The Warrior and the Princess Pt 10

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Princess Prittie sat in the royal carriage waiting patiently for Mirvanda to join her. While she sat alone in her own company, her thoughts turned to the day ahead. With everything that had happened, and although she had privately mourned the loss of her beloved father, the sudden realisation came to her that on this day she would be laying eyes upon him for the very last time; this was his death day – the final farewell. The sound of the rear storage compartment being unclasped then opened and the ensuing weight of luggage being placed within it made the carriage gently rock and sway back and forth, bringing the princess back from her meditative reverie. The door swung open and d’Gravernaugh helped Mirvanda to gracefully enter and join the waiting princess. When Mirvanda had settled and made herself comfortable, d’Gravernaugh ducked his head under the door frame then leaned into the carriage.

“My Princess, is everything to your liking,” he asked, while casting quick glances around the inside.

“Yes, My Lord,” replied the princess. “We are now ready to leave. By your command.”

“Very well. We will be little more than an hour until your return to the castle.”

He nodded a bow to the two women and removed himself from the carriage closing the door when he had done so. Shouts then went up and the garrison’s doors were opened. The two-hundred strong, mounted guard escort slowly moved forward in pairs and filed out though the main gates; the princess’s carriage held position fifty horses from the head of the company. As the carriage passed through the doors and beyond, Mirvanda peered back and took one last look at the place that, for the past twenty-years of her life had been her home. She turned back round closing her eyes and breathing a huge sigh of relief.

“Is everything well with you Mirvanda,” asked the Princess, who had been silently watching her.

“Yes, My Lady,” replied Mirvanda opening her eyes. “I cannot believe that I am finally leaving the garrison. One becomes attached to things through the passage of time.”

The princess gave an understanding weak smile.

“Come Mirvanda, come sit with me please. I need you today more than ever.”

Mirvanda crossed over from her bench seat and joined the princess who then took hold of Mirvanda’s hand gaining comfort from the sheer physical touch of it. Nothing more was said between them until they reached the Griven and began their passage through it. Then, as by way to distract herself from the sombre events to come, the princess pointed out places of interest to Mirvanda where, only just over a week ago d’Gravernaugh and herself had found themselves either hiding from, or fleeing from their demonic nemesis who had stalked and hunted them; Mirvanda had stared at the locations with a fascinated, awed expression on her face. They eventually came upon the hillsides over looking the castle grounds and then made their way down to the bridle path leading to the castle gates.

As the carriage came upon level ground, it passed in between what seemed like an endless line of royal guards forming a standing line either side of the pathway leading to castle gates itself. The guards, standing in full ceremonial dress and armour, made no sound as the carriage neared the main gates. A loud fanfare from a hundred trumpets suddenly rang out breaking the brooding silence, heralding the return of the princess. The two women started in shock upon its unexpected onset, grasping each other’s hand as it sounded. Mirvanda turned to the princess, studying her nervous looking face.

“Be not of worried mind, My Lady. I will remain at your side through all of this day,” Mirvanda said to her in calming motherly tones.

The princess braved a smile back and squeezed Mirvanda’s hand by way of her unspoken thanks.

The head of the procession came to a halt outside the main gates, the trailing line behind did likewise. As they were waiting for the gates to open, and from their vantage point, Mirvanda craned her neck to look out at the windows of the carriage, she then let out a gasp. Behind the line of soldiers at either side, an endless sea of people could be seen all standing in sombre silence, all standing with their eyes trained on the carriage.

“My Lady, look at all the people that have come!” Said Mirvanda, wide-eyed, looking back at the princess.

The princess gently shook her head at Mirvanda and remained where she sat, the full weight and significance for what this day truly represented was now upon her; she was unable to speak. Mirvanda saw the state she was in and did nothing more than to give her a supportive, reassuring hug.

From up ahead d’Gravernaugh’s voice was heard loudly demanding that the gates be opened in the name of the returning princess. The procession, after the gate keeper had responded to his command, moved forward again amid the hail of yet another fanfare of trumpets. The princess closed her eyes and tried to gather her thoughts in order to steel herself against what was to ultimately happen come the funeral’s conclusion.

