A royal funeral is supposed to be an orderly affair. The hymns selected. The sermon memorized. The Riderless Horse brushed and curried, the reversed boots in the stirrups shined to a mirror finish. All musicians rehearsed and the all choir members on their marks. All roles assigned. All places filled. A place for everyone and everyone in their place.
Even more so if the monarch had been old or ailing for sometime and King Ronald had certainly been both. These funerals have usually been thought out years in advance, often with the principal taking an active part in the planning. Indeed Bryan the Great’s funeral had been a particularly fascinating hobby for him. He had run the court through hundreds of dress rehearsals, with himself lying in state, smiling happily throughout the hours long eulogies and processionals, that praised and honored his life and achievements. When the age retarding spells finally failed and Bryan passed at one hundred twenty one, the mortician felt compelled to make sure there was distinctly detectable smirk on his face.
King Bryan the Great had been the only one smiling of course, as was fitting.
While the affair is always somber, there is rarely a lot of actual tears at a royal funeral either. In fact they are rather frowned upon. Sober, dignified grief is all that is asked of participants. Dress in the court mourning colors of black and yellow. Drape the Colors and Standards in black crepe. Don’t smile and don’t laugh. Above all else maintain the dignity of the affair. There isn’t a lot more to it than that.
There are exceptions of course. The last royal funeral had been comparatively brief and had consisted in the main of King Ronald drunkenly pissing on the corpse of King James before kicking it into a ditch but as I said, exceptions.
His Grace Duke Bryan the (now) Former Regent and his mother the (now) Dowager Queen were working very much in lockstep for once. And they were working hard.
Funerals are long since known to be the most productive diplomatic setting there is. Mostly because no one expects you to accomplish anything at a funeral. There is simply no pressure to get anything done. There are no interest groups to demanding goodies and no foreign secretaries demanding results. Best of all you don’t’ have to live up to the press release you made about all of the concessions you were going to get because you didn’t make one in the first place. The only thing you promised to do was go to funeral and pay your respects. Which is why state funeral are so back breaking for the diplomatic corps, for once something is going to be accomplished because there is no reason it can’t be.
That was where the problem came from. Both Bryan and his mother had been occupied and both had thought the other had been watching Crown Prince Branadoc.
The early morning portion of King Ronald’s funeral had been going quite well. The royal family and begun the day in the royal private chapel. The entire royal family of Columbiana was gathered in a place where they where by canon law, required to be disarmed. So that worked out rather well. The exception of course was young Crown Prince Branadoc who was not expected. Custom dictated that he was to spend the entire night cloistered and holding vigil. A more reliable priest might have been a help there. The one provided was a client of Perseverance.
After morning services were concluded. The children of the late king assembled for the Royal Cortege. They gave everyone else plenty of time to get into position. Although they themselves would be only in the third cadre.
The First Cadre would consist of the ruling monarchs. Only two had shown up, young and vague King Lille of Valoision to the north, nephew of the late great Ronald. And of course Ronald’s oldest “Friend and Ally” King Alejandro of Castillo to the south who in truth had only shown up, “to make sure the son of a bitch is really dead this time. He’s tricked me before!” The third crowned head was to be Branadoc himself.
The second Cadre were the crown princes of the Five Sea Lakes principalities Troth-Sworn to the Emerald Throne. Also they were the only ones who could reasonably be expected to have gotten there in time. Although Crown Prince Maurice of Homchapeau Island had barely made it, having arrived only five minutes before and even then his horse died of exhaustion. These things happen. Maurice was remounted by a replacement mare calmly hustled out of royal stables in a flawless ballet of service while her predecessor was quietly rolled down hill towards Butcher’s Alley.
The Third Cadre as already mentioned were the royal children…The legitimate Royal Children. Six of the royal princesses mounted side saddle on their palfreys. All of their eyes glued worriedly on their eldest sister, who was acting quite a bit more strangely than usual. Princess Perseverance was treating everyone to a bit of preview. Her riding habit more then passingly resembled a man’s coate harde to include chauses and braes. Which would have been acceptable, except she was also mounted scandalously astride her horse. But this was quickly dismissed as yet another (understandable and generally appreciated) attempt to avoid showing her legendary ankles in public…where people could see them and everything.
Duke Bryan had forsaken his place in the Minor Royals Cadre a few ranks further back to keep his pride of place, wearing the blue and black as Colonel of The Guards. If you were to ask, which guards? Everyone would look at you, a little embarrassed for your having asked that. The Guards, was the only answer you would get or deserve. The Tomb Guards was one of the few all human units left that did not get by on their reputation although they easily could. They were still and quite definitely (and definitively) The Guards. They actually were a top of the line military unit and their job was regime protection.
The Dowager Queen was standing behind the horse drawn hearse.
Everyone was waiting for Branadoc. Everyone kept glancing at the clock tower.
The acceptable five minute delay, gave way to a worrying ten minutes running behind which lead in turn to an unacceptable twenty minutes late. Pages and runners had long since been dispatched.
