It had never been empty before. The street, a long and twisting python climbing up the gentle slope to the castle butte was still and empty. The few pedestrians who had made it out on the promenade were held back by armed guards, who with their all shields and short swords formed a barrier between them and the browning white bricks of the central street. As a trickle of soldiers came forward with their heads low at the weight of their feather crested helmets, armor gleaming. Blood red dublets flashing the silver embroidered coat of arms for the city. These were wealthy men, soldiers of means brought up from the merchants and minor nobility, their second or third sons. They could afford the plate, the helmet, the embroidery. And they were mean and they were brutal.
As they come up the road so too did the sound of bells follow as a column of criers marched down. Their wide brimmed hats shading their faces from the late morning sun as they swung polished brass bells that chimed and flashed with brilliant light. The young boys watched them, from the empty frame of a doorway above the head of the onlookers, in the second story of a three story apartment, above a shoemaker. Pressed tight against a low mortar wall the common crowd was held back by the men at arms, held fast to where they were standing as the procession came down like cattle. Their gawking expressions and the curious expectant way they turned their heads down the street, like lazy animals made the gang of boys curious as they leaned over one another and the moss covered wooden railings to train their gaze best they could to see. But the corner of the building, with its flaking pink mortar stood in their way as the bells grew louder.
The criers after all were not uncommon. They were seen before, ringing their alarm at the head of a train of a noble family residing outside the capital. Or standing in the squares, at the temple, at the wells shouting out the proclamations, declarations, and news of the day. Their red and orange velvet tunics and their high black boots were no stranger to any of them. Nor were their wide brimmed caps at long illustrious feathers, that shone and shimmered in the sun, colors dancing about like a fairy between emerald green and sapphire blues and light turquoise.
,” cooed one of the youths, his voice cracked by adolescence. He had grown faster than his cloths, and his trouser legs hung far above his ankles, his feet bare. He brushed his long dirty hands across the tight breast of his shirt, pulling at it uncomfortably as he tried to beat the feeling of it choking him. Soon he may have to cut the collar to loosen it, “Who do you think it is they're leading?” he asked, pursing his thick fishy lips.
“A king of kings?” asked a young girl, her long black hair thick with oil and mud as it fell across her graying blue blouse. It was all she had. She too was barefoot.
“There is no such thing.” another child said, “If were, then the king would be no king!”
“Wait, they're coming!” said the young adolescent, and they stood silent hanging onto the railing as the head of the first horse passed the corner of the building. Bedecked in fine white linens, it rose its head proudly as the tassels woven into its mane danced freely. Its clean body shone with a muscular perfection in the sun. On its back was its rider, draped in the pure white lacy mourning cloth. It covered him from head to toe, hanging from the crown of his head and shoulders like the robe of a ghost. His gauntleted hands gripping the mane of the proud pony as it pranced along, oblivious to the meaning of it all, its legs rising high in its jaunty gate.
Following the rider were mote. Knights with white capes and veils over their helmeted heads as they rode in parade. One held a banner, a blue field with a white seal gripping a shield of red with diagonal yellow lines. “Who is that?” asked the young girl, looking up at the youth that stood over her.
He ran his hand through his thick curly dark brown head of hair. “It's the DeMosagnes!” he said, with a snap of his fingers, “The Doms of the south, Vemous and Dermos!” he exclaimed, more happy he could remember.
Making up the rear was a large bear of a man, riding proud and with his head held high. A thick raven's black beard fell down to his chest as his horse slowly trotted by, low and lumbering like the warhorse it was, ready to explode into a charge. “And that is Luise DeMosgane.” the other kids ooed and awed at his shimmering pride.
Following next were a new set. A full family under a green field and a large white bear being struck by an arrow in a red shield. Chief among the entourage was a surly and energetic young man dressed in all white and gold, a silken doublet over his armor with a golden heart. “The Generes,” the youth said in a flash of memory, “And he must be Avmon.”
The same gasps of wonder.
The parade continued, calling out all the nobles of the land as they passed through. Or their honorary delegates. The youth could not name all, but he knew well the families and where to find them. The Chrigones, the rustic men of the hinterlands who lived in marbled hills. The Mamets, poorer still but no less pulling out all the stops they could; they presided over a ruddy province of marsh and timber; Dyon-lun-tombre. The Casiers, Grosgrillards, and the Pochets. The cadets of the royal family; the Peruis-Troubes-Songremon, the Peruis-Samoixgard, the Peruis-Sussard-Alledre, the Peruis-Arlondimousard, and the Casson-Lieugard-Periuis-Siouxlar.
Each name called illicited a gasp of rapt wonder, even as on and off the splendor of the noble houses waned in comparison to the first of them, or the one before. But now and then it would become beautiful again. This though was not a parade to show triumph or celebration, this was not a carnival of devotion or honor and things were muted under the auspicious ghostly whites. But they were not the only high chiefs who rode through the street, foreigners were among them. Men who the youth could not name for himself, but who had a vague notion of kingdom or island he was sure was not part of the kingdom that the others believed was the whole world. Their view, their perspective was so widened at the thought they felt uneasy and shrunken. There was far more beyond the city than just the exciting and rich nobles who had been trickling into the city in the weeks preceding the old king's passing.
“Who are they?” the girl asked, as strangers began to pass before them. The youth could not name them all, and he blundered and mulled intensely to even come up with names. The truth be told, no one had taught him who they were, even by accident. Though the flags and banners of a small number reminded him before they passed.
There were the priestesses of Caetia, and their retinue of knights. Representatives of the monastic order and her community's scattered among small islands. Many of their delegation were women, shrouded in the customary white mourner's garb of the Jeweled coast. Their heads bowed respectfully. He heard among the clatter of hooves and the marching of feet what sounded like a mute prayer. But he did not know the words.
