“Your Royal Highness, the audience awaits.”
Dawkin stared into the mirror. An immaculately-groomed royal gazed back, with every strand of hair combed and oiled, his face freshly shaved, and his head beset with a circlet of laurels, standing in for the headpiece about to be bestowed on him.
I hardly recognize you.
About to become King.
Dawkin breathed. He was careful not to sigh, as four attendants waited faithfully, watching his every move. One held out a cape of crushed velvet trimmed with white sable. A second stood by, ready to secure the tassels of the collar securely yet comfortably around the Prince’s neck. The other two were tasked with carrying the lower length of the tail, so as to avoid it dragging on the floor.
Such grandeur. Such ceremony.
Father must have felt like hell through it all.
Dawkin grinned to himself at the thought.
If he can do it, then I certainly can. “Very well.” He swung around and came before the servant bearing the cape. In a flurry of nimble fingers, the collar was fastened.
“Shall we, Sire?” The second servant stood aside as he motioned to the door.
“Proceed,” Dawkin commanded.
Dawkin strode as a servant fell to each side of him, with the other two bearing his train. Outside in the hall were every manner of attendant, servant and hireling employed by the castle. Cooks, stable boys, blacksmiths, masons and squires to note a few. All had been permitted – once thoroughly searched – to see His Highness parade from his chambers to the Throne Room for the coronation ceremony.
Though the audience consisted of neither royalty nor nobility, Dawkin could not help but feel embarrassed at having so many eyes laid upon him. The Cathedral will be much worse. He tried to shake the sensibility and marshal his focus. Still, the flutters remained.
Dawkin had pressed for the chance to ride to Mar-by-the-Sea Cathedral on his own mount. Those of the Court stressed it important for him to arrive by royal carriage as a matter of tradition. Though Dawkin had consented to avoid yet another argument that would go nowhere, as he came upon the white and gold carriage he found himself wishing he had been more insistent. The whole of the enclosed buggy, with its ivy spirals and curved vines, seemed too ostentatious for a Marlish king, let alone a Saliswater.
I thank Mar that Grandfather has already made his way there.
Begrudgingly, Dawkin climbed into the cab. No sooner had he adjusted in his seat when Everitt rode up to his window.
“Oh, Mar. Do you really need to see me like this?”
“My Lady.” The Right Captain nodded to Dawkin.
“Mock me again and I will banish you to some remote village on the Northern Isle. You’ll spend the rest of your days mopping up muck in a public house.”
“Fair enough. Until that day comes though, I am still in charge of your wellness and safety, so I must ride at your side.”
“Just keep quiet, will you? I cannot bear more attention than what will be heaped on me.”
“Well, James . . .”
“You’re not going to like what is waiting for you outside the castle.”
Dawkin imagined that Everitt was referring to the rows of crowds lining the streets. Indeed, such an audience was there, with every other Marlish citizen bearing a flower or ribbon to toss towards His Highness. However, upon departing from the shadow of the barbican gatehouse, Dawkin caught sight of the headache his Right Captain had alluded to earlier.
“His Royal Highness . . .”
“. . . of Kin Saliswater . . .”
Dawkin glanced up at Everitt. This time around his Right Captain did not even bother to hide his amusement.
“Make way for Prince Jameson.”
“A public house for you it is,” Dawkin said.
“Come now. You have to admire his enthusiasm.”
“What is he doing here? Don’t we usually conscript some baron’s nephew or third cousin for ceremonies where we need a royal crier?”
“True. But remember, at Court yesterday when expressing your gratitude to those who showed valor while the castle was under siege, you asked the master here to consider his reward.”
“And this is what he wanted?”
“Yes. To be your royal crier for the procession both to and from the Cathedral.”
Dawkin sank back in his seat. I have to listen to him a second time?
“Why wasn’t I informed of this?” Dawkin asked.
“Well, after considering, Master Reysen actually came back to the castle later that day to inform of his decision. He brought his request to one of the barbican guards, who passed the information to the Gatehouse Captain, who . . .”
Dawkin eyed Everitt. He waved his hand. “Yes, yes. You learned of it somehow.”