The Regular Army was not permitted to be in attendance today. They were whining about that of course but if given the chance and choice, they would have turned it down in a heart beat. It was a hot morning. Everyone was sweating heavily. A couple of the Guards standing at attention had already collapsed and the horses had gone from restive to officially pissed off. Angry neighing was starting to echo through the street. If this went on much longer the Columbianans gathered on the streets would go home…or worse start collecting rotten tomatoes. The now accursed minute hand on the clock tower kept advancing remorselessly.
When it reached forty minutes after the hour, one of the pages finally appeared. Sweat soaked and out breath he came pelting up to the Dowager Queen. She bared her teeth at his news, frightening the boy badly. She took a couple of deep breaths to calm herself and then gave him instructions. The page nodded and ran up to King Alejandro and repeated what he had been told.
The news was rather surprising. Prince Brandoc would rendezvous with them at the cathedral. Would he, King Alejandro lead the procession? The old king smiled graciously. This was a magnificently horrendous breach of protocol and was going to cost the Colombianans severely on the diplomatic front for years. It was easily worth the trip.
Suppressing a completely inappropriate smirk of triumph, Alejandro raised his right hand.
A chorus of sergeants sang out, “Com-pany…Atten-shun! Hundreds of blinding, blazingly bright polished boots crashed their heels together, like a highly organized thunder clap.
“Ri-i-i-i-i-ght face!” Toes were pointed and heels were driven in meticulous exaction.
“Clo-o-o-o-se, march!” Hundred of feet sided stepped and side stepped again. Alignment to the man on the right was maintained with unconscious accuracy.
King Alejandro dropped his hand.
“Slo-o-o-w ti-i-i-i-me, march!” And a war dance, hundreds of years old began. Slow and somber at one step per second. His troops were marching with their king one final time. But for once where he was leading they could not follow. Not today anyway. Although a couple of the boys were starting to look pretty peaked from the heat
Every boot struck the ground in a flat metronomic, synchronous rhythm. The men were no longer entirely of themselves. They were now part of a tradition so old that their steps were all but carved into the bricks of their parade route. The muffled drum beats and calls of their sergeants were nearly a distraction for The Guards. They all knew the route with the unconscious familiarity of ancient practice.
The parade made it’s way through the streets, at the pace of a highly disciplined slug. Horse shoes clopping, boots striking and bright work tinkling, all with excruciating precision. Pride, dignity and honor all going hand in hand as they honored their lost king while making their way to the cathedral. Where they would…
“F-A-A-A-T-H-E-R!” A deafening, screaming bellow blasted through the air.
The parade may as well have hit an invisible brick wall. Every single foot missed it’s mark. The centuries long ritual was suddenly broken. The first domino in the row was tipped over. Duke Bryan clenched his eyes shut and groaned in despair, “Christ, Bran, not now!”
“FATHER, WHY HAVE YOU LEFT ME!!!” Prince Branadoc howled his grief to the skies. “F-A-A-A-T-H-E-R!” His cries were joined by the centaurs of the Royal Corps of Inclusive and Diverse Archers, whom he was leading around the bend. Rending their hair, stamping their hooves and pounding their chests, wailing to the Great Blue Sky above for their leader’s grievous loss. Keening at the tops of their lungs.
Centauri keening goes over quite badly with horses that aren’t expecting it.
Every horse in the parade screamed in reply, suddenly in a near panic. Every rider was fighting to get a his mount under control.
The hearse team reared in terror of the completely unexpected. The driver over-corrected yanking on the reins trying to get them under control. The hearse rolled backwards spilling all six of the pallbearer footman riding on the back and running over the Dowager Queen’s foot.
Torrents of tears, (most compelled with carefully daubed Burning Irons Chest Balm at the corner of the eyes but hey tears are tears) fell from centauri cheeks landing upon the cobbles. It was all terribly cultural of course as Centaurs go in for professional mourning in a big way. Lord Trevis dropped to his knees in fervent grief and (rather delicately) beat his head upon the street.
The centaurs by the way had opted for traditional dress, which in their case meant no dress at all. Which made Lady Vulveena the Exceptionally Pneumatic’s public mourning amazingly traditional as she reared on her hind legs, throwing her arms and shoulders back, thrusting her chest skyward, undulating back and forth, crying aloud for her commander’s great tragedy. And sending the last three Guard’s ranks that were still marching in formation crashing into each other. While her efforts at cultural inclusiveness were affectionately appreciated, Prince Branadoc’s opting for traditional dress was appreciated by no one. There the next king of Columbiana stood in the street, hairy as he was, he was not quite hairy enough.
Vulveena made one more ululating cry of grief which sent the hearse team into a fresh panic, bolting forward and hard left. Crushing one wheel against a corner of the cathedral. King Ronald’s coffin flew overboard and broke open in the street with a sickening crunch. The royal corpse rolled into the gutter and the funerary Crown of Grass that had been resting on top of the coffin, was shattered.
Perseverance’s horse, she later claimed, had been just as spooked as everyone else’s and not at all trained for a week in a circus to be immune to the screams of centaurs. That it was but through chance or perhaps fate that she got her horse under control just as she reached the royal first cadre.
Persey, turned at that point to King Alejandro. “What a surprising turn. Perhaps it would be better if I stayed here?” She asked with distant politeness.
King Lille was lost as usual but King Alejandro considered hard for a moment.
And then nodded, “perhaps it would be best at that.”