Because Facts are Boring
I know I've been posting about Scarlet Talon (Just kidding. I've psoted like nothing), but here's an exerpt from the book; specifically the first chapter. Enjoy, and leave any responses in the comments below! Thank you!
Bara-BOOM. Bara-BOOM. Bara-Bara-Bara-BOOM!
The funeral procession was still a good quarter of a kilometre away and yet the noise of the drums still echoed down the cobblestone alleyways and equally un-paved main streets. Shop owners stopped hawking their wares to listen in equal parts wonder and horror; for though the noise had never before been heard, everyone knew what it meant. The main street fell in to silence as, in the distance, a black processional approached, marching down from the castle towards the river, twisting its way through the hills.
At the lead was the Shadow Guard, an elite force who were the Queen’s personal bodyguard. Handpicked from the most promising recruits to the Royal service, they received special training that made them near invincible in hand-to-hand fighting and experts at all assets of personal protection. Their dark, purple-and-red uniform melded perfectly of the procession, and where normally they would have elicited several excited whispers amongst the townspeople, today they stared on in silence as the men passed.
Following them were regular lieutenants in the Royal service. These men had, in their own way, been of great service to the Queen, and had so been given one of the highest honours she was capable of giving; each was in charge of one of the eight divisions of the Royal service. They did not wear their uniform, as its bright blue and red colours would have been incredibly ostentatious. Instead, they wore all black, and carried rifles with bayonets over their left shoulders.
Rumours were spreading amongst the town people; perhaps the dead person was the crown prince? The young boy had been sick with an undiagnosed disease, and it was generally held as common knowledge that he wouldn’t recover. It would be incredibly sad, but not incredibly surprising, to see him lying in the casket as it passed by.
Following the lieutenants was the main processional. This included various members of the Royal family, and high-ranking nobles and aristocrats. They drove in a solemn line, forgoing walking, choosing instead to ride in horse and carriage. Their faces were obscured by curtains and veils, and they seemed aloof, enigmatic, above the proceedings. Those that the townspeople could see showed no sign of grief, but they knew that it was most likely an act, put on for their benefit.
Then the casket rounded the corner.
Carried by eight servants, the casket was inlaid with gold, and made of heavy oak. Long poles ran through the sides, and it required four to a side simply to life the box. As they moved down the street, the people were finally able to get a look at the deceased. As they saw the occupant of the casket, a great cry went up, and many people began to openly weep.
“The Queen! The Queen is dead!”
The cry was carried by the townspeople, and a great many of them rent their clothing, and wept right there on the cobblestone streets. The casket slowly passed, and was brought up by the rearguard, a patrol of mounted cavalry carrying carbines. They were garbed completely in black, and due to a visor on their helmets, it was impossible to see their faces.
So ended the reign of Adika Regina II of Taray.
Lord Edward Nietz of Kor paid no heed to the mourning of the townspeople outside of his carriage. He was staring out ahead of him, at the back of the coach before him, lost in thought. Idly, his fingers drummed on the window frame of the door he sat against, and his tongue pressed against the back of his teeth.
The back of the coach in front of him was quite interesting, albeit rather plain. It was a rather ostentatious sky-blue, with silver inlay in swirling patterns that was clearly meant to symbolize something; possibly the coat of arms of the noble in front of him. Nietz frowned, and tried, in vain, to discern just which noble it was. Within a few seconds, he gave up – it was a pointless endeavour, and he had more important things to think about.
The Queen’s death was… suspicious. She had been found in her room, sitting in an armchair, a lazy smile across her face. This might not have aroused any suspicion, except that the person inspecting the Queen’s body had noticed that she seemed rather… dishevelled. She had alerted the Royal service, and they immediately launched an investigation as to whether assassination could be ruled out as a viable option or not.
However, doing an autopsy was not an option. However foolishly, doing an autopsy on a member of the Royal family was illegal unless a court order stating that an assassination was being considered a possible cause of death was obtained, and so, since the service hadn’t been able to get the order in time, the body of Adika II was not dissected.
Nietz had been on the scene of the death within about half an hour of the alert being raised, to do a post-mortem inspection; that had been about four hours before, on the edge of dawn. He’d not appreciated being woken, but endured it for her sake. The body was taken, and brought to the Royal surgeon. However, without the court order, he could do nothing except order her cleaned and then, after being dressed, placed in a casket.
