“Are you ready, Prince Jameson?”
No, Dawkin thought. “Yes,” he answered.
The coachman gave the reins a quick snap, ushering the four horses forward. They clopped their way over the cobblestones of the main bailey, with the funeral carriage in tow.
The back end of his father’s open casket shuddered. The body within, of a fallen king adorned with garlands and flowers, laid undisturbed. At peace.
Willelm nudged his nose into Dawkin’s back. Dawkin looked over his shoulder to find his father’s prized stallion outfitted with an assortment of open trappings, all in the royal Saliswater colors of gold and blue: decorative breeching, breast collar, bridles and reins. Beneath it all, through gaps in the bards, Willelm’s coat shone as healthy sheen, as the attendants had washed and groomed him only hours before.
“Father would shit himself to see you decorated like a maiden’s doll.”
The stallion pursed his lips before shaking his head and snorting.
“Very well. Let us say our good-byes.”
Dawkin took Willelm by the reins to trudge on after his father. The steady beat of four hooves was soon joined by set upon set of others, as Everitt and a parade of knights, both Marlish and Ibian, followed.
The caravan went through the castle with little more sound than those of their horses. From the windows, galleries and balconies above, members of Court watched. The soldiers and veterans clenched their right hands into fists and crossed them over their hearts, in tribute to the warrior they had known. Some bowed their heads as the funeral carriage passed. Most just looked on at the procession.
The Princess and her family were to attend the march after the military line had crossed the barbican and left the castle grounds. Dawkin had spotted their Ibian coach earlier that morning, as it was being polished and oiled for the ceremony. The same carriage had been used to ferry the Ibian royals to every service held for the late Audemar. King Felix had attended the private funeral service within the castle chapel but not the public one at Mar-by-the-Sea Cathedral. Nor had he shown at the initial church viewing nor the wake that preceded the funerals, sending instead his nephew to the former and his wife to the latter in his stead. Princess Ermesinda had attended one of the ceremonies as had Princess Nataliya, although which ones Dawkin could not say. However, he did recall seeing Princess Taresa at each and every one of the gatherings.
As Dawkin approached the gate, he glanced up to his left to spot Taresa, her face framed by lengths of gold lace that extended down to her blue dress, in memory of the loss that Saliswater had endured. Others in the Ibian Court displayed their own touches in honor of the Marlish tradition. Dawkin saw a gold shoulder sash here, a blue doublet there. Yet none had gone through as much care and detail as Taresa. At every service she attended, her outfit varied. At the viewing, her garb had been a light blue dress with trim of handspun gold thread. Her outfit at the wake was of gold silk while at the funeral services, both of which she visited, she wore a simple long shirt and skirt with a shawl, all dark blue.
Taresa had not spoken a word to Dawkin at any of the ceremonies. In fact, Dawkin had not seen her speak to anyone. On a few occasions, her mother offered her a word, at which point she tilted her head and listened, then nodded. Her silence persisted though, as was customary in Ibia for seven days and seven nights following the death of a dear relative or close friend.
Dawkin considered no one in the visiting Court to be either, as the lot of them observed no vows of silence, save during prayers. They continued on with their dialogues and banter, the trajectories of their thoughts unaffected by grief, to the chagrin of many Marlish. Among the aristocratic sheep of Ibia, Taresa stood apart as dignified and respectful.
Willelm nudged Dawkin again. Dawkin set his sights ahead once more, his gander at the Princess too brief to judge her state. He could have sworn he saw tears in her eyes, despite the distance between them, yet he could not say for certain. Perhaps she had not shed any at all, and it had been a vision prompted by Dawkin’s own grief, transposed onto another.
From the long shadow of the guardhouse, Dawkin emerged, squinting as the afternoon sun found him again. Ahead, through the gate of the barbican, he saw the expanse of common folk that lined the sides of the road. At such a sight, his gait slowed.
