So this was it. Prince Dorjan frowned as we passed through the sparkling latticed gates. This was the city of his mother’s birth. Ahead stood a palace of gold and ivory turrets which towered above an otherwise flat cityscape. Here lived the loved ones she called out to her sleep. I looked down at the throngs of mourners lining the glittering road. These were the people she cursed with her dying breath. Great bards still sung of his mother’s sacrifice to save the city from his father’s war. A princess of warmth and light married off to the frozen north to save her people from death and slavery. Little had been done to honor his mother’s gift.
The city was small and delicate, having been built from the remains of one of the seven cities of light. And just like the cities of light it was stagnant and dying. His mother’s final bitterness made sense. Prince Dorjan drew up his mount bringing the funeral cortege to a halt. Our woolly mounts panted from the oppressive heat.
“Mother?” Dorjan called to me. I urged my mount forward to his side.
“Perhaps it would be better if…” I started, wanting to begin this disaster as inoffensively as possible. Inevitably, this would turn ugly. We were northerners. The only reason we ever entered a foreign city was to pillage and burn. Perhaps this dusty city would survive another visit from the blood of Mingar. Unlikely, but the wheels in my mind began to knit a new ending for Dorjan all the same.
“Are you not the one who nurtured me from the day of my birth?” He snapped. His lips were dry and his skin no longer leached sweat. He was clearly overheated beneath the heavy northern garb, but I dare not point that out.
“Yes, my son,” I nodded. Perfect. His weakened state made him ripe for influence.
“Do not forsake me now,” Dorjan looked around, momentarily overwhelmed. “Not when I need you the most.”
“The welcoming party might be at the palace,” I said peering down at the wailing crowd. Disdain rose up in my chest making it hard to keep my face schooled into the serene look of a regent. “Let’s press on. Give these poor souls a glimpse of their savior.”
Anger spasmed across Dorjan’s face. His relationship with the dead woman trailing us was fraught at best. She was as frail as the palace ahead and spent her years in the north shivering in the highest tower, staring out the southern window.
I, for my part, did all I could short of outright murder to hasten her demise. My daughter, Crown Princess Eloa, needed no additional competition for the throne. I swept Dorjan into my loving care and kept his mother’s quarters understaffed and lacking warmth. Dorjan grew petted and spoiled while Eloa proved herself to be a warrior strong enough to lead Mingar’s horde. At thirteen, she held the throne as we sweltered in the southern heat and her father pillaged it the mountain passes.
“Hotham!” Dorjan signaled to the corpse keepers. The grim men and women dismounted and transformed the closed coffin into high platform giving all a view of their impeccable work. Forty days after her death, including fifteen spent traveling, she appeared more robust than she had in the last decade of her life.
The gathered throngs let out a fresh round of wails and I struggled to keep my composure. My contempt for these weak, soulless fools simmered just beneath my sweaty skin.
“Don’t worry mother,” Dorjan dug his heels into his mount, “This will over soon enough.”
I repressed a smile and fell back in line. By this time tomorrow, the city would cry for a different reason.
As I predicted, the nobility of the city awaited us on the wide stairs of the palace. Their garb was plain and dung colored like the rest of the city.