BtQC – Chapters 19 and 20
Her days passed in much the same fashion. The king grew steadily worse, his coughing fits lasting longer and his breathing growing more labored. Brenna spent most of her time with him, sending him gentle healing energy to ease his suffering and striving to make him comfortable. Machieve was a persistent presence as well, and Brenna began to notice that the king seemed worse when he was near, although she couldn’t be sure of it. Alamara began to spend more of her time with them too, and Alfonse seemed cheered by their cheerful banter and reminiscences. Machieve’s tone and manner were outwardly kind and solicitous to Alamara, but Brenna was not convinced. There was something subtly sinister about his gaze, his demeanor, his mannerisms that made him untrustworthy in her eyes.
But always, Garan was never far from Brenna’s thoughts. It was worse at night or when she was alone, and her heart ached for him. She thought of sending word to him, but had no way of safely doing so. She desperately wanted to ask Alamara or even Alfonse about him, but kept her counsel for fear of bringing harm to him.
Days grew into weeks as the king’s life slowly faded from him. Machieve and Alamara were with her constantly now, keeping vigil and attending to the king’s needs around the clock. Torrie informed her that peers and nobles were arriving from all over the kingdom and surrounding lands, having heard that the king’s crossing was imminent, and Brenna marveled at Alamara’s calm, confident, regal demeanor even in the face of such sadness. In one particular unguarded moment, Alamara broke down, crying to Brenna that she didn’t know what would happen to her when Alfonse was gone, but composed herself immediately when Machieve returned to the room. Brenna worried about her friend, but kept her own counsel.
It was an hour before sunset and Brenna was napping in her room, having volunteered to sit vigil with the king during the night, when Torrie shook her awake. “The Queen requests you come to her right away. I think … oh, my lady … I think …” Torrie sobbed and Brenna knew at once that the time of the king’s crossing was at hand. She sprang up, threw on her cloak and hurried toward the king’s chambers.
Brenna ran down the hall, nearly colliding with Machieve as she reached the king’s chamber door. He brushed her aside and Brenna rounded on him. “My lord, this is not a good time. I will send for you when it is done.” Brenna grabbed the doorknob, but Machieve put his hand on hers, stopping her from opening the door.
His touch was icy cold and he leaned down close to her face, glaring into her eyes. “Do not thwart me, priestess. I will know who sits the throne next.” He pulled hard, opening the door and sending Brenna stumbling backward. He strode through the door, his face and demeanor immediately changing to one of grief and concern. Brenna scrambled after him, swallowing an angry retort as she moved to the king’s side.
Alamara’s tear-streaked face told Brenna everything she needed to know and she leaned over the king, surprised and relieved to feel shallow, uneven breathing. Alamara knelt at his side, holding his hand and caressing his face with heartbreaking tenderness. Brenna moved to stand behind the king, placing her hands on his shoulders and sending peaceful energy into him.
He took a deep breath, and smiled slightly. “Open the windows,” he whispered, his voice barely audible. Machieve gestured to a nearby servant, who moved at once to the curtains, drawing them open. The room filled with the magnificent colors of the sunset, the sky and sea changing from pinks to oranges to reds to violets.
Machieve moved to the king’s side. “Your Majesty, you have not named your successor. Who will reign upon your death?”
Alfonse had been looking out the window, but now focused on Machieve. “Get out, you pompous ass,” he said with a quiet fury.
Machieve looked shocked, but composed himself quickly. Brenna reached for his arm to lead him away, but he stood his ground. “Who is your successor? Who will sit the throne?”
Alfonse’s still stunning green eyes bore into Machieve’s. “Alamara, my queen, is and always has been my successor. Go and tell your cohorts.”
Machieve dropped all pretense of solicitous concern, his face contorting in rage. “We shall see,” he said, storming out the door and slamming it behind him.
The noise reverberated through the room for a long moment, then Alfonse gasped and grasped Alamara’s hand tightly, a coughing fit wracking him. Brenna sent a surge of healing energy through him, closing her eyes and opening herself to the energy of the Goddess. She sensed that the veil between the worlds had parted to admit the king and she opened her eyes, seeing not the king’s chambers or fading sunset but the fantastically beautiful realm of the Summerlands and several warriors, male and female, clad in gleaming golden armor standing ready to escort the king. “Your Majesty,” she said softly, “are you ready?”
Alfonse saw it too, and his eyes widened at the sight before him. “It is beautiful,” he said but then turned to look into Alamara’s eyes, “but not half so beautiful as you, my love.” He looked up at Brenna then, his face growing serious. “There is a man I have wronged, and I have no time left to set it right. You must find him and undo the wrong I have done. His name is Garan Lyons and he is a knight of Locallen. Find him. He will protect Alamara. I charge you with this duty.”
Brenna couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She managed, “Yes, Your Majesty. I will find him,” not trusting herself to say more.
