The lanterns burned brightly over the marsh, illuminating the only dry path through a sodden expanse of sedge and rush. The soldiers trod carefully, a sparse vanguard clearing the way for the six hooded men that followed. These were the holiest men of their order, the men with the grave responsibility of carrying her body to its final resting place. They bore her prone form at shoulder height on a crude wooden palanquin, lovingly wrapped in a snow-white shroud.
The White Queen had been beautiful, but more than that she had been honourable and just. A true leader, who had negotiated the longest period of peace between the twin cities in written record. Her death had been as shocking as it was sudden, a brief illness that had taken away her lustre and eventually her life. The rumour and speculation regarding her decline had already begun, but today the voices had fallen silent as the people lined the streets to pay their respects to her cortège.
One might think that a leader of her stature would be given an appropriately grand funeral, but those in power were still very much wedded to the old ways. The monks would carry her body to the coastal cave to perform the ritual, as they had done for her father and for countless generations that preceded them.
The procession moved slowly on, silence broken by the sporadic chanting of the monks, close harmonies given sombre resonance by the bleak beauty of their surroundings. They were close to their destination, moving slowly through the peatland bog that would soon give way to a treacherous path down to the cliffs. All the while the lanterns continued to light their way, some glowing an eerie blue as the spongy peat gave up volatile gases underfoot. The chanting grew ever more intense as their journey neared its end.
She had achieved so much in her lifetime, and yet she was still in her prime when death’s hand had taken her. Men, women and children had wept openly in the streets upon hearing the news, as though a much loved family member had been snatched away without warning. Her first-born was only twelve years old, and the debate around his succession already raged. She herself had been but fifteen years when she became leader, and her son showed every sign of continuing her legacy. They had never yet crowned a leader that was not of the holy bloodline, but with every succession the murmurings grew more vociferous. Times were changing. A decision would need to be made, but not today.
The friable stone of the sinuous coastal path was made slippery by the coastal spray, slowing the caravan yet further. They wound their way down to the coast at a glacial pace, waves born and dying in a thunderous churn below them, eventually reaching a grassy plateau that sat above the rugged granite outcrop. The trail down from the burial chamber led south away from here, but the soldiers would go no further. Only the holy order could enter the cave.
Four monks with blazing torches formed a guard of honour at the cave entrance, flames casting grotesque shadows on the dark granite walls. Her body was laid gently on the cold stone dais in the centre, the same resting place that had welcomed her predecessors for time immemorial. They gathered around her, performing the sacred ritual that would sever her ties with the realm of the living and commit her to the pantheon of the gods. One final prayer was uttered, and the holy men left the cave.
The sky darkened as they made their way back to the cliff top to join the rest of the party. Lightning split the sky as the waves rose higher, flooding the cavern where her body lay. The men stood watch as the storm died as quickly as it had come. None returned to the cave, but they knew that if they did they would find it empty. The gods had observed the ritual, and had come to claim her. She was one of them now, and the people would remember her in their prayers.