The Queen had been much loved by her people, a fact that could be readily appreciated by the wailing coming through the walls of the coach. Nietz frowned as he became aware of it for the first time, and tried to mentally block it out. However, with her passing, her husband, the King, was the ruler of the country. Their son, the Crown Prince Adrian, would be the official heir following the King’s passing, but, with his sickness, the birthright had been de facto transferred to their younger daughter, Kathleen.
“The Queen is dead,” Nietz murmured to himself, not really paying attention to what he was saying. “Long live King Stephen.”
He was jolted out of his stupor by the carriage coming to a sudden halt. He looked up from his mutterings, and saw that his chauffeur was looking back down at him. The man had been sitting up top, managing the horses, making sure he kept the right pace, and not letting the beasts get out of line. Now, though, he had one last job.
“My lord, we’ve arrived at the river. I must ask you to exit the vehicle while I go park; the lords and ladies appear to be gathering by that willow over there.”
Nietz nodded his thanks, and opened the door. He stepped out, and rose to his full height. His coattails fluttered slightly in a slight breeze that was blowing over the riverbank, and he shivered. Suddenly, he found the willow tree that the Chauffeur had mentioned, and saw that, indeed, the other nobles had gathered there.
Striding over, he made his way among them until he reached the centre of the clump, where stood the Lord of Maklaey, one Lord Earl Jayovere. Nietz shook his hand, and then, pulling him close, muttered in his ear, “How is His Majesty taking the news?”
Jayovere frowned at the question, more out of thought than disapproval, and whispered back, “about as rough as one would expect him to take it; his wife did just pass away, you must remember.”
“Yes, Jayovere. I’m very likely to forget that the Queen is dead, especially given our current location and circumstances. Really, sir, are you trying to insult my intelligence?”
The lord turned red, and, sputtering, decided it was best not to respond. Curtly, he excused himself, turned on his heels, and strode away. Nietz examined his retreating form, and decided that angering that particular Lord may not have been the best of ideas. However, considering there was little he could do about it, he decided to lay the issue to rest – in this case, literally. The funeral was beginning.
Taray was a nation of water, and one of the old sayings the nurse-mothers told was, “From water to water, we are nought but water.” Though rather depressing if one thought too deeply about it, the saying was certainly accurate when it came to Tarayian burial customs.
The ornate coffin had been placed aboard a relatively plain boat, specifically made to not last long in the waters that flowed past the palace, out to the sea. The boat would follow the river, go as far as it could, and as soon as it hit any rock, or bashed in to the shore, it would sink. The boats usually made it to open sea, and then sank within a few days. The point of the custom was, because no one knew where the grave was, there could be no pilgrimage to the grave of an especially renowned monarch; there would be no praying at their grave.
The Queen’s boat was simply made of a frame of wood, covered in canvas that had been water-proofed with oil and animal fats. The casket was place in an alcove made specifically for it, and then a fat man in a black robe ascended to a small platform above the nobles and Royal family members.
“From water to water, ye go, and let the one God accept ye…”
Nietz listened with interest as the man, who was apparently a priest, said some prayers, and then stepped down. The King walked beside where the boat was tethered, and, his eyes hidden by a pair of darkened glasses, he undid the boat. Suddenly released from the forces protecting it from the current, the boat seemed to hesitate for a moment, and then began to slowly float downstream.
The nobles stared after it for a long time until it had disappeared around the bend in the river, and then, slowly, as though coming out of a daze, they turned, in huddled groups, and sombrely made their way back to their individual carriages. The tears, the remembrance – all of that would come later. First came the acceptance; and no one could really believe she was gone yet.
Nietz got in to his carriage, and instructed his chauffeur to take him back to the inn where he was staying while he was in the capital. The Delilah was a surprisingly classy establishment, with clean beds, good food, and better drink. As well, an added bonus, it was a mere ten minutes by foot from the castle – not that Nietz would have been caught dead entering on foot. That would be the ultimate disgrace.
As the carriage pulled to a halt in front of the inn, he rubbed his head, and realized suddenly that he was incredibly hungry; he’d skipped out on breakfast to get to the scene of the death. They really served quite wonderful breakfast: ham and eggs, absolutely delicious.
“My lord, we’ve arrived,” the chauffeur said patiently, and Nietz glared at him.
“I’m aware of that, you buffoon!”
He stepped out of the carriage, and glanced up at the sign above the door as he entered the inn. It showed a picture of a maid in a faintly seductive position, modestly dressed but still enticing, holding a pair of scissors. “The Delilah” was emblazoned underneath in strange, gothic text. The reference had been completely lost on Nietz, and when he had asked the innkeeper about it, he had looked vaguely uncomfortable, and avoided answering the question.
