood flow faster, as if he were about to embark upon a hunt. Saphira whipped her tail from side to side, and he knew she felt the same.
Here we go, he thought.
As one, he and Saphira advanced into the central chamber of the city-mountain and took their place among the ring of clan chiefs, guild leaders, and other notables who girded the vast, towering room. In the center of the chamber rested the reconstructed star sapphire, encased within a framework of wooden scaffolding. An hour before the coronation, Skeg had sent a message to Eragon and Saphira, telling them that he and his team of artisans had just finished fitting together the last fragments of the gem and that Isidar Mithrim was ready for Saphira to make whole once more.
The black granite throne of the dwarves had been carried from its customary resting place underneath Tronjheim and placed upon a raised dais next to the star sapphire, facing the eastern branch of the four main hallways that divided Tronjheim, east because it was the direction of the rising sun and that symbolized the dawning of a new age. Thousands of dwarf warriors clad in burnished mail armor stood at attention in two large blocks before the throne, as well as in double rows along either side of the eastern hallway all the way to Tronjheim’s eastern gate, a mile away. Many of the warriors carried spears mounted with pennants that bore curious designs. Hvedra, Orik’s wife, stood at the forefront of the congregation; after the clanmeet had banished Grimstborith Vermûnd, Orik had sent for her in anticipation of becoming king. She had arrived in Tronjheim only that morning.
For half an hour, the trumpets played and the unseen choir sang as, step by deliberate step, Orik walked from the eastern gate to the center of Tronjheim. His beard was brushed and curled, and he wore buskins of the finest polished leather with silver spurs mounted upon the heels, gray wool leggings, a shirt of purple silk that shimmered in the lantern light, and, over his shirt, a mail hauberk, each link of which was wrought of pure white gold. A long erminetrimmed cloak embroidered with the insignia of Dûrgrimst Ingeitum flowed over Orik’s shoulders and onto the floor behind him. Volund, the war hammer that Korgan, first king of the dwarves, had forged, hung at Orik’s waist from a wide, ruby-studded belt. Because of his lavish raiment and his magnificent armor, Orik seemed to glow from within; to look at him dazzled Eragon’s eyes.
nbsp; Twelve dwarf children followed Orik, six male and six female, or so Eragon assumed based upon the cut of their hair. The children were garbed in tunics of red and brown and gold, and they each carried in their cupped hands a polished orb six inches across, every orb a different species of stone.
As Orik entered the center of the city-mountain, the chamber dimmed and a pattern of dappled shadows appeared on everything within. Confused, Eragon glanced upward and was astonished to behold pink rose petals drifting downward from the top of Tronjheim. Like soft, thick snowflakes, the velvety petals settled upon the heads and shoulders of those in attendance, and also upon the floor, suffusing the air with their sweet fragrance.
The trumpets and the choir fell silent as Orik knelt on one knee before the black throne and bowed his head. Behind him, the twelve children stopped and stood motionless.
Eragon placed his hand on Saphira’s warm side, sharing his concern and excitement with her. He had no idea what would happen next, for Orik had refused to describe the ceremony past that point.
Then Gannel, clan chief of Dûrgrimst Quan, stepped forward, breaking the ring of people around the chamber, and walked to stand on the right-hand side of the throne. The heavy-shouldered dwarf was appareled in sumptuous red robes, the borders of which gleamed with runes outlined with metal thread. In one hand, Gannel bore a tall staff with a clear, pointed crystal mounted on the top.
Lifting the staff over his head with both hands, Gannel brought it down upon the stone floor with a resounding crack. “Hwatum il skilfz gerdûmn!” he exclaimed. He continued to speak in the tongue of the dwarves for some minutes, and Eragon listened without comprehending, for his translator was not with him. But then the tenor of Gannel’s voice shifted, and Eragon recognized his words as belonging to the ancient language, and he realized Gannel was weaving a spell, although it was a spell unlike any Eragon was familiar with. Instead of directing the incantation at an object or an element of the world around them, the priest said, in the language of mystery and power: “Gûntera, creator of the heavens and the earth and the boundless sea, hear now the cry of your faithful servant! We thank you for your magnanimity. Our race flourishes. This and every year, we have offered to you the finest rams of our flocks and also flagons of spiced mead and a portion of our harvests of fruits and vegetables and grain. Your temples are the richest in the land, and none may hope to compete with the glory that is yours. O mighty Gûntera, king of the gods, hear now mine plea and grant me this request: time is for us to name a mortal ruler of our earthly affairs. Will you deign to bestow your blessing upon Orik, Thrifk’s son, and to crown him in the tradition of his predecessors?”
At first Eragon thought Gannel’s request would go unanswered, for he felt no surge of magic from the dwarf when he finished speaking. However, Saphira nudged him then and said, Look.
Eragon followed her gaze and, thirty feet above, saw a disturbance among the tumbling petals: a gap, a void where the petals would not fall, as if an invisible object occupied the space. The disturbance spread, extending all the way to the floor, and the void outlined by the petals assumed the shape of a creature with arms and legs like a dwarf or a man or an elf or an Urgal, but of different proportions than any race Eragon had knowledge of; the head was nearly the width of the shoulders, the massive arms hung below the knees, and while the torso was bulky, the legs were short and crooked.
Thin, needle-sharp rays of watery light radiated outward from the shape, and there appeared the nebulous image of a gigantic, shaggy-haired male figure of the form the petals had traced. The god, if god he was, wore nothing but a knotted loincloth. His face was dark and heavy and seemed to contain equal amounts of cruelty and kindness, as if he might veer between the extremes of both without warning.