The carriage arrived within the covered reception area; the click clock click clock of the horses’ hooves echoed around the stone walled interior filling the space with an echoing sound. The carriage came to dignified stop, the luggage hold at the back was released and the door was opened by the court reception attendants. The princess emerged, a fine black veil now covering her solemn looking face; Mirvanda closely followed her and hooked her arm around the princess’s.

The reception area was moderately crowded, full of the hustle and bustle and fervent activity of people carrying out their duties. The luggage bearers, after quick instruction from d’Gravernaugh had carried off the luggage to their owners’ respective rooms, the stable hands then removed the carriage and its steeds back to whence they came, the household guard protectively surrounded the princess and the courtiers and courtesans stood respectfully quiet awaiting any instruction they might be given.

d’Gravernaugh appeared from behind the carriage as it was rode off, he told all the waiting attendants to leave the area telling them that they would not be needed until after the king’s funeral had finished. He then purposefully strode toward the waiting princess and Mirvanda.

“My Princess, would you like some time alone before proceedings begin?” He asked in gentle tones.

“No, My Lord,” replied the princess in the most quietest and subdued of voices. “We should proceed without any further delay.”

“Very well, My Princess, leave it with me. I will personally see to it.” And with a bow and a knowing glance toward Mirvanda, he strode off to get the funeral underway.

The household guard then led princess Prittie and her companion through a narrow passageway and out though a private gate into the open air where the king, now resting in state, lay atop a specially built platform in full public view just to the right of the castle main gates. Mirvanda could physically feel the princess shaking as she held onto her arm. They mounted the steps together, Mirvanda held her firmly through fear that the princess might suddenly collapse in her own despair for her dead father. After reaching the top, the both of them could now see quite clearly the sea of countless people below, all heads were pointed up trying to gain a look at the princess. In the centre of the platform the dead king lay upon a cloth covered trestle on a bed of beautifully coloured flowers with many wreaths surrounding him. His crown, though it be removed when he took his place alongside his ancestors, adorned his head, his sword lay lengthways across his chest. All the highest dignitaries from southern Gillion, and d’Gravernaugh himself stood around the King in quiet respectful attendance. They all moved back when the princess came upon the landing.

Mirvanda felt the princess go rigid on seeing the dead king, she whispered some words in her ear after which the princess walked slowly forward until she stood looking down at her beloved father. Her shoulders began to shake as her emotions – that she could no longer contain, showed themselves as tears running unseen down her veiled face. Mirvanda rubbed her arm in a soft caress in an attempt to comfort her and to remind her that she was still with her. The princess steadied herself enough to be able to speak, she drew in a deep breath and felt a momentary respite from her grief as she exhaled.

“Farewell my dearest beloved father, my King. I loved thee freely with no bounds. Ever will my heart have an empty space where once the light of your life resided. I will forever miss thee, farewell.”

Mirvanda too, stared down at the dead king.

“Farewell my king Mestian, be at peace safe in the knowledge that your beloved daughter is safe within the loving embrace of friends.”

The princess then leaned over and slightly lifted her veil enough to place a kiss squarely on her father’s forehead. She stood back up then stepped a few paces backward. The dignitaries then stepped in and began the funeral ceremony proper. During the proceedings, the princess did nothing but slowly shake her head in total disbelief, there was no more hiding from the cold reality that her father was indeed dead. Through it all, Mirvanda’s motherly presence helped to keep her grounded just by being near to her. The Princess didn’t know what she would have done if it were not for Mirvanda, deep inside she was more than grateful for her freely given friendship and loyalty. A good while later, the official ceremony bidding the last farewell to king Mestian ended, all the attending dignitaries then carried his body down to the castle crypt where he would now take up his final resting place next to his kingly ancestors. The princess and Mirvanda followed solemnly behind.

When the princess emerged from the crypt, the austere moment, even more terrifying to her than the funeral itself now came upon her. She made her way back up the stairs to the ceremonial platform, once there, the trestle which had some moments ago supported her dead father, now had her dead mother’s golden crown resting in the middle of it. The dignitaries all reassembled to witness the essential, but premature coronation of the princess Prittie. Under normal circumstances, such a coronation following the death of a monarch would not take place for at least a three-month period to allow enough time for mourning to come and pass. A coronation was considered to be happy time, a celebration of the new royal head of state, but times as they were dictated that the princess take up her position as soon as possible; this action was agreed in the hope that a new confidence would then sweep through the kindom, a kingdom that for far too long had lived in the firm grip of terror.