“You were so busy. I didn’t want to bother Your Highness with such particulars.”
The Prince shook his head.
“Garlands! Roses!” Master Reysen motioned to the offerings that laid scattered on the cobblestone street. “All for His Royal Highness, Prince Jameson.”
“Is he going to state the obvious the entire way up the hill?” Dawkin asked Everitt.
“Cheer up, James. His lack of droll will give you time to reflect.”
“Just mind the crowd.”
Everitt pulled up on his reins to give his horse pause and attend to his duties of security. After Reysen’s fifth proclamation, Dawkin did find himself oddly at peace, his state of mind clear and rational.
He hung his arm out the carriage window, which had had its glass removed so that Dawkin may greet the onlookers. He did so with a casual glance here and a wave there, which elicited clapping and cheers from the crowd.
The road from the barbican gatehouse made its first of many turns on the path to the Cathedral, granting Dawkin a glimpse of his favorite spot in the city: Sir Nygell’s Books.
With walls of white plaster and shingles of sturdy aged oak, the store was unassuming and ordinary, among other buildings of similar stature and taste. The contents within were no more impressive, as the collection of manuscripts would not have filled even one row of shelves in the King’s Library.
Rather, it was the atmosphere of the shop that appealed to Dawkin, on the rare occasions that he ventured into the city when he was supposed to be relegated to Terran. The soot-stained windows offering a scattering of light during the day, so that at all hours one could enter to find it illuminated by candlelight. The shopkeeper kept a tidy array of tables and chairs throughout, made more welcoming by the freshly-baked pastries and warm mugs of tea his wife offered to patrons. Though Arcporte was the center of Marland, Nygell’s was the only bookshop in town, yet so infrequent were its visitors that on every arrival Dawkin always found a quiet seat. He could sit alone and peruse the collection for hours, without a servant or attendant to interrupt his peace.
Another curve of the road and Sir Nygell’s fell out of view, leaving little in way of capturing Dawkin’s attention.
This is it, Dawkin told himself. My coronation. The one day I have been raised for, the pinnacle of our kinghood. Fate smiled upon me. I chose the longest of straws when amongst my brothers. I had the favor of Mar. Now here I sit, about to be crowned. This is to be the greatest day of my life.
And yet it wasn’t.
An emptiness, a sense of the void, gnawed at Dawkin. Something was missing. Was it his father? The absence of his brothers? A wartime victory? Every scenario prompted Dawkin to consider, and each one seemed a hollow prospect hindering his happiness.
He thought back to the range of stories he had consumed over his life. Tales of knights and soldiers saving the day. Of kings and princes battling for the future of their empires. Of great men willing to sacrifice all for the love of their lives.
Dawkin and his brothers had done just that. Or some part akin to those sagas. The last threat to northern Marland had been vanquished, the barbarian enemy stopped in their tracks at the Chesa. The traitors had been uprooted. The support of the Conclave secured. Even the lady in waiting, the Ibian princess, had been coaxed into staying, a sign of the alliance to be forged between two of Afari’s greatest nations.
Yet for the litany of accomplishments that led up to the coronation, the whole process seemed feigned. Empty and hollow. His greatest moment had turned out to be mundane, devoid of satisfaction or excitement.
But what of The Testimony of the Sages? Dawkin considered. As a recent discovery from Nygell’s Books, Dawkin had found himself engrossed in The Testimony, a collection of short stories of various wise men. Each narrative told of how sages had intervened at just the right moment to grant advice to their students and wards. Such men often made a sweeping gesture at the end of their yarns, providing the closure necessary to both characters and readers alike.
One by one, Dawkin recalled his favorite manuscripts, realizing that nearly all centered on a champion made whole in mind and spirit at the end of his journey. The favorite of his youth had been The Stem of Thorns, about a boy from an impoverished Har-Kin who rose to prominence through his skill and wit. Other standbys included The Histories, The Line of Barons, The Hawk and the Dove, and The Dukedom. All those were of various characters who went on personal quests for gold and glory. Most succeeded, and even those who did not found solace when returning to their families and hamlets.
