Another week of ordinary. I try to savor it, knowing we are soon going to be pulled into the Wedding Plans Mother is orchestrating. She began quietly just making lists, then her ladies started flurrying about, and were soon joined by mine. It is only a matter of time before Alan and I get pulled into the yearlong extravaganza that is a Royal Wedding in Abalem. I still haven’t warned Alan, instead, I haven’t complained (much) about his restoration of his forge, or even his experiments with exploding pottery—which turned out to be more fun than deadly, although I don’t believe he and Taver have given up yet. Jes goes with him frequently to watch, and I haven’t been able to decide if he is interested in the concept, or amused. He did show them a type of sling they could use to propel the lumps of pottery farther than just throwing them, which delighted Taver until he realized his new ‘weapon’ could only be ineffective at greater distances.
Mynar and Lej are immersed in their research. I haven’t told Father what they are up to, and I’m sure Mynar hasn’t because Father hasn’t tried to burn his books yet. I am counting on The Wedding to disrupt their plans.
I put three of the four sheets of the daily messages I have just decoded in a neat stack and summon a guard to deliver them to Taver, or whoever Taver has left in charge if he has gone back to the forge with Alan. I burn the fourth, and go to tell Father that Celeste, yet again, has nothing to report.
Father is in one of the reception rooms, keeping three secretaries busy with the minutiae of running a kingdom. Yet again I feel satisfaction that Mynar is the Heir and not me.
“Nothing to report.” I keep my voice low, despite knowing the secretaries wouldn’t understand what I am talking about even if they do hear. Father just smiles, as he does every morning. He knows Celeste doesn’t foresee everything, but he still considers it a good sign for the day if she has sent no warning.
“Germins is still shadowing Kels, and making notes about what he has learned. And in the process telling us that Verkal is worried about demons. I wonder why?” Father looks at me as if I might have an answer.
“We certainly had more than our share this year, even before the foreign Sorcerers started arriving.”
“I don’t suppose I can hope that there are no more Sorcerers in Abalem.”
I remind myself that I shouldn’t roll my eyes at my King, so I roll my eyes at my Father, “Any local ones are probably just lying low and hoping to avoid notice.”
We will never be without people willing to take any path that could lead to power, no matter how much my Father hopes.
One of Father’s guards interrupts our non-productive discussion, and I find myself standing with drawn sword before he utters a word; one look at his face is enough to proclaim his news to be dire.
“A farmer out to reclaim an unused field has unearthed a body.” He has omitted the formalities due King and Wielder, and rightly so.
“Quarantined?” Father asks rather than commands, expecting it is already done. The disaster at Kaskl was caused by an unearthed body.
“Yes. The farmer is brave, he stayed, waiting until one of his sons came carrying his noon-meal. He called to the boy, kept him at a distance, and sent word.”
“Send for Sister Mays and the Chief priest.”
“The body must be burned. Anyone who come near the body must be quarantined for a month.” Sister Mays is our authority, she has copies of all the records of what was done to clear the illegal graves in Kaskl.
“Is a month ample?” The Chief priest is old enough to remember Kaskl, old enough to remember the fears.
“Two weeks is probably ample,” Sister Mays reassures him, “I just want to be cautious.”
“Daver,” my Father calls his Steward, certain he is within hearing; thing are clearly happening, and when things happen, the staff has work to do, so Davers will be waiting.
He is barely in the door before Father starts listing the things which will be needed, to both burn the bodies, and to supply the people afterward, while they wait.
“All must be volunteers,” the Chief Priest demands.
Father only looks at him.
“Of course,” I try to put ‘you idiot’ at the end of my answer without saying it. As if Father would make such a task an order. We will have volunteers, have always had volunteers, willing to take risks to keep their families safe.
“And I go too.” They all open their mouths to deny me, even the guards, but I continue, “Not close, I know I cannot be risked, but near enough so they can see my camp and know I keep vigil with them.”
“Well thought, Wielder,” Sister Mays agrees. “And I will keep you company.”
Father sits abruptly, ages before my eyes, but he does not command me to stay.
Secrecy deemed impossible, we simply concentrate on speed. By afternoon we have supplies and are moving, Taver taking charge of the encircling quarantine. I personally take the hand of each of the twenty volunteers before they move on into the field toward the lonely figure sitting at the far side of the cleared area.
My guards and I stop at the top of a small hill overlooking the field, well away from danger, but close enough that smoke from our fires can be seen throughout the day, and light during the night. It is all I can do, all I will be allowed to do, and it is pitifully inadequate.
Alan comes to stand behind me as I watch the little group of twenty make their way through the ranks of Taver’s men. He puts his hands on my shoulders, offering me someone to lean against. He had just assumed that if I went, so did he.
“It is hard to send men into danger.” For a moment I think Alan has spoken, but it is my Sword, also trying to comfort me. Neither did.
I lean back against Alan, watching the late afternoon sun drive slanting shadows across the open meadow, and trying not to think.
I don’t know how long we stand there, long enough for the volunteers to reach the brave, but very unlucky farmer, long enough for Taver to come riding back.
“The man was murdered, and recently, within weeks.” His tone is grim, as he hands his reins to one of my guards.
“Murdered?” I repeat the word as if I don’t comprehend it. “Are you sure?”
“The garrote is still around his neck.”
“The body just left?” And that was really the greater crime.
“It was deliberately buried,” Taver confirms.
I can feel Alan taking a deep breath. “It has been over a hundred years since you started burning your dead, right?”
“One hundred and ten.” Everyone in Abalem knows that one date in history.
“So you have never seen a cemetery that is in use. I have. After a time, the grave contracts, leaving a depression. Like those.” In the slanting sun, the shadows showed the dips in the field more clearly than full daylight would have.
“There are more.”