Day of Mourning
She awoke with a start, and for a moment she was not at all sure where she was, rather bewildered to find herself in water, but the moment passed quickly. She somehow knew she had been asleep in the pool for a long time and she quickly climbed out, her legs stiff from keeping the same position for an extended period. Aurei hurriedly dried off with the towel she had brought with her and slipped on the uncomfortable barmaid dress then rushed up the passage to the cellar, pausing to make sure no one was in the cellar before she pushed open the secret door and slipped into the basement.
Though the cellar was windowless, she knew it was morning, for there was the tramping of feet and the muffled sounds of voices coming from above her. She didn’t know what to do – they probably were wondering where she was at, and Yesh knew what time it was, but she had to change clothes to prepare for Gamel’s funeral. She ran over to the basement bedroom and slipped inside, hanging the light stick in a wall socket. She quickly changed, glancing down in frustration at Gamel’s sealed letter still waiting for her on the nightstand next to her bed. In short order she was somewhat ready and dressed in black for the funeral. Rushing up the cellar stairs, she was startled to have the door fly open just as she reached the top. Alis jumped back with a slight scream to find Aurei standing there, "My goodness, Aurei, you scared me to death! Where have you been, we’ve been looking all over for you. The funeral service is going to start in a quarter of an hour and Pinel is about to boil over in anger looking for you."
"Terrific" Aurei groaned, "Has everyone been served breakfast?"
"Yes, it’s alright, everything went fine, I’d hurry over to the church, they will be starting soon. I think they just seated the King in the balcony box, and I was told by Pinel that this was for the King and himself and if I see you I was to tell you that you should sit with the villagers in the congregational seating."
"Already giving orders." she snapped as she rushed by Alis, "Thanks, Alis; you are a very good friend. You can bring me dinner when Pinel has me in the Keep’s dungeon this evening."
Alis laughed, though somewhat nervously, for she would not put that past the sour-faced man at all.
Aurei literally ran down the street, holding her dress skirt up so she wouldn’t step on it. The street was empty except for the guards on the walls and they waved as she ran past. Brother Darv was waiting outside the double doors of the Church of Yesh as she rushed up.
"Thank Yesh you made it!" he sighed, "The King is seated already, and Pinel is with him --beware, I think you will have a time with him later. I’m supposed to inform you-"
"I know, I have to sit in the congregation."
"I’m terribly sorry, Aurei, it’s not fair to you at all, you were his daughter in all but blood."
"I know." the girl whispered, "That is all that matters."
"I have a seat reserved for you at the front. Hurry child, we can’t delay any longer."
He held a door open for her and she rushed in, careful not to run in the large sanctuary but walking very determinedly to the front, careful not to look at anyone and especially not to glance up into the balcony where Pinel was no doubt glaring at her like a buzzard. She heard the whispers as she entered and was greatly relieved to find Thorm, Krys and Brandi seated next to her on the front most row of the congregation area.
The funeral service began almost immediately, consisting of hymns to Yesh, lengthy prayers for the soul of Gamel and Brother Darv reciting a very moving and respectful account of the life of Duke Bugley. Gamel rested in state in a very ornate wood casket, his lifeless form preserved from any hint of decay by a spell that wouldn’t last long past the service. He looked so old and frail, Aurei thought to herself as she cried throughout the service. Before she knew it, the final prayer had been chanted and the bells of the church were tolling, announcing the end. The line of mourners then began coming forward to take one last look at the Duke, and many stopped before Aurei and patted her shoulder, hugged her, squeezed her hand or even kissed her forehead. She could hardly speak to them, so caught up in the full realization that the last of her foster family had passed away and she was now completely alone, forced to survive by her own merits. Someone gently took her arm and she looked up to see Brother Darv escorting her to the front to see Gamel one last time. Krys had her arm around her on the other side and was weeping herself as they went up the dais and stood before the coffin emblazoned with the crest of the Duke of Westmark. She could not stop crying and she stood there for a long moment sobbing harshly, not wanting to draw attention to herself but unable to contain it any longer. She leaned over the casket, at that moment not caring if Pinel cut off her head for the gesture, and kissed the cold cheek of the Duke.
"Goodbye, father" she whispered and she quickly turned and was led down the other aisle by Krys and Thorm while Brother Darv remained behind at the casket to receive Pinel’s family and the King.
By the time she was outside, Aurei had regained some composure and quickly dried her eyes as she joined the procession that were heading to the small fenced in family cemetery that sat guarded by several tall majestic trees, to the east of the Keep. They had already set up a tall viewing platform as well as an equally tall pyre and ducal guards in their finest armor stood at attention at all four points of the pyre, awaiting the casket. They did not have long to wait, as soon, six guards solemnly carried the now closed casket of Gamel up the path to the platform, with Brother Darv, Pinel and the Royal party walking behind it. Aurei could not see, through the gathered crowd, any of them, but at that moment she really didn’t care.
They mounted the viewing platform while the casket was placed on the pyre a short distance away. Suddenly two hands touched her from behind and she turned to see a pair of Royal guards wearing the shining silver plate mail of the King’s bodyguard.
"Miss Bugley," One guard spoke to her with a bow, "His majesty has ordered us to escort you to the top of the platform to stand with the family."
