The Long Road

Queen Tyasa rode alone. The black iron gate yawned open. The guards at the gate in their black armor snapped to attention one final tine as her horse stepped forward, his head bowed. Her people crowded the street. Somewhere a baby cried. Men in dark robes spread along the cobblestones, each bearing a single torch against the misty evening.

As her horse passed, those in robes fell behind her. The rest of her people followed.

Down, past The Crow’s Cry. No laughter shook its windows tonight as the queen passed. A single candle lit the highest window.

Down, past Portia’s Library. A cat exited its door as the horse passed. The bent its neck at the queen’s passing. None ever saw the cat again.

Down, past a house built with red bricks. A man with a great mustache wept as his queen passed. He flung a single purple rose onto the road before the horse. That began a blizzard of purple, as her people mourned, as they sought to show their love.

Down, past the temple. As the horse’s hooves struck the carpet of rose petals, the temple’s bells began their long, slow toll. Across the city, on every street, every temple joined the song.

Those in robes followed. The train grew ever longer. Four torches. Six. Eight. Soon twenty-four torches followed the dark horse as it made its way unbidden through the streets of the queen’s city.

A girl, her hair a mass of blonde curls, asked her father who it was. The father hushed her. Enough time for that later. Her mother, though, answered in a low, throaty tone. It rose suddenly and fell into an old, old song.

A dirge.

A woman across the way joined in. A man raised his voice in harmony. Another. Another.

The city sang its mourning song for their dead queen.

The horse pulled the low wagon under the weight of the song. The wagon held a single bier. Behind, the torches followed.

Down, down, down, past parks and fountains, past shops and homes, past monuments and scores and scores of people, the queen rode alone. Down, as they sang their song, as they sang their respect and honor. Down, until she came at last to the docks. The horse stopped at the end of the royal pier. Beside it bobbed her ship.

Those in robes preceded her. Each set their torch in a bracket set against the hull of the ship until it blazed as bright as the sun she had loved so much. Then four men stepped from the crowd: A boy in ragged clothes, a man in armor red, a man in bloody rags, and a boy in a clean, white tunic. They lifted her bier with a sigh. The ship groaned as she boarded her. Some say its figurehead wept; others said it was only condensation from the misty night.

They set her in the bright light of the torches and stepped off the boat and into the crowd.

Her ship loosed itself from the dock and set out into the ocean. The torches lit the mist. The dirge crescendoed as she sailed away on the breezeless evening. A man near the dock raised a single hand in parting. Those around him followed.

The city watched until the flames vanished from view.

The first to leave was a cobbler. Then a lord. A mother shushed her baby as she bundled him away. Under the weight of grief, they all went to their homes.

All except a man in a tattered green cloak and a lord in a dark red cape.

“So she’s gone,” the man in green muttered.

The lord nodded, his eyes still on the horizon, searching for some spark yet burning.

“I’ll be taking my people, then,” the man in green shook his head. “It’s done. The dream is dead.”

“Don’t leave. We need you,” the lord answered.

“Without the queen.” The man in green licked his lips. “Without Tyasa, there’s no hope for peace. Already four lordlings are proclaiming themselves kings. Do you have any idea what civil war does to a kingdom? No. I’ll take my people and be gone. I’m sure your people will appreciate not having to worry about the undercourt, anyway.”

“I was hoping you’d stay to fight for the common man.”

“You’re a lord. What do you care?”

“The same I’ve cared all these years.”

The man in green rubbed his eyes in exhaustion. “Then you should declare yourself king.”

“No one would follow me. And if they did? What would it matter? Just one more fake to die for.”

They stood in silence in the gloom. The man in green heaved a sigh. “Tyasa was the best of us.”

“She was. And now she’s gone. Her line is dead.”

The man in green’s mouth twitched into a wry grin. “Alathea thought she had a solution. Something that could unite the kingdom.”

The lord rolled his eyes. “Of course she did.”

The man in green shrugged. “Either way. You know the fighting will begin tonight.”

A scream cut through the mists: a man, dying.

The lord glanced over. “You timed that.”

“No. I am a master of many things, but never death. Theft. Extortion. Stealing just one sock from every pair. These things I command. But death? Not my style. Never my style. And so, I’ll take my people and go.”

The lord’s hand shot out, took the other’s shoulder. “Please. Stay. You said Alathea had a solution. Will you wait for her to return?”

The man in green hesitated. “If one of my people dies from the warring of those accursed lordlings, we will all leave.”

The lord nodded. “Very well.”

They parted in the deepening quiet, the lord to his walled compound in the city, the man in green to his hovel near the wall. He climbed up the chinks in the old stone to stand atop the ring that protected the city.

“When did they arrive?” he asked his man as they gazed over the edge.

“While we were at the docks. They waited in respect, I’m told. But at dawn they’ll all attack. Without her, there are none to protect the city.”

The man in green nodded. “We need our queen.”

His man’s voice cracked. “We need our queen.”

Below them spread countless torches and campfires. Armies from so many ancient enemies gathered to attack the city without her queen.

For without the queen, they had no hope.

Thus continues The Graveyard at the Bottom of the World.

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