“Are you ready, My Lady?” Mirvanda whispered into her ear.

The princess gave a reluctant nod.

“I am as ready as I am able to be, Mirvanda. Let it begin,” the princess whispered back.

“I will see you in a few moments time, My Lady. Do not fear this day, for I truly believe that under your reign, southern Gillion will enjoy better days.”

Mirvanda let go of her arm and positioned herself away from the trestle as the princess alone, made her way to the waiting lord d’Gravernaugh. The princess dug deeply down into her reserves of self-control and mustered all the calm that was able to. She stopped at the foot of the trestle and lifted the veil from her face, throwing it back behind her head. d’Gravernaugh gave her his signiture subtle wink then picked up the golden crown with both hands. He turned to show it to the throng of people gathered below and paused holding it out. He then turned to face the princess who had now knelt down, her head lowered. He slowly placed the crown upon her head until it came to a rest naturally.

“Arise, Queen Prittie, second queen of southern Gillion, may your reign be blessed with long life, love, and good fortune.”

The princess gave d’Gravernaugh a timid smile and took a deep, shaky, faltering breath. She then gracefully rose to stand as the new rightful monarch of southern Gillion. She now stood as queen, ruler of all that she surveyed.

A fanfare of trumpets rang out again breaking the solemn silence, the crowds below began a slightly stifled cheering as the coronation was completed; the funeral had only just ended, and it felt strange to be cheering with the memory of it far too fresh in their minds.

d’Gravernaugh knelt before her and removed his sword then held it aloft in offering to the new queen; the other dignitaries followed suit and all offered their allegiance to Queen Prittie. One by one, the queen, by touching all the swords offered, accepted their sworn allegiances to her rule as sovereign.

The queen turned to look out upon her subjects below and removed her crown, holding it out in front of her to show the crowds. She bowed low in the customary, traditional gesture, signifying that she, and she alone would now faithfully serve, protect, and honour her people’s interests to the best of her abilities. Small handheld flags and larger banners of southern Gillion was then seen waving from side to side, flapping in the breeze, held by the many hands of the crowds below. The queen donned her crown again and responded by waving down to her people. The fanfare denoting the end of the coronation then sounded and the queen, with a final wave, turned to leave the platform and re-joined Mirvanda who then, followed by the household guards, escorted her down the stairs and back through the narrow passageway leading back into the now, very much welcomed, privacy and quiet of her own castle.

d’Gravernaugh also made his way down and joined them in the reception area. He could sense that the queen, being eager to retire to her chambers, was in a hurry to leave the eyeshot of anyone and everyone now looking upon her.

“My Queen, do I take it you wish to be left alone for the day?”

“Yes, My Lord,” replied Mirvanda, speaking for her. My lady wishes to be left in peace for now. I will remain at her side to tend to her.”

The queen appeared emotionally drained, and totally washed out. Her face had an unhealthy, ashen, sickly hue to it as she gazed silently, expressionless upon d’Gravernaugh. Mirvanda, noticing that everyone was staring at the queen, replaced the veil over her face. The queen had summoned up all her inner strength to endure what she had just gone through but now her strength was spent, she needed peace and quiet, solitude, and the benefit of time to gather herself again.

d’Gravernaugh respectfully bowed and cast an understanding, knowing look to Mirvanda who gave him a loving smile back. He turned to go about the rest of his day when a shout went out from somewhere just outside the area they were in causing him to stop and look toward the direction that the voice was coming from.

“Make way! Make way! I need to see the queen. Make way I tell you!”

The royal guard all drew their swords and defensively surrounded the queen.

As the crowd of dignitaries, household staff, and soldiers slowly parted, an old, bent over woman, one hand holding a walking stick, and her other arm supported by lord Alest Trumaire, came through the opening gap and approached the queen. d’Gravernaugh ordered the guard to stand down; the noise of swords being resheathed echoed about the reception hall.

