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Lines upon the Skin excerpt


It was the summer the old king died. He went peacefully in his sleep and the people mourned him, grieving the passing of his honest, gentle rule. Yet though the funeral fires burned brilliantly now, lighting up the city with their eerie glow, all knew that the time of the prince would soon come. And once again fires would be lit, but this time in celebration of the enthroning of Cynal's new ruler. So the people could enjoy the festivities. A funeral and an enthroning always make for fun.

We had come to the city for work, promised to us by the king, but had stayed on, hoping, like so many others, for a chance to present ourselves to his successor. Besides, Cynal is a beautiful city, a harbour town on the west coast of Tirayi with green sloping hills and clear azure waters. So we stayed and had our fair share of the fish and the fruit and the wine. So much in fact that we nearly missed the funeral procession. It was only a man calling down to us from the top of the hill as he passed that told us it had begun. Only slightly the worse for the wine we had been sharing under the bright Cynalese sun, we climbed to the road and joined the crowds of people heading into the city.

As a harbour town, Cynal is used to foreigners. It does not command half the arrivals of Delawyn, the largest sea town on the west coast, but that is only to its benefit. The people who surged forward to see once more the body of the dead king were of all races. The dark Cynalese, with their nut-brown skin and glossy thick curls, moved with ease amongst the visiting merchants and traders and sailors. We were just another five, come to bid the king well in his final moments on this earth.

The crowd cheered as the bier carrying the embalmed body appeared and a pathway was cleared by soldiers, their finely burnished buckles and swords flashing in the sunlight on their near-naked bodies. Where we stood the bier passed quite close and for a moment his profile was clear before me. I looked at this man, a man no longer, and wondered how I would have felt now if we had accepted his job in the spring as he had first offered. We had already signed for a small job with the Tamina and were forced to put him off, asking if it could wait one season. He had agreed to the summer, not knowing that he would never see the beautiful maps he had envisaged of his city and its lands begun, if indeed now they were begun at all. The procession moved on and I lost sight of the bier amidst the crowd.

When the bearers reached the wooden platform, they carefully laid his body out, surrounding him with his precious possessions. A priest stood over the body invoking the spirits to make his passage one without trial. She was a tall woman in scarlet robes, a member of the peace-loving Mecla sect. When she had finished she stepped down and we waited for the pouring of the oil.

Nothing happened.

Curious, the crowd began to murmur. Once the priest had spoken, the body should be sent to the spirits quickly, lest they forget him. I was not overly familiar with the rites of the Mecla but this I knew.

A shout was given behind us and the murmuring grew, then quickly dropped to an uneasy hush as a magnificent man rode unescorted into view and began to follow the path towards the pyre. Although I had never before seen him, I knew he had to be the prince, Lord Tarn.

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Last modified: March 2017