By Mar, I do not want to do this. I should be alone with my father right now, not on display with his corpse for all to see.
Willelm, unperturbed by the audience, kept up his pace to pull Dawkin forward.
“You always knew when to trot ahead, even when we Saliswaters hesitated,” Dawkin admitted to the stallion, albeit softly so no one else could hear. “You served my father well in war and in peace. I will never forget that.”
The horse nodded once, sending a fly that had landed on his nose buzzing away. Dawkin, though, went on to think that nod was an affirmation of his words. He tightened his grip on Willelm’s reins - as if doing so gave him the support he needed.
The Prince looked ahead for the majority of the processional route. He knew to not bow his head low for too long, for doing so would reflect a tad too much melancholy, an attribute that in the past due to Ely’s behavior had earned Prince Jameson the moniker of Prince Fool. Yet, he also realized that lifting his head too high would show too much bravado and may be construed as disrespect for the dead. So many manners, so much etiquette to consider, Dawkin contemplated. As a prince I lived with but a fraction of these disciplines. As a king, I will have to practice them all. Daily. For the remainder of my life.
The funeral carriage clunked over a pothole in the road. The casket lifted from the bed of the wagon before plopping down, the king within unsettled.
You are free now, Father. From all of this. Unceremoniously, at the hands of an assassin. Yet, still, you are free.
The road ahead narrowed and bent slightly to the right, away from the Curved Wharf. Dawkin glanced up to the street that snaked through Merchants Row, past the monastery to the hill that overlooked the city, where Mar-by-the-Sea kept watch over its parishioners.
Alas, we meet again, Dawkin thought with a sigh. He could never understand why royals such as his father had to endure not one but two trips to the Cathedral. He understood the need for the public viewing, along with the vigil during the wake and the public funeral. To cart his father’s body back to the castle though for a private service? Yes, it was more intimate, away from the eyes and scrutiny of the kingdom. No doubt, it had allowed his father a moment of privacy and peace when their mother had died. Perhaps, for all its inconvenience, it was worth it. In the last procession, though, Dawkin felt it was not.
The funeral carriage creaked as the road inclined to twist this way and that up the hill. Despite the slope, the crowd on both sides had not thinned. In fact, due to the narrowing of the street, it appeared to thicken, almost grow, as they ascended. The faces seemed more solemn too, even though the onlookers came from a more suitable part of the city. Dawkin spotted small hints of refinement among the throng. A sweater of fine-spun wool on a child. A velvet cape draped around the shoulders of a merchant’s wife. A silver ring on a maiden’s finger, perhaps a token from a suitor, no doubt imported from the continent. For all their material comforts, the assembly looked heartbroken, as if they truly mourned for their monarch. So sincere was their grief that Dawkin began to doubt his own visage.
Did any know him? Doubtful. Perchance a few met him, having petitioned for justice while he held court. That would not explain their grief, their steadfast allegiance even now.
What tales they must have heard of him?! The stories. The legends of him in battle. When he was away, the four of us would revel in such anecdotes. That made for the bulk of what we knew of him. It proved to be the cornerstone of our relationship. Even when absent, because of such stories, we loved him. So why should I be surprised that the masses adored and worshiped him for the same reasons?
A lone child, a girl of about six years, waved from the crowd. Her mother immediately swatted her hand down. Dawkin smirked. Thank you, he mouthed to the child. I needed that.
The carriage came to the final crest of the hill, where a line of Marlish soldiers held back the commoners as the street leveled. With Willelm, Dawkin trotted the last few feet of cobblestone before the road turned to crabgrass and dirt, leading to the edge of the Cathedral grounds.
From the top, the western fringes of Arcporte spread out below, bordered by the Wharf that separated land from sea. Cloudless and bright, the sky almost blended with the water beneath, which laid still, the usual winds having taken respite for the day of mourning. The illusion was further supported by the absence of sails in both the harbor and the ocean, for all the Marlish sailors had refrained from taking to the water. Even the Ibian Armada had lowered her grand sheets of canvas, so that every ship moored and docked laid unprepared and unmoving.
