The Epic of Tonnorentz
Chapter One - Funeral
Gather now and hear my words, young and old,
Neighbors, strangers, gather and hear me.
Come together for our tale, often told.
Hear my words of passion and of beauty
Binding the Mother of all things living
And the man who shelters all things dying,
That they remain joined until all grows old.
Moon Goddess and the Man Beneath the Land, Verse One
In accordance with tradition, the King’s funeral took place under the light of the Full Moon. His body, wrapped with fine pelts and adorned with silver, lay atop a pyre of cedar, aspen, and conifer wood. Surrounding the pyre were all the ladies and lords of the Kingdom, and dignitaries from the whole of the world, as well as thousands of the common people, come to witness the truth of the King’s death for themselves. Closest to the pyre were the High Priestess of Nepthoz, who stood near the King’s head, the Dowager Queen and Prince Tonnorentz, at the King’s right side, and the Grand Vizier, brother to the late King, stood on the left side.
The High Priestess bowed her head to say a silent prayer, and the whole of the gathering followed suit. Her prayer was that the Goddess, watching from above, would accept the soul of the King into the afterlife, and forgive him of his wrongdoing. This was the customary prayer, but privately, the High Priestess doubted that any absolution awaited the King in the heavens.
This feeling was shared by the common people, and many of the ladies and lords, who had known the cruelty of the King better than most. They prayed to the Goddess to punish the King, and bring an end to his line, for in his life the King had been a wicked man, cruel to both friend and foe. His reign had been marked by demands for tribute, and harsh punishments being passed down against those who did not relinquish their silver, or their livestock, or their sons, or their daughters.
The Dowager Queen prayed not for the King, but for her son, Prince Tonnorentz. She prayed that the Prince might grow wise and just, and redeem the sins of his father. She prayed that the malice of the King would never return to the land, and that the people would know peace once again. Her hands she clasped over her womb, and the Dowager Queen asked the Goddess to bless the land and its peoples with fertility, that the cycle of nature continue to eb and flow, just as the Goddess Herself waxed and waned, but always returned to shed Her pale light upon the world.
The Prince prayed for guidance. His Rites of Manhood were several years in the past, but the Prince still measured himself against his father, and had done little to distinguish himself, for better or worse. Tonnorentz asked the Goddess to show him the right path, that he might prove himself worthy of his father’s throne. He gripped his spear tightly, for his father had always told him that a man who cannot wield a weapon is no man at all.
The Grand Vizier did not pray. He lowered his head with the Priestess, but his eyes remained fixed on the Dowager Queen, his late brother’s widow. Her figure remained shapely and desirable to the Grand Vizier, though the years had turned her hair grey and her womb to tundra. He yearned to claim her for himself, and pangs of desire lanced through his being.
When the High Priestess raised her eyes to the Goddess, the people followed her gaze. The gleaming disc of the Moon shone down on the gathering, with only a few wispy clouds to obscure Her view. Handmaidens, with seaweed braided into their long hair, circled the pyre, pouring ceremonial oil over the wood and on the King’s body. Then, the High Priestess struck her flint over the King’s head, showering him with sparks, which grew into flames.
As each of the various woods caught fire, the pyre illuminated the valley, turning night to day for those standing near to it. Those closest retreated from the heat, and those furthest advanced closer to the warmth. The High Priestess held her position, and her handmaidens poured saltwater over her exposed skin to cool her. The Prince and his mother stared intently as the body of the King was consumed by flames, but the Grand Vizier’s gaze remained fixed on the Dowager Queen.
Emboldened by the roar of the fire, the common people began to freely murmur amongst themselves. Their words did not reach the royal family, but the Prince took notice that something was happening outside of his hearing. The Queen knew of what the common people spoke, even if the exact words were lost to her. She did not begrudge the people for their resentment of her late husband, for she shared their feelings. And the Grand Vizier itched with rage, wanting nothing more than to unsheath his dagger and slit the throats of those who spoke ill of the King; though he had never had any great love for his brother.
The fire burned through the night, and into the dawn. When only ashes and bones remained of the King, the High Priestess and her handmaidens used stones, made smooth by the tides, to crush the bones until they may as well have been ashes. Then they each took a handful of the remains and smeared them on the foreheads of the royal family in the image of the New Moon before washing away the remainder with saltwater. And so the earthly body of the King was returned to the world of nature, just as his soul had been returned to the world of spirits. With the ceremony over, the common people began to return to their homes, singing songs of celebration as they left the Kingdom.
The Prince and his mother lingered while the High Priestess and her handmaidens secured their pots and jars - now empty - to the sledges their garrons would pull on their journey home.
“What will happen now?” Tonnorentz asked his mother, “Will I be King, as my father was?”