The old lady suddenly shook Trumaire’s arm off of her and looked at him in a scolding manner as she hobbled away from him using her walking stick for support. She seemed to be mumbling about something to herself as her crinkled mouth made strange opening and closing movements. The old lady had long silvery-white hair, she wore a floor length grey robe tied at the waist covering her skinny, frail looking frame, and on her feet she shuffled along wearing simple sandals. Her wizened face, deeply lined with age, had piercing, eagle-like, bright blue eyes staring out from it which suggested that a wealth of acquired knowledge, experience, and wisdom lay behind them.

Just before she came to a stop in front of them, d’Gravernaugh leaned over and whispered into the queen’s ear.

“That, My Queen, is Tilda Darga, the woman I spoke of to you after the counsel meeting at Marshtop.”

The queen turned her head at d’Gravernaugh as he whispered to her, but any expression her face gave was lost, hidden by her veil. The old lady came to a halt directly in front of the queen and regarded her in an almost rude, impertinent manner.

“Your Highness,” came a surprisingly sweet, gentle voice that didn’t match her ragged appearance. “I am Tilda Darga, please accept my condolences for the king’s passing. And forgive an old lady’s failure to bow in your presence, but I am bent over enough these days, do you not agree? May I look upon the face of our new queen.”

The queen, surprisingly, threw back her veil without any hint of hesitation and exposed her amused face to all watching. She studied Tilda’s expression as if trying to evaluate her intention.

“Greetings, Tilda Darga. My thanks. You have an infectious wit I was not prepared for. We have not met before but my lord d’Gravernaugh has spoken well of you.”

Tilda turned to face d’Gravernaugh and then Mirvanda.

“Jules d’Gravernaugh. Now bestowed with a lordship I see. You have come far since last we met. And my dear Mirvanda, how beautiful you were when first we met and I see that none of that beauty has deserted you down the years. How are you both?”

They both greeted Tilda Darga as a long-lost friend, and although it was a given that she was now twenty years older, as were they, Tilda still appeared to them as she did all those years ago. In their eyes she had hardly changed at all.

“Your Highness,” continued Tilda. “I sense that you require solitude which is hardly surprising under the circumstances. I will detain you no longer other than to say, that I come to complete an unfinished circle which began twenty years ago when you were born, which started the chain of events that has so ravaged the kingdom. The time has finally come to rid ourselves of the infection spreading like a plague across our fair lands. There is much to say, there is much to do. Time, for now, is on our side, but it will not remain so forever, we must make haste while the opportunity exists. May I be permitted to arrange matters with lord d’Gravernaugh on your behalf?”

“You are very perceptive, Tilda,” said the queen. “Yes, you may arrange matters with my lord d’Gravernaugh. But for now, you must excuse my manners if I suddenly leave you with him. I need to take my rest.”

The queen and Mirvanda then took their leave of Tilda Darga and retired to the queen’s private chambers. On their way there Mirvanda briefly informed the queen of what Tilda had said to them on the day she had left for her home after her mother had died. The queen listened with an avid interest to all she was told.

Back down in the reception area, Tilda Darga and d’Gravernaugh were finishing up their conversation.

“So, My Lord. Did I not tell you once that destiny would one day bring us together, crossing our paths again?”

“Yes, Tilda,” replied d’Gravernaugh. “But how did you know that I wanted to see you, I had not sent word to you yet?”

Tilda gave a wickedly self-indulgent chuckle.

“My Lord. I have been waiting on this day for twenty years, I hardly need reminding of it, and besides. . .ever since I was a little girl, I have known it ever to be my own destiny.”

d’Gravernaugh then escorted Tilda Darga to a guest room where she now would be staying until the arranged meeting, which he had just made on behalf of the queen, could take place. On his way back from settling Tilda in he suddenly thought of how, every time he had ever met Tilda Darga and, after taking his leave of her, she always managed to close their conversation with either a riddle or a prediction that only she knew the true meaning of, which in turn, befuddled his mind with wonder of how easy it was for her to do that to him.

He shook this thought from his head as he made his way to his private rooms. He then began to consider what exactly Tilda had to say to them. His mind was filled with intrigue at the prospect.

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