Is this a sign of what is to come, Father? Ships absent from our harbors? Ibians – all from Afari – mourning us? The end of the dynasty of Kin Saliswater? Of my brothers? Myself? Mar, I pray not.
Dawkin trailed after the carriage as it rounded the Cathedral to come to the cemetery on the other side. In its early days, the burial grounds were open to all, no matter rank or birth. Yet that was some time ago. For the past few centuries, the bishops - realizing that land for burials was becoming limited – restricted plots on the grounds to royalty, decreeing that the common folk bury their departed in the many cemeteries beyond the city walls.
The remnants of Arcporte’s early residents, therefore, laid on either side of Dawkin’s feet, under stones worn smooth by wind and rain. Etchings and inscriptions proved illegible, replaced on many stones by moss and lichens. Only when he passed the gate that divided the common graves from the regal ones was Dawkin finally able to recognize the names of longstanding families he had known his entire life. Anglisk. Angliskstal. Rodgmoorr. Noryxx. And finally, Saliswater.
The gravestones of Kin Saliswater were fewer in number than the other great families, as they had risen to power later in history. Nonetheless, they were there, crowned by monuments on par with others, each with the mark of their family: a four-pointed compass. Dawkin recalled a few great and great great uncles and aunts, along with the marker for his great grandfather, Aethelrik.
Dawkin halted. There she is.
The headstone for his mother, Ellenora, rested beneath a white peppercorn tree. Of polished white marble, it bore her name and bust, along with the dates of her life. Dawkin had seen it only a handful of times in his life, choosing instead to visit her statue in the Sovereign Gardens just as his brothers preferred. The stone always struck him as too plain and ordinary, having no personality or resemblance to the woman he knew through stories alone. At least the full-length statue on the castle grounds granted him some sense of the person she was. Here, though, a stone marked her legacy.
And beside her, another one stood. Freshly carved and inscribed. Before an open pit.
Those in his kin, who were along in years, gathered around the grave. It was custom in Marland for the elders of a kin to arrive at the plot first with the bishop, who then blessed the grave before the approach of the procession. Among the handful or so of faces, Dawkin recognized two. The first was a distant cousin he had not seen in some ten years, a man whose name he could not recall, who had aged much in that time. The second was his grandfather.
Artus, garbed in dark blue with cuffs of gold, crossed his hands over his waist, waiting. He watched as his son’s open casket was removed from the funeral carriage and placed at the foot of the grave. The servants withdrew as High Bishop Perceval closed in with a pitcher of saltwater and an aspergillum in hand. Dipping the golden rod into the pitcher, he withdrew and shook it at Audemar. Beads of saltwater landed upon his brow, the droplets catching the rays of the afternoon sun. As High Bishop Perceval anointed the entire body, he gave his wares to a Maiden of Mar before lowering his head to pray silently over the body.
In that moment, Artus beckoned Dawkin to join him at his side. Without saying a word, Dawkin took his place. He crossed his arms behind his back as knights and nobles, royals and bishops, joined the grieving flock.
The last to come were the foreign contingent in the Ibian carriage Dawkin had glimpsed in the bailey, accompanied by the Realeza. King Felix emerged first, planting his feet on the ground before offering a hand to his wife. Ermesinda and Nataliya scurried to exit next, with the former able to leave first as her sister contorted her face in frustration. Lastly, Taresa emerged, solemn, her head bent and her stride unhurriedly.
You should be next to me. You should be by my side.
Alas, she was not. She kept a respectable distance, behind her parents, due to her rank and because their kin had yet to be united. They remained across from Dawkin and his grandfather, with the grave between their families. An ominous sign, Dawkin thought.
“My King. My Prince.”