“Your father was not King because of any relation he had,” the Grand Vizier interjected immediately, “He was King because he decided that he should rule over this land, and killed all those who disagreed.”
“What say you, High Priestess?” the Prince asked as she approached.
“It is not my place to say,” the High Priestess answered, “My place is to interpret the wisdom of the Goddess, not to settle your late father’s estate.” She studied the Dowager Queen from head to toe, then said, “When did you last menstruate, your grace?”
The Dowager Queen was caught off guard by the question, and stammered her response.
“It’s been many years, High Priestess. Why do you ask?”
The High Priestess took the Queen’s hands, and turned them over. Bits of dried salt fell from the High Priestess’ skin like snow as she knelt to examine the Queen’s feet. After a moment’s pause, she beckoned to one of her handmaidens, who produced a silver chalice from her pelts.
“Let the women chatter amongst themselves, nephew,” the Grand Vizier grabbed the Prince’s shoulder, and led him away, “Do you really want to be King of this land?”
“Yes, I do,” Tonnorentz said, looking back at his mother and the High Priestess. The High Priestess was passing the chalice to each of her handmaidens, who each drank from it, before finishing the dregs herself.
“Then listen to me,” the Grand Vizier turned the Prince roughly, “I advised your father for many years, and I know this Kingdom far better than you. If you wish to be King, you must do as I say.”
The sound of the High Priestess and her handmaidens singing drew Tonnorentz’s attention. Before the Prince could react, the Grand Vizier struck him on the cheek with the back of his hand, sending him tumbling to the ground and causing him to fumble his spear.
“Do you think your father let the concerns of women distract him?” the Grand Vizier stood over the Prince and growled at him, “Your father would take a fresh maiden every day before breaking his fast, and cut their throats if they resisted him.”
“Am I to do the same?” warm blood dripped from Tonnorentz’s lip.
“A King does whatever he likes,” the Grand Vizier shrugged and looked to the Dowager Queen, with the holy women praying over her, and turned away, shaking his head in disgust. “If you truly desire your father’s throne, meet me in the royal chamber at dawn tomorrow, and we will plan your ascension.”
As the Grand Vizier departed for his dwelling, Tonnorentz recovered his spear and stood up painfully. Curious, he approached his mother and the holy women, who had just finished their song and resumed preparations for their journey. When he reached the Dowager Queen, she threw her arms around him and embraced him tightly.
“What’s all the commotion, mother?” the Prince returned the embrace, careful not to prod the Queen with his spear.
“It’s a miracle, Tonnorentz. A miracle like none I’ve ever known.” the Queen’s voice swelled with joy as she spoke, “I am with child! The High Priestess has confirmed it.” She released the Prince, and frowned when she saw the blood oozing from his lip.
“How is that possible?” the Prince brushed away his mothers hand when she reached for his face.
“It is not possible, and yet it is so. That is what makes it a miracle,” the High Priestess returned from her garron with a sealed pot, which she handed to the Dowager Queen, “Take three drops of this when you break your fast each day. No more, no less.” She looked at Tonnorentz’s face, but gave no indication of her thoughts. “If you should ever desire the counsel of the Goddess,” she said to the Prince, “You need only to worship in Her temple.”
“I’ll bear that in mind, thank you,” Tonnorentz said, and the High Priestess took her leave, followed by her handmaidens and all of their garrons. The Dowager Queen watched them for a moment, then turned to her son.
“You intend to take the role of King, with your uncle’s support, don’t you?” her voice was thick with concern.
“Yes, I do,” Tonnorentz answered, holding his spear a little tighter, “He and I will make our arrangements tomorrow at dawn.”
“Be wary of your uncle,” the Dowager Queen sighed, “He may not be your father, but he is just as dangerous. You were not yet born when your father and uncle established the Kingdom. You have no knowledge of the things he will do in pursuit of his goals.”
Tonnorentz felt the sting in his face, tasted his own blood, but rebuked his mother all the same.
“Even so,” he said, “no one knows the Kingdom better than the Grand Vizier. I need his knowledge and guidance if I am to preserve what my father built.”
“You are your own man, my son,” the Queen pleaded, “You need not measure yourself against a dead man. Whatever you choose to become in your life is your decision, no one else’s.”
Tonnorentz weighed his mother’s words, and looked to the dark streaks of ash seeping into the ground, which had been his father mere hours before. Even after the King’s death, Tonnorentz could still feel his father’s shadow descend over him like a storm cloud. Tonnorentz’s father would only have allowed one path for the Prince.
“I choose to be King.” Tonnorentz stated. He held his spear tightly in one hand, and led his mother back home with the other.
As the sun rose higher in the sky, the ground where the King’s pyre had been glittered and glinted where bits of melted silver caught the light of day. This was all that remained of the man who was King.