As he noticed those details, Eragon also became aware of the presence of a strange, far-reaching consciousness within the chamber, a consciousness of unreadable thoughts and unfathomable depths, a consciousness that flashed and growled and billowed in unexpected directions, like a summer thunderstorm. Eragon quickly sequestered his mind from the touch of the other. His skin prickled, and a cold shiver ran down him. He did not know what he had felt, but fear gripped him, and he looked at Saphira for comfort. She was staring at the figure, her blue cat eyes sparkling with unusual intensity.
With a single motion, the dwarves sank to their knees.
The god spoke then, and his voice sounded like the grinding of boulders and the sweep of the wind over barren mountain peaks and the slap of waves against a stony shore. He spoke in Dwarvish, and though Eragon knew not what was said, he shrank from the power of the god’s speech. Three times the god questioned Orik, and three times Orik replied, his own voice faint in comparison. Apparently pleased with Orik’s answers, the apparition extended his glowing arms and placed his forefingers on either side of Orik’s bare head.
The air between the god’s fingers rippled, and upon Orik’s brow materialized the gem-encrusted helm of gold that Hrothgar had worn. The god slapped his belly and uttered a booming chuckle and then faded into oblivion. The rose petals resumed their fall uninterrupted.
“Ûn qroth Gûntera!” Gannel proclaimed. Loud and brassy, the trumpets blared.
Rising from his knee, Orik ascended the dais, turned to face the assembly, and then he sank into the hard black throne.
“Nal, Grimstnzborith Orik!” the dwarves shouted, and struck their shields with their axes and their spears and stamped the floor with their feet. “Nal, Grimstnzborith Orik! Nal, Grimstnzborith Orik!”
“All hail King Orik!” cried Eragon. Arching her neck, Saphira roared her tribute and released a jet of flame over the heads of the dwarves, incinerating a swath of rose petals. Eragon’s eyes watered as a blast of heat washed over him.
Then Gannel knelt before Orik and spoke some more in Dwarvish. When he finished, Orik touched him upon the crown of his head, and then Gannel returned to his place at the edge of the chamber. Nado approached the throne and said many of the same things, and after him, so did Manndrâth and Hadfala and all the other clan chiefs, with the sole exception of Grimstborith Vermûnd, who had been banned from the coronation.
They must be pledging themselves to Orik’s service, Eragon said to Saphira.
Did not they already give him their word?
Aye, but not in public. Eragon watched Thordris walk toward the throne before saying, Saphira, what do you think we just saw? Could that really have been Gûntera, or was it an illusion? His mind seemed real enough, and I do not know how one might fake that, but …
It may have been an illusion, she said. The dwarves’ gods have never helped them upon the field of battle, nor in any other endeavor I am aware of. Nor do I believe that a true god would come running at Gannel’s summons like a trained hound. I would not, and should not a god be greater than a dragon? …But then, there are many inexplicable things in Alagaësia. It is possible we have seen a shade from a long-forgotten age, a pale remnant of what once was that continues to haunt the land, longing for the return of its power. Who can know for sure?
Once the final clan chief had presented himself to Orik, the guild leaders did the same, and then Orik gestured toward Eragon. With a slow, measured pace, Eragon walked forward between the rows of dwarf warriors until he reached the base of the throne, where he knelt and, as a member of Dûrgrimst Ingeitum, acknowledged Orik as his king and swore to serve and protect him. Then, acting as Nasuada’s emissary, Eragon congratulated Orik on behalf of Nasuada and the Varden and promised him the Varden’s friendship.
Others went to speak with Orik as Eragon withdrew, a seemingly endless train of dwarves eager to demonstrate their loyalty to their new king.
The procession continued for hours, and then the gift giving began. Each of the dwarves brought Orik an offering from their clan or their guild: a goblet of gold filled to the brim with rubies and diamonds, a corselet of enchanted mail that no blade could pierce, a tapestry twenty feet long woven of the soft wool the dwarves combed f
rom the beards of the Feldûnost goats, a tablet of agate inscribed with the names of every one of Orik’s ancestors, a curved dagger ground from the tooth of a dragon, and many other treasures. In exchange, Orik presented the dwarves with rings as tokens of his gratitude.
Eragon and Saphira were the last to go before Orik. Once again kneeling at the base of the dais, Eragon drew from his tunic the gold armband he had begged from the dwarves the previous night. He held it up toward Orik, saying, “Here is my gift, King Orik. I did not make the armlet, but I have set on it spells to protect you. So long as you wear it, you need fear no poison. If an assassin tries to hit or stab you or throw any kind of object at you, the weapon will miss. The band will even shield you from most hostile magic. And it has other properties as well, which you may find of use if your life is in danger.”
Inclining his head, Orik accepted the band from Eragon and said, “Your gift is most appreciated, Eragon Shadeslayer.” In full view of everyone, Orik slid the band onto his left arm.
Saphira spoke next, projecting her thoughts to everyone who was watching: My gift is this, Orik. She walked past the throne, her claws clacking against the floor, and reared up and placed her forefeet upon the edge of the scaffolding around the star sapphire. The stout wood beams creaked under her weight, but held. Minutes passed and nothing happened, but Saphira remained where she was, gazing at the huge gemstone.
The dwarves watched her, never blinking, hardly breathing.
Are you sure you can do this? Eragon asked, reluctant to break her concentration.
I don’t know. The few times I used magic before, I didn’t pause to consider whether I was casting a spell or not. I just willed the world to change, and it did. It was not a deliberate process…. I suppose I will have to wait until the moment feels right for me to mend Isidar Mithrim.
Let me help. Let me work a spell through you.
No, little one. This is my task, not yours.