High Bishop Perceval inched up to them. He bowed to each. “Before we begin, I felt I should offer my condolences apart from the ceremony.” He looked to Artus. “My King –”
“My son, he was the King.”
“And a monarch he will remain. As you have all these years, even when he ascended. Your Majesty, all pleasantries aside, I grieve for your loss. Our loss.”
“Thank you, High Bishop. Audemar was always found of you. Your knowledge of horsemanship made for fine conversation, and your service to the Church and to Marland put him at ease. We will not soon forget how you served.”
Perceval bowed. “Your Highness,” he said to Dawkin. “I am so sorry.”
The High Bishop and he had never been particularly close. Chatting and polite conversation aside, Dawkin hardly knew anything of the man save his family history and his equine expertise. Yet the sincerity of his tone – as though they had shared a father – struck a chord with him. Dawkin choked back his tears. He lifted his head slightly, then nodded. “I thank you, High Bishop.”
Perceval bowed, withdrawing to his place beside the grave, where he continued to pray in silence.
Once the last of the Ibian royals had taken their place by the grave, High Bishop Perceval raised his head. He extended his hands to each side as he stood before the late king and the chasm, lifting his chin to the heavens.
“O, Great Mar, Creator of us all, we come to you today to bid farewell to one of your eternal kin, our great King, defender of the Church and our island, and now, one of your newest arrivals, who returns to you in heaven.”
Dawkin breathed deeply, fighting the urge to scoff. While Symon and Gerry were pious, he and Ely remained skeptical of the teachings of the Church, though for different reasons. Ely often pointed out the fact that if the lessons and text from the sacred Papyr were true, he would have been swallowed up by the sea long ago. Dawkin’s skepticism, on the other hand, was rooted in a more academic study of scripture and church history. Since he was a lad, the inconsistencies and contradictions of Mar struck him as odd, and later in life, unbelievable. For how could an almighty being allow so much suffering in the world? What with the Century War alone? Or the plagues that have ravished Marland and Greater Afari? Or the countless who die unknown? The poor? The destitute?
And now, my father. How could Mar, a supposed just and kind god, allow that?
“Blessings to all,” High Bishop Perceval concluded his first round of prayers.
“Blessings,” responded the crowd.
“Blessings,” added Dawkin, knowing his silence would be an insult to the Church of Mar. I must keep up appearances. Say the words. Even when I don’t mean them.
The ceremony went on for many more prayers and blessings. The Maidens of Mar swept in with their flowers and small statues of driftwood, which they placed within Audemar’s casket for good fortune in the afterlife. Perceval flung more saltwater on the King after each pronunciation and set of prayers, until Dawkin could have sworn that his father lay drenched. Finally, as the edge of the sun touched the horizon, High Bishop Perceval said the final blessing.
“With this, Good Mar, we lower our beloved King, Audemar, to his final resting place.”
The ceremony had been too long. Dawkin’s leg cramped from all the standing, his body yearning to take a seat. He wanted nothing more than to separate himself from the customs, the pleasantries, and most of all, the eyes that had watched him for hours upon hours.
“Wait,” he said, in spite of it all.
High Bishop Perceval turned to him. “Your Highness?”
Dawkin found the eyes of the crowd, royals and bishops and all, strictly set on him. He had not considered his next move, on how to explain the pause he requested of the High Bishop. Panic set in as he looked to his grandfather.
The old king, once the epitome of all that was strong and holy, met his stare. Dawkin searched his eyes. Like his, they were pained, portraying a grief that defied labels or descriptions. More like those of a babe than of a seasoned patriarch, somehow they provided Dawkin with a sense of comfort, as if to tell him that he was not alone.
Artus reached out to put his hand on Dawkin’s shoulder. “Go on, son. Say good-bye in your own way.”
Dawkin, his mouth ajar, looked back at his grandfather, unsure of what to do. So he did the only thing that came to his mind.
He glanced at Taresa. Then it dawned on him.
