This is a piece from a forthcoming sequel to my novel “The Hordes of Chanakra”. Kreg, the main character in the first novel, has been lost at sea and his companions are holding a “Hastening and Gifting” ceremony, a ritual to ease the travels of the departed to the afterlife.
In the bow of the ship, Keven looked back at Kaila’s approach. In addition to the ill-fitting clothes taken from the late purser she wore a mantled hood pulled low over her head. The skirts of the hood, normally worn over a separate cloak, just covered her shoulders. In her right hand she held a roll of cloth.
One of the large iron brazier’s for cooking the crew’s meals stood in the bow of the ship, a fire kindled in its center. Shillond stood watch over the brazier, ensuring that no sparks escaped to catch in the rigging or the pitch-soaked planking of the ship.
Kaila knelt by the brazier, her head low, her face shadowed by the hood.
Shillond, on the far side of the brazier, sat. Keven dropped to the deck as well, sitting crosslegged.
“Kaila?” He reached out a hand to her.
Kaila held up a hand, forestalling him.
Keven looked up Shillond. Shillond met his eyes and shrugged.
Shillond cleared his throat. “Since we’re all here.”
“Marek?” Kaila asked.
“Father tends the tiller,” Keven said. “He has given me his proxy for the ceremony.”
Kaila nodded, the hood bobbing.
“Kaila,” Shillond said, “since you were closest to Kreg, would you like to…”
“Father, it would please me much if you or Keven would begin. I would save my words, and my gift, for the end.”
“Of course. Keven?”
Keven nodded and stood.
“I speak for Marek, King of Aerioch. Kreg came to us from a distant land, from another world so Shillond tells it. From his arrival he has given whole heartedly to the Kingdom, sparing not even his own body in his efforts to defend it.” Keven took a folded piece of parchment from under his tunic. “I give him this writ, making him a Duke, he and his heirs forever.”
Keven smiled. “This seems an odd gift. Kreg has no use of a Duchy in the Halls. And he has no heirs unless…” Keven looked at Kaila.
Without raising her head she shook it. “There can be no children of Kreg’s body.”
“It is symbolic,” Shillond said. “The highest honor the King can bestow upon a man raising him to the highest rank of the nobility.”
Keven nodded and laid the parchment on the fire. It curled and blackened as the flames took hold. In moments it was consumed.
“Speaking for myself,” Keven continued, “I cannot say more than my father did. Kreg was a good friend to Aerioch and I wish I had known him better.”
Keven opened a large pouch at his belt. From it he drew a large round fruit.
“The cook on this ship possessed some few fresh fruits along with the dried.” Keven broke open the fruit, revealing its seed-filled interior, each seed covered in a juice-filled pulp. “This was my favorite when I visited Chanakra. I hope Kreg relishes it as much as did I.”
Keven placed the fruit on the fire. Steamy smoke rose as the fruit hissed in the flames. Keven bowed to Shillond and sat.
“I, too, have little to offer. I do not think Kreg ever realized how much he gave to us. And now that he is gone, what can I give to him? So, like with our King, I must give a symbolic gift.”
Shillond flicked his hand and a ball of blue light appeared in it. “Let this, small portion of my power, stand for all I would have done had Kreg remained with us.”
Shillond turned his hand and the ball of light darted to the flames to burst and vanish.
Shillond nodded to Kaila and sat.
Kaila rose. She folded back the hood.
Keven’s eyes widened. Bare stubble remained of Kaila’s hair.
“You shame me, Father,” Kaila said. “I had thought merely to offer Kreg a memory, and perhaps a promise of meeting again once I too take the journey with Pireth.” A gaunt smile tugged at her lips. “But it is not too late to amend.”
She licked her lips, then bowed her head a moment, then stared into the flame.
“When you came, Kreg, you seemed like little more than a babe, unversed in the ways of the world. I took you in hand, taught you to fight with sword, with lance, on foot and on horseback. But you, in your turn, taught me how to live. You thought me more than I ever dared imagine. And I did not dare to fall short in your eyes. We fought together many times, saved each others lives again and again. Would that I could have saved yours one more time. But it was not to be.”
Kaila unrolled the cloth she had brought with it. Within lay bundled her hair, hacked from her head with a knife.
“Let this, my hair, stand for the joy we would have shared together. Let it stand for the sons I would gladly have born him, that now will never be. Let it stand for the life we two would have lived. And let it carry my love to him and remind him that no day shall pass that I do not remember him however long, or short, my life shall be.”
Using her right hand, Kaila gently laid the hair in the fire, heedless of the way the flames caressed and reddened her own skin.
Finally, she stepped back and raised her hands to either side above the flame.
“May Pireth guide you swiftly, Love. May your tread be light. May you find rest and comfort in the Halls. Take my love with you and let it warm you until the time when I join you there. So let it be.”
She took another step back and turned a half smile on Shillond. “Did I get the words right, father?”
Shillond waved a hand. “It is not the words that matter, but the heart behind them.” He reached out for her. “Your hand will need tending to.”
Kaila took yet another step back holding her burned hand behind her.
“Nay, father. That, too was my gift. I will not snatch it back.”
Keven stood up and stepped toward her.
“Your Grace, if we have to fight…”
Kaila laid her left hand on her sword, as though to draw it. “My sword hand is ever yours, after only the King.” He raised her right hand. “My other hand is my own.”
Keven looked at Shillond and shrugged.
“Very well, Kaila,” Shillond said. “But if the pain becomes too great…”
Kaila let her arms fall to the side. “Then I will bear it, as I have born others.”
She turned and strode toward the stern of the ship.
Keven watched her go then turned to Shillond.
“I worry for her.”
“As do I,” Shillond said.
If you liked this, you might like my novel The Hordes of Chanakra:
Pulled into an alternate world mired in the middle ages, Kreg finds allies in Kaila, a rough swordmistress, and her wizardly father. He’s also found their foes – an unending horde pouring forth from the small nation next door.
Now, he’s in a race against time to find the true source, before everything he cares about ends in fire and death!