Alone at last, Sarren looked down at her child and allowed herself to feel fear. I knew it months ago, and I didn't want to believe it, any more than I did before. Lady send I do not make the same mistakes, this time. Will anyone ever know how thoroughly you are my child? These are dangerous times, and I may not be able to sway him. May your luck be better than your brother's, little one. I fear you will need every blessing She can spare for you.
Harmony haunted the predawn air, strong voices echoing somberly above the heads of the procession. No color showed through the drifting mist. The walkers wore black, heads covered, no flash of jewelry winking from clothes, hands, hair. Wagons and horses were draped in black as well. Besides the singing, only the muffled sounds of movement broke the quiet that covered the city. Faces peered from doorways and windows, stark white. Sometimes one would step hesitantly into the street and join the slow, winding procession.
The funeral moved on, steadily higher, until it passed beneath a high gate and under the arms of the forest which brooded above Tarin. Spring cloaked the trees in fresh green; heavy mist made them seem to weep, until the sun at last drove it away.
Finally the bare shoulder of the mountain exposed itself. High gates, wrought of the black steel made in the northern mountains, barred the way into the darkness. The procession ceased, the crowd parted, and a tall man stepped forward, tightly wrapped in a black cloak. His step was uncertain at first, but it steadied as he approached the gates. A plain black plate was set where a lock might normally be placed. No key could open it, nor any hand save that of the man or woman who wore the sapphire crown of Tethys, or their children.
Ylvar set his right hand upon the plate, and the doors swung silently open. The way led deeper into the rock. Torches lit, all on foot now behind the single wagon, the procession continued. Whether the first king had made this way, with the power which had broken the endless storm at the coast and conquered the land which was to become Tethys, or had merely discovered it, no one knew. The ceiling above had been blackened by the passage of countless torches, and the air held a curious stillness, so that no sound echoed.
The tunnel ended at last in a chamber that might have been hollowed by dragons, so huge that the touches of human artifice seemed small and somehow even more sad, given the purpose of the place. Here a bit of carving, there a suggestion of shaping to the wall gave the image of a pillar rising high into the darkness, elsewhere the shadow of a tree, half-begun and then abandoned. In the midst of this lay the dead of eight centuries of se'Tethys rule. They slept through the ages in their small stone dwellings, an arc spreading around one edge of the cavern. Some day the arc would meet itself on the other side. Some day, the tombs might fill the room.
The newest lay not quite halfway around that first circle, almost devoid of decoration but for the names engraved upon it, the dates, and the brief prayer asking safe passage for a soul freed from the burden of earthly existence.
It was there that Ylvar r'Uthyr se'Tethys touched his wife's hand for the last time, then stepped away, head bowed. Half the high-born of the kingdom, and most of the city of Tarin, watched as four other men stepped forward, representing the four quarters of the kingdom: Fredek se'Kirven, a cadet line of the royal family, Garald se'Khirinas, young Farrell se'Shek from the northwest, and Lord Arri, currently holding the post of Speaker for the collection of small holdings known as the Eastmarch.
The sarcophagus' cover moved into place almost silently. The D'jahite Brothers ended their mournful song, and one man's quiet weeping was the only sound.
| Top |
Except where otherwise noted, all material on this site is © 1999 Rebecca J. Stevenson