He broke from his position by the grave. He weaved through the onlookers. His move did not take but a few seconds, not even long enough for others to gasp or gossip.
Dawkin stopped before the Princess. He bowed.
“My Lady,” he said. “Though you did not know him, I think you would have found favor with my father, especially given our . . . possible arrangement. If you would be so kind, could you provide a token? That is, something for me to add to his casket? A memento of a happier time?”
Taresa, her hand to her chest, stared back at Dawkin in awe. He knew that it had never occurred to her to bring such a token, nor had she considered being approached by the Prince during the service. As murmurs rose from the funerary audience, and Dawkin remained with his head bent, he pondered whether his request had been too much.
“Your Highness,” Taresa finally sputtered. “I am deeply honored. Only, I do not know what to give.”
“Whatever you wish.”
Taresa looked around and about her, considering. She searched the length of her dress and her arms. Then, her eyes widening, she reached up into her hair.
“Taresa,” Queen Belitta begged. “Not that.”
Taresa pulled a pin from her hair, allowing one of the curls of her dark brown hair to fall upon her left shoulder. She held it out to Dawkin, placing it before his face.
“It’s carved from a single pink abalone shell from the Jokarre River. They are rare, and are prized among fishermen and nobility. This was a gift from my grandfather to my grandmother, on the eve of their Promise.”
Dawkin, studying the antique hair pin, straightened. “Princess Taresa, I fear I have overstepped my bounds. I never meant to suggest that you sacrifice such a personal . . .”
“Please,” she urged. “I must insist. In memory of a great monarch. Your father.”
Dawkin, no wanting to decline Taresa a second time, gingerly took the pin from Taresa. In doing so, his fingers brushed hers.
His heart skipped. So this is how Gerry and Ely felt.
“It is a generous gesture, my Princess,” he said, bowing once more. “A reflection of the greatness of your kin.”
“Thank you, Prince Jameson.”
The looks from her family were not lost on Dawkin. Queen Belitta was beside herself, as were her other two daughters, to a lesser degree. King Felix, though not outwardly taken by the exchange, stared on at Dawkin, unblinking. Whether impressed by his boldness or insulted by his nerve Dawkin could not say. Bowing to both the Queen and King, he withdrew to the grave and his father’s casket.
Artus motioned to the casket, choosing to stand opposite of Dawkin as the young prince came to his father’s side and knelt. He placed the hair pin, which glimmered in the light of the setting sun, atop his breastplate, right where a four-pointed compass had been etched.
A warrior. A king. A father.
There he lies. Here I see him. For the last time.
Dawkin lifted his head to High Bishop Perceval. Rising to his feet, he nodded.
Pulling away from the casket, he watched as the Maidens of Mar came from the side, the lid in hand. They lowered it, covering King Audemar. Attendants, standing by with nails and hammers, swept in to nail it shut before securing ropes underneath to lower it into the grave.
When the casket finally settled at the bottom, High Bishop Perceval sang a new round of prayers. Dawkin endured the first few words before catching the whinny of his father’s horse.
He peered over his shoulder to spot the stallion pulling his reins from the hands of a squire. He rose to his hind legs as he kicked out with his front, sending the servants scurrying around him, so as to block his escape.
Dawkin, seeing his opportunity, withdrew from the audience. The others, aside from a quick look, kept their heads bowed as the Prince marched to the gathering of servants and horses.
Everitt, apart from the royals, with the other knights, came to Dawkin’s side.
“Your Highness, allow me,” he offered.
“No need, Sir Everitt. This is my father’s steed.” He then came in close, to whisper. “Besides, neither I nor my father could stand one more prayer anyway.”
Everitt nodded, and Dawkin thought he caught a smirk, which further lightened his mood. With another whinny, he dashed to Willelm, and soon cradled his head in his hands.
“Thank you, old friend,” Dawkin said, patting the length of his nose. “I needed that.”192Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡBEgJK64q7D