There was too the Rashidun. Many of the guard women, not having to change their outfitting much for it was all still white. Their golden dragon head's banner flying above the delegation as it moved along above sullen horses and stiff riders. The children looked on in awe. Rarely had they seen so clearly their delegation leave their residence in the city.
Hanging out over the rails or under they watched the tail of the procession pass. And with it the guards holding back the throngs departed with them. The street filled back up, sparse as it was, and as the clamor or foot and hoof passed so did the sound of life in the street return.
It was late in the afternoon as things drew to a close. Under the sound of chimes and mournful silence the body of the old king, draped in silken white cloth was carefully entered into his tomb in the breast of the old stoney plug that shot out from the surrounding forest. The Cap veRoyelle, the ancient resting place of the old kings. A massive white and black mass of hardened rock crowned with a cap of verdant green yet untouched by the hands of man. But someday, as kings died and died over the centuries mankind would reach those summits as they mined into the rock to build the vaults to store the bodies of the kings for eternity.
They were buried with no treasures, naught but the clothes they wore in death and the makeup they were adorned with to hide their withering flesh. They might go in with a sword, as did Leon Peruis the Gentile on that day.
As the doorway was sealed with rock and cement, the royal delegation turned down the side of the cap and back the way they came. Priests to the Great Mother holding aloft a large bell which rang with a slow solemn chime as they went. The sides of the mountain were packed with all the men of the realm, and perhaps many of the world. The sea of banners a gulf of colors from red to blue to white and green. As the soon-to-be-King Maximilian trudged down the mossy steps of the great cap, following the priests of the Mother and their bell, the mourners walked and followed, falling in a train as they had come to the horses at the base of the silver butte.
They rode through the forest that surrounded the butte, along cobble stone roads. The hooves of horses tapped against the mossy stones as sun light through the tended branches dropped clean pure ribbons of light against the ground. This was a royal forest, tended throughout the years. More of a garden than a hunting ground, the floor for miles around kept clear by the arduous work of wardens. Sometimes with ax, sometimes with blade, other times with fire to drive away the unwanted growth of shrubs; clearing the ground for delicate blades of grass and vibrant flowers.
Through the wooded hills they rose up a gentle bank and the smell of grapes and citrus was swept fresh and sweet on the light breeze as they came out to look out across orchards of sun-bright oranges and vineyards of blood red grapes. The air was thick with the aroma as men and women went about their works in the great royal fields. Much of what would be drunk later, would be vintage and produce from these plantations.
The walls of Jamais rested in the distance, buttressed by great red bastions and the great fang of the castle mount. A splendid sight in better times as the light gray smoke of a thousand houses rose into the air behind the great walls of the city. But dour and anxious Maximilian looked upon it not with the awe and reverence the sight ought to be; but with the terrible knowledge of a life changed and the weight of it all hanging from his heart strings. How ever would he survive it?
As they trotted up again through the city, reaching the gates of the castle and beyond, he did not feel warmly attracted to the great red palace that was to be his home; was once his home. There was a looming sense of dread as it rose above him, proud and indomitable with all the strength of its garrison out on display on the ramparts. The towering blood red shields of the guard held up and out in salute, the white mourning capes having been cast aside for the bright blue of regular dress. This moment was not one for sadness, but one for joy and pride! But he did not feel it.
As he was taken up to the front portal of the castle, the delegation from home and abroad were taken around back. Maximilian tried to keep face as he walked up the high steps to the doors and through, but he was trapped in a feeling of not being up to task. His body was tense, and as the doors slammed shut he felt his body drop further than he believed he had been holding himself.
Almarando was there.
“How was the ride?” he asked friendly enough.
Maximilian looked up at him and away. “It was fine.” he answered, his voice hollow and weak.
The steward looked worried. Waving at the servants who had gathered he began ushering the young soon-to-be-king through the great foyer. Their footsteps echoing in the great vaulted room. The walls were dominated by twisting pillars, supporting balconies and walkways along its course. It rose a full two and a half floors above them, its great fresco ceiling dark in the faint torch and candle light that burned.
“We will have to get you out of the mourner's wear.” Almarando began as they shot up stairs and through halls, “Then in your new court robes. They may be big, new dress will need to be fitted in the coming days. I made a summons for the tailor.” he continued, “We have to be in the back garden soon for the crowning...”
Almarando went on. Maximilian followed. He cast a long weary glance through windows as they passed them and through doors and passages. His mind was adrift, and it all felt like a dream. He was sheparded into a room to the side, where servant women stripped him naked and threw over his body the ceremonial dress. White tufted trousers, with black boots. The tail of a doublet coming down in a half skirt, it was a light sapphire blue. A polished cuirass with a golden knight embossed in the breast went over that. There was a cape too of a deep, almost purple hue. It all felt big, it all felt choking. His head went naked, and his thick curly hair was combed and tamed. It all felt like it went by so fast.
And with the same enthusiasm as he had been ushered in, so too did he go out. He wasn't given time to protest, even if he wanted. But truth be told he was not listening to Almarando. He was too deep in his own thoughts, his anxieties. His heart fluttered in his chest.
He was taken through ball rooms where he had played, kitchens and interior small courtyards where the castle cut itself away for the light to shine down on them. In the rear foyer he felt the pressure in his chest grow, and the guards reaching for the great doors. As they creaked open, and a brass fanfare filled the air he felt the sun burning his flesh, his spirit. An entire sense of self being melted away, and he was frozen by its magical brilliance. In the moment, he felt as a man dispossessed and he lingered in the blinding white brilliance of the new life ahead, and captured by it was compelled to move ahead. Filled by it own wants. Would there be escape?