Then there was the Knight Kin, an odyssey of grand proportions that followed a family of knights through the whole of the Century War. In that string of legends, the sunset of each knight’s life brought a degree of calm and pride before the respective hero faded into death.
Yet Father had no such fate.
The manner of Audemar’s death gave Dawkin pause, one interrupted only by the sudden lurch he did bother to notice.
“Your Highness, when you are ready.”
Everitt stood outside, his hand on the door to open it. Dawkin, removing his arm from the crook of the window, nodded. He descended the footstool from the carriage to come before the noble audience outside the Cathedral. Dressed in an ocean of chiffon and silk, velvet and soft spun wool, the crowd was resplendent in their attire, which reflected their adoration and respect for their king.
Taking it all in was all Dawkin could do to keep from sighing.
The Right Captain directed the Prince through the throng, which bowed their heads as he passed. Unlike the crowd of commoners in the city streets below, this audience remained quiet in their reverence of His Highness. Raised from birth to respect their sovereign, they deliberately pursed their lips and sullied their eyes to express their stoic awe, their tempered respect.
Discipline. Teaching. I must practice as much. Tis my place.
The parade continued up to the entrance of the Cathedral. The doors laid open to allow Dawkin to be greeted by High Bishop Perceval.
“Your Royal Highness,” Bishop Perceval said, bowing.
“Your Grace,” Dawkin replied, returning the gesture.
“Today is a grand day for all of Marland. The royals of the island and the greater continent await inside.”
“I would expect no less for any ceremony presided by Your Grace.”
“You are too kind. But as you know, they come not for me. This is your moment. Your time.”
It feels like anything but.
“I will proceed into the Cathedral with bell and incense,” Perceval continued. “Once at the altar, I will turn to address the parishioners and beg the question ‘Who here answers the highest of callings? To serve both Mar and State?’”
“To which I will answer, ‘I do.’”
“Right. Then you will stroll down the carpeted way to the altar where I will anoint Your Highness and mark the beginning of your kinghood.”
Dawkin, confirming his understanding, nodded.
“Right. Then let us begin.”
The gallery at the entrance cleared as those within took to their seats. Perceval, in the company of his monks, moved to the archway that opened into the cathedral’s nave. After a pause, the choir to the right of the church and the trumpets to his left went into song and chord. He took to the carpet, his strides as controlled and purposeful as a knight before Court.
“Tis a dizzy, my Prince,” Everitt said, once all others were out of earshot.
“I saw you while riding uphill. What ails you?”
“Nothing, I suppose.”
“James . . .”
“This should be greater than it actually is. We achieved a startling victory. My head will soon bear the crown. And yet –”
“You find your contemplative self talking to me?”
“This is usually the part in the story when you’re supposed to say something smart. Inspiring. Or a little girl was to have rushed to my carriage during the parade, to hand me a wildflower and remind me of the simple pleasures of life. Or a lad visiting from a distant manor should have challenged me in the bailey this morning, to show that I have much to give this country, and its children.”
“What?” Dawkin asked.
“My father always claims that stories and dreams with all their perfect moments are the products of blissful maidens and drunken fools. Real men and women deal in the currency of mistakes.”
“Sounds like the musings of a Furde.”
“So, as your father’s son, what say you?”
“Nothing of note. I could say those perfect words you would like to hear, ones designed to provoke and settle your nerves. Or I could say all the wrong things, and come across as fiendish, or stupid. It does not matter, James. For either way, you are to march down the aisle. You are to take the altar. Be anointed. You entered this sacred place a prince and will leave as a king. Our King.”
Straightforward and true, Dawkin considered. Strong language. No frills. No sentiment.
Like a Saliswater.
“No wonder my father deemed you my protector.”
“I am your Right Captain, James. In marches. In battle. In boring old traditions.”
Dawkin chuckled. Too suddenly and too loudly for such a cavernous edifice, drawing the ire – then questioning looks – of those close by.
“Let us get you crowned, old boy,” Everitt said.
The change in tune signaled Dawkin’s turn. He stepped onto the carpet, plush to the touch and scarlet in tone. The soft rug cushioned his footfalls as he strode toward the altar.My father would have something wry to say of this too.