The atmosphere inside the inn was gloomy. There were only about three people in the room, including the innkeeper, who was cleaning a glass. Two men were separately eating breakfast, one having the pancakes, and the other having the ham and eggs. Nietz strode across the room, and approached the innkeeper.
“Ah, hello there, m’lord. I’m afraid I didn’t see ye comin’ in. Anything I can get ye?”
“Yes, I would like the ham and eggs. Perhaps with some milk on the side. Is that understood?”
“Good,” Nietz nodded, and then went and sat at one of the tables in the corner. It was relatively near the fireplace, which, while warm, was not going anywhere near its full blaze at this time of the day.
“This is the problem with traveling with a small retinue,” he muttered to himself gloomily. “You have to do all of this stuff yourself.”
A few minutes later the innkeeper brought out the ham and eggs, and Nietz distracted himself with the food for quite a while. However, not even the scrumptious combination could keep him away from the troubles prowling his mind for long, and soon he was back to thinking about the Queen’s death. There was something out of place in the whole thing, something that was itching at the back of his mind.
Nietz looked up, and saw a figure outlined in the doorway, and frowned as he tried to make out who it was. Then his eyes widened as he realized the man was none other than Lord Jayovere.
“My, my. Lord Jayovere. To what do I owe this pleasure?”
“I, er… I wanted to apologize for my behaviour this morning. I was condescending with you, and I’m sorry.”
Nietz briefly contemplated pointing out the fact that he, and not Jayovere, had been the standoffish one, but then dismissed the idea. If he wanted to apologize, who was Nietz to prevent him from doing what he wanted?
“I accept your apology, Lord Jayovere. Thank you.”
“Also, I wanted to talk to you about the… incident this morning.”
“Of course,” Nietz sighed. “What do you want to know?”
Jayovere glanced around nervously, and then said, quietly, “Is there anywhere more private we can talk?”
“My room,” Nietz said immediately. “Just let me finish my breakfast, and we can go straight up.”
The ham and eggs suddenly seemed to taste a lot more rubbery, and after a few more mouthfuls, he decided that the additional nutrition wasn’t worth the wait time, and so stood, strode over to a garbage can, and threw out the remaining food.
“Add the food to my tab, Innkeeper,” he commanded over his shoulder as he headed upstairs, and the innkeeper nodded. He wasn’t fully paying attention to the noble, as he had been staring out the window at the local beauty selling wares outside, across the street. The glass he was cleaning was most likely spotless.
Nietz and Jayovere reached the room, and went inside. Nietz sat down on the made bed, and, with a sweeping motion of his arm, indicated that his companion should take the chair that was the partner of the desk that sat under the window. Jayovere sat, and suddenly seemed a different man. He was shaking, and his fingers seemed to shake in odd, unpredictable manner. As well, he seemed bent over, as though carrying some incredible secret upon his back.
“I… trust you know the details of Her Majesty’s death?”
“I’m afraid I only know what I’ve been told, and what I found upon investigation, Earl – is it alright if I call you Earl? It’s frightfully formal to call you “Lord Jayovere”, and just Jayovere seems rude – which is, regrettably, very little.”
Jayovere gave a slight smile, and responded, “Only if I may call you by your first name as well.”
Nietz grimaced, and then acquiesced. “Oh, very well, if you must.”
“Anyways, the Queen was found dead at around five-thirty a.m., by a chambermaid named Mary. She screamed, and raised the other servants in Her Majesty’s suite. They quickly contacted the authorities, who, after a brief investigation, could not conclude how she died. They think it may have simply been old age, but I don’t believe it. Her Majesty was not an old woman; fifty-four is hardly an age to be dropping off dead.”
“So, what do you think happened?”
“We’ll get to that shortly,” Jayovere said grimly. “Tell me what you think happened.”
“I have no idea. I don’t have enough information.”
“Good; never make assumptions based on incomplete knowledge. I don’t think anything though, Edward. I know what happened.”
Nietz leaned forward in his seat, an astonished look creeping its way on to his face, as the answer to all of his questions seemed to mystically appear out of practically nowhere to answer his questions.
“Well?” He demanded, and Jayovere sighed miserably.
“The Queen, I’m afraid, didn’t die of old age.”
“So how did she die?!”
Jayovere looked Nietz directly in the eye, and took a moment to pick his words before he responded to the request.
“Her Majesty… was murdered.”
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