Alfonse’s eyes closed once more and Brenna saw the Goddess step forward in the guise of a magnificent female warrior and extend her hand toward the king. His spirit body sat up and reached for her, then paused to look at Alamara, who sat with her forehead against the king’s, crying silently. His spirit caressed her face, leaning over to kiss the top of her head with gentle tenderness, and then he stood, taking the Goddess’s hand. As he began to walk away, he glanced back over his shoulder at Brenna. “Thank you, priestess. Take care of Alamara and tell her I love her.” With that, he turned away from them and strode into the Summerlands with his warrior escort.
Brenna watched them recede into the distance, then felt her perception shift from the spirit world to the physical world. She could see the gathering twilight and the deepening sky once again, and looking down, she could see Alamara crying over the body of the king. Brenna moved to her friend’s side and placed her hand gently on Alamara’s back. “His last thoughts were of his love for you,” she said. With that, Alamara turned, throwing herself into Brenna’s arms, her body wracked with sobs. Brenna held her friend for a long moment, doing what she could to soothe her grief.
After a time, Alamara straightened, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief. She stood and faced the servants, who were huddled together nearby, many crying as well. Alamara smiled at them kindly. “The king has crossed over to the Summerland. Let it be known that I am his successor.” They hurried from the room, and soon Brenna heard a thousand bells chiming all over the castle and the town of Locallen as word spread of the king’s demise.
They worked together to prepare Alfonse’s body for the funeral. They washed and dressed him in his most regal garments, Alamara doing most of the work herself. When he was ready, servants brought in an ornate funeral bier and helped to lay the king upon it, carrying him down into the Great Hall where he would lie in state for several days. When they were gone, Alamara returned to her rooms and Brenna helped her dress in a simple but elegant gown of black brocade, a delicate veil lightly covering her long, loose hair. She composed herself and embraced Brenna once last time before heading downstairs to join the mourners, knowing that her presence would reassure the others in their grief. Brenna marveled at her friend’s strength and dignity, and retired to her own rooms to change before joining Alamara in the Great Hall. She knew she should send word to Streestown and all the other Abbeys about the king’s crossing, but she couldn’t face the task just yet. Her head was filled with the king’s command that she find Garan and bid him return to Locallen. Would he return? Would she finally learn what had happened so long ago to make him leave? If he did agree to return, would he be able to protect Alamara from those who would depose her? It was obvious to Brenna that Machieve was not to be trusted, but how was he involved? She needed to talk to Alamara, to finally ask her what had happened to Garan and to find out what she knew, but she couldn’t bring herself to do so just yet. She needs to grieve for her husband first, she thought. Surely those that would oppose her would have the decency to wait until after the funeral and burial. Brenna vowed to remain vigilant and protect her friend until Garan returned to do so.
The next several hours was a constant stream of dignitaries, officials and visitors coming to pay their last respects to King Alfonse. Brenna stayed near Alamara’s side and marveled once again at her friend’s dignity and grace. It was well past midnight when she finally convinced the queen that she should rest, for there would be more visitors and preparations in the morning and over the next several days.
They walked together up the long staircase to the third floor, Alamara dropping the pretense of strength and seeming to grow more tired the further they got from the Great Hall full of mourners. By the time they reached her private chambers, Alamara was leaning heavily on Brenna’s arm and she sank onto the couch near the fire and put her head in her hands.
“May I help you retire for the night?” Brenna asked, touching her friend on the shoulder.
Alamara looked up, her face streaked with tears. “I can’t face that empty bed, Brenna. I just can’t.” She covered her face again and began to sob.
Brenna sat next to her, pulling Alamara into her embrace. “Perhaps a cup of tea here by the fire first, then. There’s no need to rush off to bed just yet,” she said. At Alamara’s nod, Brenna rose and moved the kettle over the fire, digging in her medicine bag for her favorite blend of calming herbs while Alamara removed her veil and kicked off her shoes. As the tea steeped, Brenna unlaced Alamara’s gown and helped her settle onto the couch in her under dress, tucking a soft fur lap robe around her. Finally, with tea in hand, Brenna sat on the floor near her friend and began to croon an old chant that always brought her comfort.
Alamara sipped the tea and leaned back on the cushions, her eyes still damp and her face tired and drawn. As Brenna sang, Alamara’s eyes began to blink and the lines in her face relaxed. Within minutes, her cup drained, Alamara was fast asleep.
Brenna finished her song and sat for a time, watching the fire and listening to her friend’s slow, even breathing. There was no need to move Alamara from the couch tonight. She was sleeping peacefully and would need her rest and her strength to deal with the events of the next several days. Brenna considered staying at her friend’s side throughout the night, but decided against it and made her way to her own rooms, collapsing onto her bed as the familiar loneliness and longing for Garan sank in. She called out to him in her mind and drifted off to sleep as their psychic connection was established.