She was stunned and only nodded, then was hurriedly led around the crowd and up the wood stairs to the newly constructed wooden viewing platform that was crowed with people. At once she caught the shrived up, balding head of Pinel glaring at her, hatred in his icy blue eyes and his hag-like wife stood at his side, her hawk-like nose up in the air and a baneful expression on her mean face. Beside them stood their sons, as unlike their father as night is from day. They stood there sweating like small fat ogres, also frowning at her as she passed. She didn’t want to stand beside them but didn’t have to worry because the guards led her past them up to where the King’s party stood, next to Brother Darv.
There stood Sir Hugh, still wearing his plate armor standing next to an absolutely beautiful Elf woman with long flowing golden blonde hair wearing a crown. Aurei was completely confused and stopped, looking to the knight, who smiled gently. Before she could say anything, Brother Darv began the Burning Rite and she had to turn to watch.
"Yesh said, ‘All flesh is temporal, only the soul transcends. Blessed is the one who embraces your brother and sister in love and contends against evil. Righteous are those who trust in me, for death has no power over those I love and though the body may burn, the spirit of the faithful will rise to join me in paradise."
"So be it." everyone responded.
"Brother Gamel Bugley, Duke of Westmark, we commit your body to the flames and your ashes to the wind, for your soul is not here but resides in peace in the Kingdom of Yesh the merciful."
"Glory be to Yesh." again they responded.
Without another word, the priest of Yesh raised his hands to Heaven, closed his eyes and said a single word. Suddenly a flash of fire seemed to fall from the sky onto the pyre and in a moment it was alit. Those congregated around the pyre began singing and Aurei joined in, though she found herself choking up halfway through the first verse as she watched the fire consume the casket. She felt a soft arm go around her shoulder and she looked up through her tears to see the beautiful Elf lady smiling sadly at her as she gently hugged her.
Minutes later, everyone began to disperse. Aurei had to turn and look at the Elven woman who had comforted her, "Thank you, ma’am".
"Trust in Yesh, dear child, and He will comfort you."
"Aurei" Sir Hugh said and she turned to him, "Let me introduce you to my wife, Queen Eioldth."
"Nice to meet you, Aurei, I learned much about you yesterday."
Aurei’s head spun with confusion, she turned back to Sir Hugh
"Your wife is a Queen? But… you…"
He held his hand out to her, "I’m afraid I haven’t been forthcoming with you completely, Aurei. ‘Hugh’ is just a nickname and I’m not a knight."
"Not a knight? Then…." She put her hands to her mouth, figuring it out suddenly as he spoke.
"I’m King Haroldris IV, Aurei"
"Yesh preserve me!" she said in horror, quickly dropping into a deep curtsy, "Your majesty, I am so very sorry, I am a fool, I never realized—"
"Aurei, it was as I intended, I seldom have a chance to speak candidly with people and when I saw that you didn’t know who I was, I decided it would be a good time to find out more about you and to learn your views on things."
"Oh goodness, no!" she frantically tried to remember everything she had said to him the day before, "I am so sorry, your majesty, I was so tired and stressed out and –"
"What are you apologizing for? I enjoyed our conversations as did my wife."
The Queen smiled at Aurei’s confused look, "My husband and I have magic amulets that allows us to view from afar what the other one is experiencing. Though we cannot communicate with one another through the amulets, we at least witness what they have seen and heard."
"I am so very sorry, I never knew who he was!" she apologized to the young queen who smiled sweetly.
"I believe that was the idea. My husband wished to get your honest opinion on several matters without you weighed down with telling him what you believed he wanted to hear."
Before Aurei could say anything else, Pinel broke into the conversation, coming up to the King which caused her to have to step aside.
"Your majesty!", his nasally voice said loudly, "I’m sorry she’s troubling you. It was most kind of you to allow her to join us. We’ve prepared a feast for your lovely queen and yourself. Aurei, I am sure, is needed in making preparations."
He turned to her with a much strained smile, but his eyes were like daggers.
"Yes" she said, too stunned by the new identity of Sir Hugh to even think of being defiant to Pinel, "I’ll go at once."
Before the King or Queen could say anything more, Aurei quickly curtsied and holding her hem up slightly, ran down the platform and toward the Muddy Boot.
"Our conversation was not done, Pinel." The King said to the weasel of a man, who bowed slightly with a wide smile as he began to nervously ramble on.
"My apologies, your majesty, but she does tend to linger on, does she not? She won’t give you any more trouble; I give you my word on this. It is so sad that we have to burn our dead now, but with the Necromancer Guild about, what choice do we have? It was a fine service, don’t you think? It is such a beautiful day for it, too, though we were nearly delayed due to that silly Drow girl. No matter, all worked out and we are most honored to have you join us this day to remember dear, dear uncle Gamel. I am sure he would be most honored to know you were here. I know I am. Your presence honors us, sire. And your lovely lady too! How delightful to learn you have taken a wife. A wonderful surprise to learn she was a lovely Elven lady. How charming! Now if you would follow me, I will escort you to dine." With a rather exaggerated gesture, Pinel indicated they should follow him.
With a slight sigh, the King led his wife off the platform while nearby the mortal remains of Gamel Bugley drifted away in smoke.